Science Fiction and the Vampire

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The infamous Ed Wood (left), who directed the laughably bad science fiction vampire film, Plan 9 from Outer Space. To his immediate right is actreall Maila Nurmi, who plays Vampira in the film.
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Vincent Price (left) plays the title role in The Last Man on Earth, costarring Emma Danieli.
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Atom Age Vampire (1963) is a prime example of blending science fiction with the vampire myth.

Science Fiction and the Vampire

(pop culture)

As the vampire myth developed and went through a rationalizing/secularizing process, various authors have posed alternative, nonsupernatural theories for the origin of vampires—from disease to altered blood chemistry. Eventually, at the height of interest in flying saucers in the 1950s, it was inevitable that the idea of vampires as space aliens would be posed. However, such an idea had a number of precursors. In 1894, for example, H. G. Wells, in his story “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid,” had explored the possibility of a space alien taking over a human body in order to live off the life energies of others. This theme was picked up in the pulp magazines in such stories as Sewell Wright’s “Vampires of Space” and C. L. Moore’s “Black Thirst.” A true bloodthirsty space alien seems to have first appeared in 1942 in A. E. Van Vogt’s story, “Asylum.” Van Vogt’s villains were a pair of aliens who arrived on earth in a spaceship. They lived for thousands of years by preying on the life forms of different planets. On earth, they encountered reporter William Dreegh, who eventually was able to stifle their invasion.

By the mid-1950s, interest in flying saucers was on the rise and science fiction had begun to blossom. Richard Matheson, who had written both horror and science fiction for many years, was the first to explore the traditional vampire theme in popular science fiction. In I Am Legend, Matheson, who had authored several vampire stories, created an end-of-the-world situation in which the hero, Robert Neville, was the only human left. The others had either been killed or turned into vampires. During battle with the vampires, Neville had to figure out which parts of the old vampire myth were accurate and, hence, which weapons would work against them. I Am Legend was made into a movie three times—The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007)—and in each the vampirism was played down, as was the meaning of the title of Matheson’s original work.

After Matheson, the mixture of science fiction and vampires occurred occasionally, mostly in short stories. Among the several novels on this theme, the more notable included Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires (1976); Tanith Lee‘s Sabella, or The Blood Stone (1980); Brian Aldiss’s Dracula Unbound (1991); and Robert Frezza’s McLennon’s Syndrome. Two Star Trek novels with a vampire theme have been published, but neither appears to have been made into an episode of the popular television show. However, the major presence of alien vampires would be felt in the movies.

The Space Vampire in the Movies: By 1954 Universal Pictures had a waning interest in the classic monsters it had made famous in the 1930. Their last scenes were played out in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which Dracula made a cameo appearance. However, a variety of companies were exploiting the classic monsters—including the vampire—within the context of science fiction motion pictures; these were the hot new items on the agenda, especially for companies specializing in “B” movies. The questions they posed their youthful audiences included: What if vampires are real, and are space aliens? What if earth is being invaded by space aliens who came to drain either our blood or our life force, or both? How should we react to a space alien vampire? The first science fiction movie to explore these questions was the 1951 production from RKO Radio Pictures, The Thing from Another World (remade in 1982 as The Thing). It starred James Arness as an alien creature (actually an eight-foot vegetable) who needed blood to reproduce. The Thing was discovered in the Arctic snow by a research team and the military eventually had to be brought in to stop the threat. Six years later Roger Corman produced and directed Not of This Earth (remade in 1988), which saw a humanoid from the dying planet Davanna settle in a small town to search out the viability of human blood as a replacement for that of their own race.

Not of This Earth was soon followed by United Artists’ It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). It! began with Colonel Carruthers, the sole survivor of a space expedition to Mars, being arrested by the commander of his rescue ship, who suspected him of cannibalizing his crew in order to survive. On the way home, with Carruthers in lock-up, members of the crew were mysteriously murdered by It. The commander finally realized his error and was able to isolate the vampiric alien in a cargo chamber. All the survivors donned space suits and the oxygen was let out of the ship, thus killing the creature. It! The Vampire from Beyond Space became the direct inspiration for the 1979 classic space horror movie Alien (which dropped the original’s vampire theme).

The last of the 1950s space alien vampire movies would become by far the most famous and financially successful. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) began with Bela Lugosi leaving the grave of his recently deceased wife, played by television horror movie hostess Vampira. A ray flashed down from outer space reviving Vampira, who then attacked the attendants who were about to bury her body. Next she killed the police inspector who arrived to examine the bodies of the grave diggers. The scene then changed to an invasion of flying saucers over Los Angeles. Eros and Tanna, who led the invasion, announced “Plan 9,” their intention to revive all of the dead on earth and use them as their instrument to take over the planet. The forces of good organized to counter the invasion, and in the end the space people were repulsed.

