I didn’t mean to come across like a episode of LAW & ORDER but whadda-ya-gonna-do?
Anyway, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the two different types are as follows:
Exhibit 1. THE HORROR HOST – In anthology titles we have characters such as THE CRYPT KEEPER, THE VAULT KEEPER, and THE OLD WITCH from E.C. publications or UNCLE CREEPY and COUSIN EERIE from Warren Publishing. There is a guy or ghoul whose sole purpose is to present the reader with a chilling tale or two, but stay mostly behind the scenes of things themselves.
Exhibit 2. THE HORROR HERO – This other type has become more popular in recent decades. Characters like SPAWN, HELLBOY, and THE GOON that do not present the story, but participate in it themselves, getting mixed up in murder plots, zombie apocalypses, and taking on villains more traditionally found in late night Creature Features. They are usually monsters themselves as well.
So when and where did this transition in the two major trends occur? Who was the very first Horror Host to bridge the gap to Horror Hero and put it in the public’s mind that horror comics could be more than just a collection of short suspense stories? Many would argue that a busty vamp in skin tight spandex named VAMPIRELLA earned that honor and distinction.
No doubt inspired by sexy Horror Hostesses like Maila Nurmi’s Vampira, VAMPIRELLA was created in 1969 for Warren Publishing by the Sci-Fi aficionado (who first coined the term Sci-Fi) Forrest J. Ackerman. Her look was designed by costumer Trina Robbins. She was made to basically be a female counterpart to Warren’s other Horror Hosts, COUSIN EERIE and UNCLE CREEPY. By virtue of being nothing but ink, paint, and imagination – VAMPIRELLA appeared as no real woman possibly could and wear an outfit no real woman possibly could; a sort of bathing suit that is more like red dental floss with a collar.
For her initial appearance in her self-titled anthology magazine, VAMPIRELLA, she hosted short Horror and Sci-Fi stories just like her compatriots, but unlike them she also starred in one story each issue. There was a precedent for this on radio with Orson Wells narrating and performing with the Mercury Theatre in programs like WAR OF THE WORLDS. Wells also played THE SHADOW as a host for DETECTIVE STORY HOUR and later as hero for his own program. For TV, Another horror great, Vincent Price hosted and occasionally starred in a anthology series called HALF HOUR TO KILL, hot on the heels of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.
But Anthology Hosts usually don’t have origin stories. VAMPIRELLA adventures would reveal her origin as an alien from the planet Drakulon and a member of a race called Vampiri who possessed all attributes associated with Earth’s Vampires. On Drakulon blood flowed in rivers, not in veins and so the Vampiri race drank it up like water. However, a terrible draught began to threaten the blood supply. Eventually, The Vampiris became so scarce that Vampirella was left as one of the few surviving members of her species. Just as things looked their bleakest, a spaceship from our planet appeared and it was discovered that “these Earth creatures” had blood inside of them. To save her planet (or at least herself) VAMPIRELLA pilots the ship back to Earth to feast on it’s inhabitants. Once here, though, she takes pity on us Earthlings and decides to only kill and eat “the bad guys“.
As of VAMPIRELLA Issue #8, writer Archie Goodwin decided to change the focus of the book and so VAMPIRELLA’s hosting duties were dropped completely in favor of her new-found calling as “protector of the innocent” and “sucker of the guilty”. She continued to fight crime at Warren up until the company went bankrupt in 1983. Shortly after, the rights to VAMPIRELLA were bought by Harris Publications. Harris recanted her original origin to make her the daughter of Lilith, the first vampire, who sent her to Earth to kill evil Vampires and that the whole Drakulon story was somehow a batty figment of her brainwashed imagination.
In 2010, Dynamite Entertainment bought the rights to the character and to date still publishes two ongoing series, VAMPIRELLA and VAMPIRELLA AND THE SCARLET LEGION.
In addition to being an icon among horror fans as the quintessential horror heroine, VAMPIRELLA also has the distinction of being one of the most “Cosplayed” female characters of all time – in spite of the implausibility of her costume. Although, wardrobe malfunctions sometimes make the conventions much more entertaining!
The popularity for the character, and other horror vamps such as ELVIRA, VAMPIRA, and MORTICIA ADDAMS, endures because subconsciously audiences cannot resist the lure of the strong, sexy, and time tested archetype of the “Dragon Lady“ or “Mata Hari” – a raven haired woman who is deadly, beautiful, and in control. As a Horror Hero and Horror Host, VAMPIRELLA represents a companion in the world of the mysterious and bizarre who teaches us that dark and strange is not always evil.
See you next time for another installment of Comic Book Creeps in Putrid Print for Horror Hosts and Creature Features Magazine…