Before there was Elvira, another Queen of Halloween ruled the silver screen during the 1950's dressed in black and dripping in camp. We're talking about Vampira, the classic feminine vampire icon that took the cult world by storm.
Played by Maila Syrjaniemi (known professionally as Maila Nurmi), Vampira was the brain child of the Finnish-American actress who based the vampire character off Charles Addams comic strip The Addams Family. Maila was at a masquerade party dressed as the matriachal figure Morticia Addams when she caught the attention of a television producer who wanted to hire her to host horror movies. The show was called Dig Me Late, Vampira and The Vampira Show, which opened with Vampira gliding down a dark corridor flooded with dry ice fog as she let out an ear-piercing scream. Her horror-related comedy antics included ghoulish puns such as encouraging viewers to write for epitaphs instead of autographs and talking to her pet spider Rollo.
When Maila quit the show due to creative differences, the show was then given to horror host Elvira, who Vampira proclaimed was a campier version of her own show. Nurmi claimed that the entire Elvira persona, which included comedic dialogue and intentionally bad graveyard puns, infringed on her creation's "distinctive dark dress, horror movie props, and...special personality."
Despite failing at her cease and decist request for Elvira, Maila maintained the rights to Vampira and began working on a series of different shows, including The Red Skeleton Show with horror great Bela Lugosi, Vampira and Me, The Thirteenth Guest, and eventually starring in Plan 9 From Outer Space as a Vampira-like zombie that is one of the most iconic scenes of Vampira filmed. It has also been confirmed in 2014 that she was the model for Maleficent in the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty.
Unlike Elvira, Nurmi authorized very few merchandising contracts for her Vampira character, though the name and likeness have been used unofficially by various companies since the 1950s. When talking about Queens of Halloween, Vampira is often depicted next to the characters of Morticia Addams, Elvira and Lily Munster, cementing her place as the dark goddess of yesteryear.