Friday, 24 February 2012

Q & A with Peter Mario Kreuter, part 2

You've read the 'teaser', now we're back with Peter Mario Kreuter. He staked his claim on the vampire scene with the publication of his 2001 thesis, Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa. Studien zur Genese, Bedeutung und Funktion. Rumänien und der Balkanraum (2001). Here's the rest of his answers1 to my questions.

General-Anzeiger Online
Going on the regional scope of your thesis, what are your thoughts on the universal vampire theory, i.e. that the vampire is a supernatural being present in cultures all over the world?

Well... I have my doubts on this. In my opinion, each culture on the world that buries the corpses and does not destroy them fears the dead body in a certain way (with just few exceptions in Africa). So the idea of the revenant is very common in those cultures. But does this necessarily mean that each belief in revenants indicates already a close connection to the vampire? I say – no. The vampire is just one of the many variations of the revenant.

Your research interests include 'Paracelsus and the influence of folk-magic and belief in witches on his work', 'Southeastern European folk belief in demons, particularly vampires' and 'Witches and persecution of witches, particularly in the Danube area'. Is there a correlation between these subjects?

There are several correlations. One of those correlations are the roots, which all of those fields of interest have in popular culture. For vampires and witches, this is clearly visible. But even in the case of Paracelsus, one has to dig deep in popular believes and culture of the 16th century. Another correlation is the fact that Paracelsus builds up his medical theories about diseases on the idea that a disease is caused by the infection of a human being with a bad or evil spirit. Even a witch is in his opinion the victim of a kind of disease… infected by an evil “ascendent”, she is forced to do evil things without wanting it. And there are some more…

Your essay rebutting Heinrich Kuntsmann's theory on the ancient Greek etymological orgins of the word, vampire2, provides many insights into your own theories on vampire's etymological origins. Have you refined your theories since then? Where did 'vampire' originate?

In that case, I have nothing to add. Heinrich Kunstmann never wrote that detailed theory he announced in 1992. Therefore I saw no need to sharpen my own ideas about the etymology.

The same essay also mentions, 'And finally, by the way, I have shown in my own doctoral thesis that the folkloric vampire of the Balkans sucks no blood at all.'3 That's a startling claim in context with historical vampire cases like Plogojowitz and Paole. For those unable to read your thesis (including me!), could you elaborate on that?

OK, here we go – in none of the “classical” reports on vampires from the 18th century, the villagers mention sharp teeth or bloodsucking. Both Arnont Pavle and Peter Plogojowitz killed their neighbours by visiting them and doing something like “killing them” or “pressing them to death”. Other vampires of the traditional folk belief neither do anything we can identify as bloodsucking. Blood plays a role, but only when a vampire is detected… “blood” comes out of nose and mouth. We find indeed the word “bloodsucker” in those reports from the 18th century, but one should not forget that none of those military doctors spoke Serbian. We simply don’t now what the Serbs finally said in those reports, how they described those unrotten corpses. We have only the interpretation of the doctors. And that interpretation entered our common image of the vampire.

Which works and/or authors have inspired your own writings on the undead?

I have to admit that I am generally influenced by the English way of “doing history”. It is not only the way of presenting the results of the research part in a clear, modest and nevertheless lively way, but also that open-minded access to history as such. Even if your theory might sound weird, you get some friendly backing. The German tradition is drier, especially when it comes to the moment of writing down your ideas, thoughts and results. No anecdotes, please, we’re German! So the English way of historiography has attracted me in general, not a special author or volume.

You taught a 'proseminar' called 'Heilige, Hexen, Vampire. Religion, Volkskultur und ihre Synkretismen in Mittel- und Südosteuropa (Schwerpunkt: 17./18. Jahrhundert)' over Winter 2009-10. That seems to be your latest teaching gig. Do you intend on teaching any more vampire-related courses?

Yes, my intention is to focus more on popular believes [sic], and that will include of course the vampire. In this winter, I teached [sic] about conspiracy theories in history, and hopefully next winter, I can offer a course about misinterpreted persons in history – and Vlad the Impaler will get his nice and warm place in that course. But also witches and vampires from the folk belief will return on my agenda. They are perfect to demonstrate the methods of cultural and oral history, and they give me the opportunity to focus not only on German history, but to start there a journey throughout the European historiography.

