Vampira And Me

With her long figure, dark hair and black dress, Vampira is probably the original Goth icon, having established this trademark look years before Siouxsie Sioux emerged from the punk scene.

The creator of a pioneering late-night Horror show, she is probably better known these days for her role in Ed Wood’s “masterwork”, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Originally discovered in a Mae West revue, the Finland-born actress Maila Nurmi became Howard Hawks’ protégé for a short time, before being replaced by Lauren Bacall.

Opportunity came however knocking the day she crashed a Hollywood party dressed as Morticia, a character from the Addams family. With the Vampira Show (she would do her creepy routine introducing Horror movies and thrillers), she became an instant sensation before falling out of the spotlight a couple years later when her TV program got cancelled. Her career never recovered and the actress died in 2008, forgotten and broke.

Using interviews he made with her throughout the years, writer/director/professor R.H. Greene (Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies) pays a long-overdue homage to Ms. Nurmi, reminding us of her contribution to pop culture – her style was recycled for various mediums, from TV (Elvira) to music (Goth,Punk, Industrial, Emo, etc …)

To make this documentary, Mr.Greene was however facing a major issue: Because TV shows were not taped in the 50’s, there is only a few minutes of footage left of the Vampira Show. Another – more personal – dilemma is the fact that the filmmaker doesn’t like to watch people getting interviewed. To overcome those obstacles, Mr. Greene’s solution was to use public domain sequences to bring his subject to life onscreen. Rather than fixing issues, he however turned his work into some Frankenstein-like creation, Vampira And Me looking more like a messy amateur work than a polished professional work.

During the Q&A at the LA film festival, the director emphasized how happy he was with the public domain scenes he found to illustrate his points, emphasizing his role as an author (he wrote, directed, edited … this work). The result is however far from being convincing. Not only, it creates confusion as you are never sure if you are watching actual footage or public domain scenes but it also lacks focus, making this documentary film looks like a patchwork made of mismatched pieces. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that he uses both voice over and title cards to tell his story.

A bigger problem with Vampira And Me though – and there is an obvious hint in the title – is how Mr. Greene writes himself in his work, thus cannibalizing Vampira‘s story. Using his friendship with the actress as a pretext for the And Me part of the title, he focuses on the few years he was interacting with her, rather than fleshing out her rise to fame – instead of listening to him talk about himself, it would have for example been more interesting to understand how influent she was in Hollywood: We are told about some of the friends and lovers she had, from James Dean to Marlon Brando, but because these roads are never fully explored when don’t really get a sense of her appeal as a starlet. Neither do we clearly understand why she was so affected by James Dean death – did she consider him like a brother or were they lover? The film never dared to voice an opinion.

To his credit, the filmmaker doesn’t try to make this work a glorious eulogy though. He mentions how difficult she could be and shows her bitterness towards the Industry – she never recovered from having her look and show plagiarized by Elvira and, to be frank, we can’t blame her. Basing Vampira And Me on her last few years isn’t however enough to give us full understanding of her personality and showcases her charisma.

With such a colorful life full of ups and downs, it’s not hard to imagine how a feature film would do her justice; unfortunately, this documentary by film professor Greene looks too much like an awkward student film to pay Vampira the homage she deserves.

Director: R.H. Greene – Featuring: Maila Nurmi, Gloria Pall – Running Time: 1:46 – Year: 2012 – Country: USA

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.