Vampira And Me (Or I Love You Elvira, But…)

The Naro Escape comes with some backstory this month.

Here’s another one of the many, many things I love about Naro Video. A good number of the DVD cases have stickers that say “_____’s Pick,” the blank of course being the name of the staff member who liked it. Hard to go wrong if you take any of these home.

vampiraI should also point out my three favorite sections of the place in descending order: Cult (yeah, shocking), European Horror (largely giallo which is just fine with me), and Movies About Movies. That last one is the section I was in when I spotted Vampira And Me.

Do I ever dig Vampira.

Lo and behold, it had a sticker. “Tim’s Pick,” Tim being the incomparable Tim Cooper, one of the owners.

“Surely the icy hand of fate,” I reckoned.

I know. I’ve already established my position in terms of Carolyn Jones/Morticia Addams. Still, I have to wonder, what if there had been reruns of Vampira? How might my life have turned out?

Sadly, I’ll never know. According to the film, only two minutes of the actual Vampira show exist, but watching Vampira And Me, I can almost imagine.

I thought I knew a good deal about Maila Nurmi/Vampira. Not as much as I thought. In that respect, Vampira And Me is just plain fun. The bulk of it is pieced together from seventy minutes of video shot between Nurmi and R.H. Greene, alternating between autobiography and old-style gossip column.

Difficult though to talk about Vampira And Me without giving away many of the details of Maila Nurmi’s life. This creates an obstacle I typically refuse to deal with.

On one hand, I generally don’t give a rat’s ass about spoilers. Most of the movies I talk about are more than old enough that it shouldn’t be an issue. On the odd occasion that I do write up a fairly recent film, I try not to give away too too much.

Maila Nurmi is outspoken, opinionated, and just full enough of herself to be endlessly endearing. The challenge this poses is that, while I would love to talk details, I don’t want to snatch away any delight anyone might take in hearing about them for him or herself.

There are, however, a few things I can mention without raining on Vampira’s black parade (in no way  a reference to My Chemical Romance).

For one thing, I’m unsure how I regard R.H. Greene. Schlock! (his overview of exploitation flicks) was nicely done. This time, though, there is something, for reasons I can’t fully explain, that strikes me as just a little smug and self-congratulatory about him. The mix of self-effacement with exceptionalism doesn’t sit well. “I’m just a bit player in her story,” he says early on, “but she’ll always be Maila to me.”

To hear him tell it, Nurmi was single-handedly responsible for the brand of self-referential irony today’s hipster wields with all the subtlety and surgical precision of a chainsaw (no need to insult Tobe Hooper) pipe wrench.

And here is one Greene’s (admittedly minor) downfalls. He’s a little too fond in his portrayal, a little too glowing in his praise. For example, this irony of Vampira’s he touts. That irony was a well established part of pop culture well before Vampira premiered in 1954.

On one hand, it’s no secret that Vampira was modeled after Morticia Addams. Nurmi discusses this extensively. Not discussed as extensively is the influence of EC Comics. Here, for example, are two Vampira quips:

“You know I’ve often been asked why I don’t light my attic with electricity. Isn’t that ridiculous? Everybody knows electricity is for chairs.”

“It’s about a humorous fellow to dies telling a joke. Something of a deadpan comedian” (introducing the movie The Thirteenth Guest).

groundsHold these up next to “Grounds…For Horror!” in Tales From The Crypt #29, 1952.

A butcher abuses his stepson, meets with a number of minor accidents at the hands of the lad’s “imaginary” friend, and is finally discovered ground into hamburger in the final panel. The Crypt-Keeper’s response? “Sam never intended to become so, so involved in his work.”

To be fair, Greene tips his hat to EC Comics, but it’s cursory at best. That said, he by and large does right by Nurmi. His Dick Cavett-like delivery and demeanor during the interviews reveal nothing but respect, admiration, and sincere affection as she dishes on the likes of Howard Hawks, Ed Wood, and Elvira.

Overall, it’s a scream.

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