Last year, you mentioned you were 'writing a new book about the popular vampire belief. It will be in English, and the publishing house shall be Palgrave Macmillan.' How's the book coming along?

This volume here <üdosteuropas-frühen-Mittelalter-Gegenwart/dp/3791723685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329855747&sr=8-1> took a lot of my time in the last three years. So now it’s time for other books!

Weighing in at 893 pages, he's not kidding! Geschichte Südosteuropas: Vom frühen Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, 'History of Southeast Europe: from the early Middle Ages to the present', was published November 2011. I'd like to thank Dr. Kreuter for agreeing to this interview spanning 'oceans of time'. For a list of his other publications, click here.

Previous 'Q & A' instalments:
  1. Niels K. Petersen (part 1; part 2)
  2. Martin V. Riccardo (part 1; part 2)
  3. Bruce A. McClelland (part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4)
  4. Thomas J. Garza
  5. Edward Meyer

1. PM Kreuter, 'Finally!!!‏', Wednesday, 22 February 2012 9:02:11 AM.

2. PM Kreuter, 'The name of the vampire: some reflections on current linguistic theories on the etymology of the word vampire', in P Day (ed.), Vampires: myths and metaphors of enduring evil, At the interface/probing the boundaries 28, Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 57-63.

3. ibid., p. 60.

Upcoming books 2 & update

For the previous instalment, click here. I periodically trawl through and—the latter has a greater span—for new works on vampires. 

Previously, occult-based and cinematic coverage were the dominant themes. This time, it looks like vampire hunters are making a resurgence. 

Going on its title, Valerie Estelle Frankel's Buffy and the Heroine's Journey: vampire slayer as feminine Chosen One is a feminist slant on the Hero's Journey—or monomyth—espoused by Joseph Campbell. This is basically confirmed by its publisher's listing: 'Television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer represents a different kind of epic--the heroine’s journey, not the hero’s. This provocative study explores how Buffy blends 1990s girl power and the path of the warrior woman with the oldest of mythic traditions.' According, it'll be available on April 1st.

April 26th will see the release of The vampire hunter's guide by Otto De'Ath (groan). This one's for junior Van Helsings. It's also part of Franklin Watts' 'EDGE - Monster Tracker' series. Here's other titles.

Roger Ma's The vampire combat manual: a guide to fighting the bloodthirsty undead will be released on October 2nd. His previous work—The zombie combat manual: a guide to fighting the living dead (2010)—will likely serve as a good barometer to this one. In the meantime, here's an interview with the author discussing that work.

From vampire hunters to their close cousin, the vampire expert—September 18th will see the release of István Pivárcsi's Just a bite: a Transylvania vampire expert's short history of the undead. First time I've heard of him. The description reads: 'Mustering his extensive experience on the scene of the world's richest source of vampire lore, Transylvania, historian and author István Pivárcsi seeks to peel away the effects of popular culture and set the record straight, addressing essential questions in dozens of bite-size chapters'. I must admit, the 'bite-size chapters' bit makes me a lil suss. 

Tundra Books
Don't worry, though, there's still some sympathy for the Devil with Victoria Nelson's Gothicka: vampire heroes, human gods, and the new supernatural on April 13th: 'The Gothic, Romanticism's gritty older sibling, has flourished in myriad permutations since the eighteenth century. In "Gothicka", Victoria Nelson identifies the revolutionary turn it has taken in the twenty-first century. Today's Gothic has fashioned its monsters into heroes and its devils into angels.' Indeed. In fact, now they're practically pin-up, as attested by works like Dark angels revealed by Angela Grace (2011).

Lastly, another work for the kiddies—a compendium, from the looks of it—Denise Despeyroux's The big book of vampires. Stay tuned August 14th for that one.

And now, the update. On February 14th, I received the other belated Christmas present from Jo, ordered through—Anja Lauper's Die ›phantastische Seuche‹: Episoden des Vampirismus im 18. Jahrhundert (2011). To find out what the other was, click here.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

What does Cage say?