Plan 9 from Outer Space became famous after being placed at or near the top of several lists of the world’s worst movies. The product of director Edward D. Wood, Jr., famous for his quick production of cheap movies, the film was “unintentionally” hilarious for its errors of production. In the graveyard scene, for example, cardboard tombstones swayed when accidentally touched, a cement floor was visible under the cemetery grass, and a mattress (to cushion a fall) could be seen. Plan 9 also was notable as Bela Lugosi’s last film.

Wood seems to have integrated some brief footage of Lugosi that originally had been shot for another movie. The brief segments of actual Lugosi scenes were each shown several times. Lugosi died before Plan 9 could be finished, and a body double stood in for him. In the later parts of the movie, this stand-in wore Lugosi’s cape and walked before the camera in a sinister fashion with his arm raised over his face.

It! and Plan 9, the flying saucer movies, were soon followed by a set of movies thematically tied together by the early space explorations.

In First Man into Space (1959), an astronaut’s body was taken over by a space creature. Upon his return to earth, the vampiric creature needed blood and began killing to get it. He broke into a blood bank, but finally was cornered in a decompression tank and killed.

The space alien vampire theme continued through the 1960s, beginning with Mario Bava‘s Planet of the Vampires (originally entitled Terrore nello Spazio). The story concerned a spaceship commanded by Captain Mark Markary (played by Barry Sullivan) forced to land on the planet Aura. Here, Markary discovered another ship whose crew was dead. The dead rose, their bodies inhabited by disembodied residents of Aura who had turned them into vampires, and attacked Markary’s crew. Once Markary discovered what was occurring, he and two of his crew escaped. Then he realized that the two crew members already had been vampirized and would invade a defenseless earth. The movie ended before he decided what course of action he should follow.

Planet of the Vampires was followed the next year by one of the better space vampire movies, Queen of Blood, with a rather impressive cast of John Saxon, Basil Rathbone, and a youthful Dennis Hopper. The story was constructed from a Russian film, the footage of which had been purchased by Roger Corman. The star was a beautiful woman called the Queen of Mars, who had been invited back to earth by members of a United States spaceship. On the return trip the captain discovered that she was a vampire and was killing off the crew one by one. Her weakness, however, was a hemophiliac condition. Cut in a struggle with a crew member, she bled to death.

In the mid-1970s, occult author Colin Wilson tried his hand at the vampire theme in his novel, The Space Vampires (1976), a volume originally marketed as a science fic tion novel. The novel also fit within the theme of psychic vampirism, as the creatures drained their victims’ “life force” rather than their blood (as the carrier of life energy). The novel was set in 2080. A spacecraft encountered another mysterious craft housing several bodies in lifelike condition that were alive and were vampires.

In the early 1980s Tobe Hooper saw the possibilities of Wilson’s novel for the screen and began an adaptation that was released in the United States as Lifeforce in 1985. It changed the setting to 1986, to coincide with the return of Halley’s comet. In the movie, the action was centered around the relationship between Commander Carlson, who found the space vampires, and the single female vampire. Hooper also added a typical vampire feature—having the vampire killed by a stake through her energy center (a feature absent from the novel).

Science Fiction Vampires in Comic Books: The several space vampires who appeared on the movie screen in the 1960s were eclipsed by the most famous one of all, Vampirella. She appeared originally not in a movie, but as a comic book character created by Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren, the owner of Warren Publishing Company. Ackerman would go on to become the original writer for Vampirella, the most successful vampire comic book of all time. Vampirella was distinguished by being the first space vampire who was the heroine of the story rather than the villain. She hailed from the dying planet Drakulon and came to earth where blood was readily available. She tried not to kill to obtain blood and was remorseful when she had to take a life to survive.

Vampirella was partially inspired by the title character from another Mario Bava movie, Barbarella. She was a young, sexy, scantily-clad female.

As the plot was developed through the 1970s, even Dracula was discovered to be a former resident of Drakulon, who had left for earth many centuries ago.

Vampirella became one of the most successful comic books of the 1970s and during the 1990s has enjoyed a new wave of success in the hands of Harris Comics.

Contemporaneously with Colin Wilson’s novel, a science fiction story with a vampire theme came briefly to the world of comic books in a short-lived series, Planet of the Vampires. The story concerned space explorers who had returned to earth after a long stay on Mars. They found the people divided into two factions following a devastating nuclear war: one faction was centered in the former New York City; the other was in the countryside. The city people had taken cover under a dome. It protected them somewhat, but they lacked immunity to diseases that had developed as a result of the war. The outsiders, on the other hand, had developed a natural resistance. The city dwellers captured outsiders, from whom they drained blood to be used for a serum. The vampires were the machines created by the city dwellers to forcefully take the blood of any outsiders who could be caught.

