R. H. Greene’s 2012 documentary Vampira and Me takes its subject a bit too self-importantly at times, with the narration occasionally veering off into psychobabble, and suffers visually from the lack of archival footage (sadly, only mere minutes of Vampira’s televised career has been preserved). But it’s still a lovely portrait of this icon of 1950s style and the woman who portrayed her, actress Maila Nurmi It’s a virtual love letter from writer/director/narrator Greene, a Vampira obsessive who befriended Nurmi in the mid-90s, and uses an extended interview he filmed with her as the basis for the documentary.
Getting inspiration for her character from the illustrations of Charles Addams, Nurmi found instant fame in 1954 as Vampira, a television horror movie host with amazingly arched eyebrows and an impossibly thin waist. But her fame was fleeting and she spent the next several decades living in near destitution and often working in restaurants just to pay for her dinner, though in the few years prior to hear death in 2008 she seemed to have found a semblance of peace and security. Vampira and Me covers Nurmi’s early years, her time as Vampira, her relationship with James Dean, working with Ed Wood on Plan 9 from Outer Space, her frightening incidents with stalkers (and the comical way in which these events were often reported by the press), the resurgence of Vampira in the 80s as a goth style icon, and her long-running legal actions against the Elvira character played by Cassandra Peterson.
What old footage is included here is lovely to see, including old home movies and Maila/Vampira’s appearances on various American variety and game shows, and there’s lots of great promotional and candid photos included. It’s sad to hear Nurmi talk about how she fought to keep her waist rake-thin for twenty years after the Vampira show was cancelled, just in case she got the call that never came to resurrect her character on television, but her enduring contribution to mid-20th century style is beyond doubt, and the mystique and allure of her creation lives on...
Above: stunning piece of Vampira art by Melbourne (Australia) artist Robert Rechter.