Remember the Nicolas Cage 'vampire' photo? A lot of you do. Much to my astonishment, the most popular entry on this blog discusses the source of the picture. And it's way, way ahead of the others (click to embiggen):

The fifth most popular entry—'Can't keep a good vamp down'—is another post discussing the picture. I've also covered it here and here. Guys, I just don't get it. What's the appeal? Yes, I know, I've covered it several times myself—but from the perspective of someone truly bewildered by the whole thing.

So what does Cage have to say about it? On February 10th, he was confronted with the pic on the Late show with David Letterman. Here's what he had to say:

The interview was discussed on The clicker, which noted his denials of vampirehood, but added: 'It's hard to argue with that, unless, of course, he's still around in another 140 years.'

Does Jack Mord, originator of the 'Nicolas Cage is a vampire' phenomena know about this? Quite likely.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Cushing's contribution

Alex Bledsoe
The final scene of Dracula (1958)—better-known by its American title, Horror of Dracula—is, according to Jordan Buckner, 'truly incredible and has become legendary in itself. It's often regarded as one of the movie's best features. And here it is.

But did you know it wasn't the movie's original ending? It turns out the film's Van Helsing—Peter Cushing—greatly influenced the film's climax:
In the original script Van Helsing was sort of like a salesman for crucifixes. He was pulling them out of every pocket. He was giving them to children to protect themselves, and putting them in coffins and so on. At the end of the film, he pulled out another one, so I asked if we couldn't do something exciting instead. I remembered seeing a film years ago called Berkeley Square [1933] in which Leslie Howard was thought of as being the Devil by this frightened little man who suddenly grabbed two big candlesticks and made a sign of the cross with them. I remembered that this had impressed me enormously. I suggested the run along the refectory table to jump onto the curtains and hit Dracula square in the face with the sunlight. He would, of course, be trapped. Then I could come along like a hero, grab the two candlesticks and make the cross with them in his face. They agreed. Originally the candleabrae they had were the type with four candles on each base. You could tell what I was doing, but it didn't look like a cross, but they changed to the ones you see in the film. At least it wasn't another crucifix coming out of my pockets.1
You can watch Berkeley Square, in its entirety, here—the scene which inspired Cushing begins at the 1:12:56 mark. Cushing's claim about the film's original ending correlates with Jimmy Sangster's 18 October 1957 final shooting script, in which Van Helsing locks Dracula in a room, and 'runs towards DRACULA taking a crucifix from his pocket.'2

Indeed, there's no mention of Van Helsing's 'run along the refectory table', no curtains are torn and Van Helsing merely forces Dracula further into the sunlight—which is streaming from a stained glass window—with his crucifix, after literally standing on his exit route.

It's likely Cushing's input inspired the 'improved cross' trope featured in other Hammer Dracula and vampire movies; from Van Helsing's manipulation of the burning windmill's blades in The brides of Dracula (1960), the blood-smeared cross on Gerald Harcourt's chest in The kiss of the vampire (1963) and Carl Ebhardt's cruciform dagger in The vampire lovers (1970), to note a few examples.

The trope found its way into many other books and movies, but perhaps nothing so overt as the 1996 film, From dusk till dawn. The following exchange takes place between Seth Gecko, Jacob and Scott Fuller, and Sex Machine while they're holed up in the Titty Twister:
Seth: Do you have a cross? 
Jacob: In the Winnebago. 
Seth: In other words, no. 
Scott Fuller: What are you talking about? We got crosses all over the place. All you gotta do is put two sticks together and you got a cross. 
Sex Machine: He's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time. 
Seth: Okay, I'll buy that.
Later, Jacob Fuller forms a cross out of a pump action shotgun and baseball bat in cruciform shape as an effective ward against the undead. The film's script goes into more detail on the effectiveness of impro-crosses:
He's right. Peter Cushing does that all the time.

I don't know about that. In order for it to have any power, I think it's gotta be an official crucifix.