Planet of the Vampires, published by Atlas Comics, lasted only three issues. Its demise left Vampirella the only comic book with a space vampire theme. Once Vampirella was discontinued, space vampires largely disappeared, except for Lifeforce. With the new wave of vampire comics of the 1990s, the space alien vampire was revived, primarily in the adaptation of movies to comic book format. In 1990, Plan 9 from Outer Space was adapted in a single issue from Malibu Comics. The following year I Am Legend (which had been made into a movie twice, in 1964 and 1971) appeared in three issues, and a sequel to Plan 9 from Outer Space lasted for three issues, though the vampire element had been deleted from the storyline.

Vampirella was revived in 1991 (with reprints of the 1970s stories) and a series with new stories began in 1992. Vampirella was the only space vampire among the new wave of comic book vampires in the early 1990s.

The Twenty-first Century: Amid the vampire boom of the 1990s that continues through the first decade of the new century, the lack of science fiction vampires has been noticeable. Glimpses of the future (Ultraviolet, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) have been more apparent than flights to outer space (Dracula 2000, Bloodsuckers) or mad scientific experiements (Blade II). The same could be said of comic books where, in the futuristic Frey, Joss Whedon introduces a vampire slayer far in the future. Of course, the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen draws on an old science fiction theme, Captain Nemo’s famous submarine, which is juxaposed with a vampire. One can always look to animé for horror-science fiction crossovers and recent examples would include Vampire Wars, Trinity Blood, and Blood the Last Vampire.

One science fiction theme that has become popular has to do with the development of a blood substitute that allows vampires to rejoin human society. With the substitute they no longer have to kill humans to survive nor do they have to rely on animal blood. This theme begins with Vampirella who discovers such a substitute soon after her arrival from outer space. In Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990), the reformed vampires of the town of Purgatory drink an ill-colored blood substitute as part of the program of pacifism toward humans. Batman became a vampire in the graphic novel series by Doug Mench, and in Batman: Bloodstorm.(1994) tried ot deal with his bloodlust through use of a blood substitute.

In Dr. Who: Vampire Science (1997), Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman send the fabled time lord Dr. Who up against vampires who are engaging in genetic engineering to find a new source of blood. In the Canadian movies, Karmina (1996) and Karmina 2 (2000), the vampires of Montreal have invented a potion that allowed them to exist among humans as one of of them, but also allowed them to revert rather quickly to their vampiric state. In the movie trilogy featuring the half-vampire Blade the Vampire Slayer, the title character also consumes a blood substitute. In The Breed (2001), the blood substitute allows the futuristic vampires to avoid falling victim to the blood lust that turns them into irrational killers, a problem preventing their integrating into human society, while in the Daybreakers (2010), a plague has turned most humans into vampires and a blood substitute is the only way to prevent starvation.

In the novels of Charlaine Harris, the Japanese have invented a blood substitute that allowed vampires to mainstream while retaining all their vampiric powers and limitations. This theme is carried into the televion adaptation of the books, True Blood, named for the blood substituite. In Brian Meehl’s young adult novel Suck it Up (2008) the main character, Morning McCobb, dines on a blood substitute made from Soy called Blood Lite.

Sources:

Aldiss, Brian. Dracula Unbound. New York: Harpercollins, 1991.
Blum, Jonathan, and Kate Orman. Doctor Who: Vampire Science. London: BBC Books, 1997. 283 pp.
Frezza, Robert. McLennon’s Syndrome. New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1993. 313 pp.
Harris, Charlaine. Dead until Dark. Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 1. New York: Ace Books, 2001. 260 pp.
Jones, Stephen. The Illustrated Vampire Movie Guide. London: Titan Books, 1993. 144 pp.
Lee, Tanith. Sabella, or the Blood Stone. New York: DAW Books, 1980. 157 pp.
Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Fawcett, 1954. 175 pp.
Meehl, Brian. Suck It Up. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009. 336 pp.
Moench, Doug, and Kelley Jones. Batman: Bloodstorm. New York: DC Comics, 1994.
Planet of Vampires. 3 issues. New York: Atlas Comics, 1975.
Rhodes, Natasha. Blade: Trinity. UK: Black Flame, 2004. 416 pp.
Scapperotti, Dan. “Tobe Hooper on Lifeforce: The Director of Poltergeist Films Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires. Cinefantastique 15, 3 (July 1985): 6–8.
Vampirella. 1–112. New York: Warren Publishing Co., 1969–83. Vampirella: Morning in America. New York: Harris Publications, 1991.
Wilson, Colin. Space Vampires. New York: Random House, 1976. 214 pp. Rept. Life Force. New York: Warner Books, 1985. 220 pp.

Screem in the Dark Fan Club see: Vlad

The Secret Order of the Undead see: Vampire Fandom: United States

The Secret Room see: Vampire Fandom: United States

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