Review: Vampira and Me (2013)
Review by Quin
As much as it goes against my better judgement to call out or criticize another critic, especially in the opening paragraph of my review, I have something that I have to mention in order to illustrate an important point. Vampira and Me is a pretty small and cheaply made documentary by a guy who clearly has great respect and admiration for his subject. As of this point, the amount of articles written on Vampira and Me is extremely minimal. But when I was looking at them, one in particular jumped out at me – Luke Y. Thompson from nerdist.com wrote a short blurb on the film saying, “It will tell you a lot about Vampira from one point of view, and it is a nice tribute in that regard. But it is not a thorough journalistic study, and disappoints if one expects that.”
His point is made clear and it’s partly true, but what he is missing entirely is the whole point of the documentary. The film is clearly not intended as a journalistic study. This is about one man’s very personal, brief friendship and deep affection for a cult legend. After all, it is called Vampira and Me, not Vampira and Everybody. But having said all of that, even with documentary filmmaker R.H. Greene’s personal connection with Vampira and Thompson’s weird analysis of a film I’m not sure he actually watched all the way through – the film we are left with is a pretty straight forward, highly watchable, easy to follow documentary on a woman who has had a huge influence on several factions of various underground communities.
If you are looking for a more detailed documentary on a much wider topic, you may want to start with R.H. Greene’s previous film Schlock!: The Secret History of American Movies. It would actually make a great companion piece to Vampira and Me and I would hope they will someday be packaged together. Schlock! covers the exploitation films of the 1950’s and 60’s with interviews from Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Corman to Harry Novak and Doris Wishman. It was while making Schlock! that Greene met Maila Nurmi A.K.A. Vampira. He shot hours of interview footage with her, but only ended up using about 5 minutes of it in his documentary. He then decided that he would compile the footage to use in a documentary about the icon. She died in 2008. I’m not sure if her death came before or after Greene’s idea, but we now have a feature length documentary on Vampira. Hooray!
There is a certain phenomenon that takes place in my perception while listening to cult icons speak. Perhaps it’s because by their very nature, cult icons are not nearly as well known as the average super star, and therefore so much of their past is undocumented, but when I listen to some of these people talk my bullshit meter starts to flip the hell out. It’s like cult celebrities are the carnival barkers of people in the public eye. You may have gotten this feeling if you’ve ever gone to a horror convention – the feeling that you are being hustled out of 20 dollars so you can get a photo with someone or an autograph. Perhaps this isn’t entirely fair. For many, this is their livelihood. They make a large part of the money they live on by selling things to their fans on the convention circuit. But, c’mon, I know I’m not alone in thinking that sometimes it feels a little weird. The reason I mention my B.S. meter is because Vampira speaks with a certain manic energy. For instance, Greene asks her what kind of an effect The Vampira Show had, and she replies, “I think the world stood still.” My parents grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950’s and they didn’t even know who Vampira was until Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was released in 1994. The only thing that made the world stand still for my dad in the 50’s was Roy Rogers. Sorry, Vampira.
While a bit grandiose, she also sounds very worldly and educated, but so much of what she says sounds like it may have been embellished in her mind over the years. I have absolutely no way of knowing what the truth is, but I have never seen a picture of her with James Dean, Marlon Brando or Elvis Presley, all of which she is said to have been close friends with. Even the things that are documented and widely known about her are missing from public record. The horror hosting gig she had in the 50’s – the one that was later ripped off (quite well, I might add) by Elvira in the early 80’s – was not taped and only minutes of it exists today. So, we are left with her silent appearance in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, tons of photographs, a few friends who outlived her and now a detailed interview with the woman herself – by the time of this interview, she is in her late 70’s, missing some teeth on the bottom front row, she has more energy than ever, like she has to get it all out before she’s gone forever. This right here is the reason this documentary is so great.
To be honest, I don’t even care if what she says is true. I don’t want this article to sound at all like I’m speaking ill of the dead. I will always be a huge fan. She was an amazing lady and her stories are fun to listen to. For most of the time she is on screen, she looks very proper and serious, but occasionally she flashes a devilish grin and you get a look through the wrinkles and can see the young ghoulish beauty is still in there. Now she is immortal.
Vampira and Me is available to buy or rent as a digital download from iTunes and Amazon, as well as Region 1 DVD from Cinema Epoch.