What's an official cross? Some piece of tin made in Taiwan? What makes that official? If a cross works against vampires, it's not the cross itself, it's what the cross represents. The cross is a symbol of holiness.

Okay, I'll buy that. So we got crosses covered, moving right along, what else?3
The script also differs in the film in that Jacob does, indeed, wield 'a cross made out of two sticks', while 'reciting appropriate verses from the Bible',4 rather than the shotgun/baseball bat combo. The improved cross—a major addition to vampire lore—also highlighted why the cross is effective against the undead, rejigging it as a channel of the wielder's faith, rather than a 'magical' item in its own right.

1. 'Peter Cushing', Dracula, A house that Hammer built special, May 1998, p. 7. The quote is derived from 'Little Shoppe Of Horrors #8, p. 61; interview by James Kravaal.'

2. 'Jimmy Sangster', Dracula, A house that Hammer built special, May 1998, p. 20.

3. Q Tarantino, From dusk till dawn, Faber and Faber, London, 1996, p. 67.

4. ibid., p. 106

Vampire studies

You've probably seen novelty doctorates from dubious institutions like the 'University of Transylvania' (left)—not to be confused with actual Transylvanian universities like the Transylvania University of Brașov and Sapientia University.

But did you know there really is a course you can take on vampirology and—brace yourselves—it'll be held in Transylvania? I'm talking about the Transylvanian Vampirology Summer School.

'Every story has its charm, every story has it’s beginning and end, and nothing changes,' reads its main page. 'Over and over again. Each story comes with its own fragrance and its own time.' Quite. In breathless, second-language-English, it adds:
Transylvanian Vampirology Summer School brings you the story behind the most fascinating story ever told on the face of the earth. Vampire’s story. There is something that you can’t say about many other stories, as loved as much as this one, the fascinating world of vampires comes from a story that took place in idyllic places, that drank the same amount of blood, a story born in a world not in a utopian world at all.
Unfortunately, details are scarce at this point. It does discuss what'll be taught in the courses—'History', 'Symbolism', 'Films', 'Books' and 'Mythology'—but, as of this writing, its speakers are 'Under construction', there are no prices and the course's starting date is 'yet to be announced.'

It does have a Facebook page, though. Its earliest post dates January 27th, so I guess they're still getting everything sorted.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Catch-up time

My entries on here can be fairly sporadic, as I don't feel compelled to write just for the hell of it but only when I've got something to say or find something particularly compelling. That said, I don't like to let this thing go dormant, either. So, occasionally, I'll do a little 'catch-up' time with my readers to see what I've been up to and whatnot.

Firstly, you may've noticed that I've reinstated LinkWithin after banishing it several months ago. Wow. October. Time flies! I brought it on the same day I wrote the previous post. What inspired me to do that? You might be surprised

The article's full of useful tips for getting your stuff 'out there', but here's another: quantity may be more important than quality, according to a study by The British Psychological Society. The theory's not without criticism, however.

I've noticed Hammer's interested in making another Dracula flick. They've already had a recent stab at the vampire genre with Beyond the rave (2008). Prior to that, Hammer tried 'keeping up' with the young'uns by adding more sadism, more boobs and more groovy theatrics in the flicks that (not coincidentally) served as the last gasps of their reign over British horror films. 

Yes, I'm talking about Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic rites of Dracula (1974) and, let's not forget, the kung-fu 'spectacular' that was The legend of the 7 golden vampires (1974). Christopher Lee patently refused to star in that one and was replaced by John Forbes-Robertson.

I'm a fan of the Hammer Dracula flicks. Taste the blood of Dracula (1970) is one of my favourite vampire movies and I also enjoy their non-Dracula effort, Vampire circus (1972). What I'm saying is, these guys knew how to do it 'right'. Mostly.

So I can't help wondering whether they're gonna 'update' Dracula like they did in the latter stages, only to compete with other hyper-modernisations of the vampire myth like the Blade and Underworld series. Hopefully, Beyond the rave's not a warning sign. Point is, that angle's been done.

The thing that worked best in the Hammer Dracula/vampire flicks, in my opinion, was their 'gothicness'. That angle's lost when you update the vampire too much. They just become run-of-the-mill leather-jacketed action antiheroes—with fangs. Boooooring. I'm so over it. And enough with the bloody ramping, already (see point 3)! This isn't the bloody Matrix. And get offa my lawn!

Anyhoo, if there's anything that demonstrates what an updating of Hammers' gothic Dracula would look like, it's this. That said, they were also smart enough to back Let the right one in, so I probably shouldn't be cutting 'em down just yet.

Robin Hood—and Highgate vampire—fans, for that matter, will get a kick out of Kai Roberts' recently-published, Grave concerns: the follies and folklore of Robin Hood's final resting place (2011). The 'resting place' is located on the Kirklees Hall Estate, Yorkshire. It was also the scene of Sean Manchester's second-most famous vampire case.

Roberts presents an objective overview of the case and—before I continue, I've gotta disclose that he's a mate of mine. But he's a mate as a result of the correspondence that place during the draft stages of the book.

You see, its sixth chapter, 'Vampire blues', deals with the Highgate vampire case, which I was asked to view before it was 'locked in' for publication. Kai was familiar with my other blog, Did a wampyr walk in Highgate? and thought I might be qualified to do so. I made forty-eight notes to it, but not many made the cut. Mind you, they weren't major alterations, more like expanding on points—with a few corrections—Kai made throughout the draft. There wasn't really much more I could add, as Kai did such a brilliant job of summarising the case.

Now, because I mentioned on Facebook that I helped 'edit' his chapter (before I'd seen the final copy, no less), Della Farrant, and her husband David, took it upon themselves to jump down my throat—with hilarious consequences! What I also find funny, is that Kai's criticism is much more brutal than mine, yet they compliment him. Bit of a Freudian slip there! That, or they don't want to muddy the waters with someone who's given 'em public exposure and knows how to cut down their 'work' a peg or two with utmost precision.

As if it wasn't sad enough, Dave's wife's now started writing weaksauce apologia and bitter diatribes on her husband's behalf. A real shame, because she's a very smart woman and a talented writer (cursive font to the contrary). Just goes to show how 'blind' love can be.

Apart from that, I've also dealt with the usual pitiful, passive-aggressive mind games the President of the Highgate Vampire Society likes to play.

Anyhoo, grab a copy of Kai's book. I've started reading the rest of it—keeping in mind I only saw one chapter, pre-publication—and it's proving to be a gripping read.

Speaking of reads, Bertena Varney sent me a copy of her book, Vampire news: tasty bits to sink your fangs into (2012), which I'll get round to reading properly when I have some time.

You might recall her as the author of Lure of the vampire: a pop culture reference book of lists, websites and "very telling personal essays" (2011). The same book also reveals the head of the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency, which many people think is a legit government organisation.

If Vampire news is non-fictional—as my brief flick-through suggests it is—you may even see a review on this blog. Stay tuned! But let this also be a head's up to other authors/publishers: please don't send me movies or fictional works. I appreciate the effort, but I won't review them. If you've got vampire documentaries (like this one) or non-fiction vampire books, on the other hand...

In the meantime, I actually kinda dig the cover and you can download a copy of it free—yes, free—from its co-author, Stavros', website: Bite me really hard. Click on the cover to take you there.

Even though this isn't a movie review blog, I'll occasionally refer to vampire flicks I've seen, keeping in tune with the online 'diary' nature of blogs. So, in that spirit, I'll mention that I caught Lesbian vampire killers (for vampire content, honest!) on DVD. 

Despite the rash of negative reviews—and its co-star calling it 'a pile of shit'—I kinda liked it. It reminded me of a far-less gorier version of Død snø (2009), another enjoyably mindless horror-comedy released the same year. It's not Shaun of the dead, sure, but dumb fun, nonetheless. For another 'take', see what Andrew M. Boylan had to say about it.

Well, that's enough rambling and links to wade through, for today. We'll catch-up again soon. Oh, but before I forget, John Edgar Browning gave me a head's up on the release of his book, Bram Stoker's Dracula: the critical feast, an annotated reference of early reviews & reactions, 1897-1913 (2012). It's now available in paperback form on Amazon; there's a copy for the Kindle-inclined. Another addition to my wish list—and yours, too, I hope.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A weblog approach

LIT Verlag
I finally received a copy of Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie on Monday. It was air mailed to me after the previous copy LIT Verlang sent went AWOL in the post.

As you might suspect from the title, the book's written in German, but there is one English contribution: Niels K. Petersen's 'A weblog approach to the history of Central and Eastern European vampire cases of the 18th century'.

It's much more in-depth than you'd think—for an essay about starting a blog. Not only does he discuss his research, quest to find a copy of the supposedly 'lost' Magia posthuma, but also relates the impact his blog's had. 'It has also been an inspiration for other bloggers, including the so-called Amateur Vampirologist from Australia who mentioned "Niels K. Petersen's brilliant Magia Posthuma" as one of the sources of inspiration in his initial post to the blog Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist.'1 True story.

His essay also highlights our different 'takes' on vampires. My approach is somewhat 'genealogical'; when did that first appear? Who said that first? Who was the first vampire? To that extent, I keep a file of sources in chronological order. They're good for spotting deviations in the 'script'. Like this. Niels, on the other hand, is interested in sociological angles: 'Understanding the vampire as part of history is, as all history, an attempt at understanding the development of human concepts and ideas.'2

It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyway—that context is just as an important angle in vampire research as establishing the development of the vampire mythos through various sources, so I certainly respect Niels' approach. Other vampirologists share his approach, too. Theresa Bane writes, 'Knowing the "who, what and where" is one thing, but knowing and and more importantly understanding the "why" is another'3, which is indirectly echoed by Joe Nickell: 'There is a serious field of study—embracing folklore, psychology, cultural anthropology, literature, history, and so on—that attempts to research and make sense of the various aspects of the vampire myth. To that study the term vampirology may well be applied.'4

So why is my approach so different? Well, apart from not being well-versed in these fields, I also believe that delving into sociological context too much, can stray the author off into their own impositions and tangents (not to say that the folk I've covered already do that). Susan Lynne Beckwith alludes to this in a book review: 'However, it is worth wading through this section to get to his final, and perhaps most rewarding, premise—that our scholarship on vampirism reveals more about our own anxieties than it provides evidence of Victorian sexual repression.'5

We do that all the time, of course, i.e. inflicting our biases, interests and whatnot, on the subjects we study. Christopher Rondina, for instance, admitted to adding a word to a newspaper article he reproduced because he was 'disappointed to see the absence of bats in the original folklore'.

I generally take a 'safer' route, as a result. It's the one I know. 'Just the facts, ma'am.' I'm interested in direct correlations, which is one reason why I don't subscribe to the Global Vampire theory. The vampire—as G. David Keyworth establishes6—is a (spoiler alert!) comparatively 'unique' entity. That, of course, steers us into the murky territory of defining what a vampire 'is'. That's where things start unravelling. Is sharing certain characteristics enough to earn the label? Should we only use the term in accordance with local usage? And so on. In terms of scholarly approaches, too 'wide' and too 'narrow' have their drawbacks. It's our job to steer the course between.

1. NK Petersen, 'A weblog approach to the history of Central and Eastern European vampire cases of the 18th century', in C Augustynowicz & U Reber P Day (eds), Vampirglaube und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie, Austria: Forschung und Wissenschaft, Geschichte vol. 6, LIT, Vienna, 2011, pp. 264–5.

2. ibid., p. 259.

3. T Bane, Encyclopedia of vampire mythology, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, N.C., 2010, p. 1.

4. J Nickell, Tracking the man-beasts: sasquatch, vampires, zombies, and more, Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y., 2011, p. 125.

5. SL, Beckwith, review of A geography of Victorian gothic fiction: mapping history’s nightmares by Robert Mighall, Criticism, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, p. 364.

6. GD Keyworth, ‘Was the vampire of the eighteenth century a unique type of undead-corpse?’, Folklore, vol. 117, no. 3, 2006, pp. 241–60.
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