Saturday, April 21, 2012

There's more than one way to kill a vampire

Recently I got around to watching The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Which is also known as Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, along with many other titles. Whatever you want to call it, this was the last in the series of Hammer Dracula movies starring Christopher Lee. This movie offered a nice conclusion to the series, as well as a few new vampire rules. Such as running water instead of holy water. Evidently, in this story just having water running from a tap is enough to battle a vampire!

Although, as I recall in Dracula AD 1972, Johnny Alucard (That's Dracula backwards) is also killed by being thrown into a running shower. Just a regular running shower like you have in your bathroom. (That's him in the above photo.)

This got me thinking about vampire rules. Somehow, the rules differ depending on the movie! A really noticeable modern difference are the vampires in Twilight who are able to magically be out all day long. I'm not the only person who's noticed how the rules change from one vampire movie to the next. Here is a chart that lists vampire traits and how they change with each movie:

List of vampire traits in folklore and fiction
The traits on this list are mostly physical characteristics. I'm going to focus on the rules for battling a vampire. Some of the original rules seem pretty obvious (like repelling a vampire with a cross) but I needed to research some of the others to understand their origins.

Let's start with the mirror rule. A vampire should not show a visible reflection in a mirror. Many movie vampires have been exposed as being more than just weird men when they walk past a mirror.

You may have heard about the practice of covering mirrors in a house after a person has died. There are religious reasons why some people do this, but those aren't related to this topic. I'm talking about how the Victorians covered all the mirrors in their houses with black fabric after a loved one's death. The mirrors would have to stay covered so long as the deceased's body was in the house. It was thought that if a person saw their reflection in a mirror while the body was there, they would be the next to die. These people morbidly believed that the ghost of the recently deceased might be hanging around and waiting to take more souls with them to the afterlife. Evidently a mirror could help them do so. Reflections in a mirror were believed to be a projection of a person's soul. That's why vampires don't have reflections; they have no souls!

Also, according to some folk stories, a mirror facing outward from your door can repel a vampire from your home.

How about garlic? The scent of garlic is sometimes enough to turn off regular people, let alone vampires. So this one always made good sense to me.

Garlic has been used to drive away evil spirits since ancient times. It was considered a purifying agent. Some people would hang it on their doors to repel vampires, like that mirror idea I mentioned. There was even a theory that anyone who didn't like garlic was a vampire!

The classic vampire weapon is a stake through the heart. I've heard other old stories about corpses not only being staked but decapitated. I guess decapitation was an extra step to make sure a vampire couldn't return.

Decapitation always sounded smarter to me. I mean, why should it matter if vampires are staked in the chest? It's not like an undead creature has a beating heart. I did find some references to them being staked in the stomach in some parts of Serbia. This was done to get rid of the "bloated" demon in the stomach. Well, that's one way of looking at a bloated stomach. I imagine that people with beer bellies were in trouble...

I also just read that vampires were staked in the mouth in some areas of Russia and Northern Germany. I'm going to assume that this was done only to corpses. Some people say vampires are staked in the chest to secure them into their coffins. Meaning that the stake would go through the vampire and somehow lodge into the bottom of the coffin to keep the vampire in place.

Holy water makes sense as a weapon against vampires. It could easily be carried around and would naturally be hated by an evil, undead creature.

A really memorable moment for me in The Lost Boys is when the kids decide to collect holy water from a church. In canteens. While a baby is being baptized. I couldn't find a video of that moment to share, but I did find a video clip showing what happens with the collected holy water:

Crosses make sense to me in the way that holy water does. Some people believe that only a crucifix (a cross with Jesus on it) will do. From the movies I've seen, a cross quickly made from even two popsicle sticks or whatever is on hand will do the trick. As I said earlier, the rules seem to change with every retelling of a vampire story.

This next rule isn't mentioned in too many vampire films. It's the rule that the vampire must sleep in a coffin that is filled with the dirt from where he came. Supposedly if you were to switch his old world dirt with new local dirt, he could not sleep in his coffin. This is why we see Count Orlok traveling around with several coffins full of dirt in Nosferatu. I guess he was being extra careful to have homeland dirt on hand. Although, in a lot of movies I've watched, the vampires aren't even sleeping in coffins, let alone dirty ones.

I'm not sure why the dirt switching is a such a threat to vampires. What's the worst that this could do to them? Maybe if the vampire has enough sleepless days, he goes crazy like sleepless humans do.

One more famous threat to vampires is daylight. This appeared to be the most serious threat in the past, although as I mentioned things have changed with Twilight. It used to be that if a vampire was out during the day, he'd just go *poof* and disappear into a cloud of smoke. Or a pile of bones and ashes. In the photo below you can see Count Orlok being killed by a sun ray that's shining through the window.

Some types of the disorder, Porphyria have been suggested as a reason for the vampires-hating-sunlight theory. Some kinds of Porphyrias cause an extreme sensitivity to sunlight. This theory attempts to explain the connection between this condition, and the old stories about vampires who fear the sun. Perhaps long ago, a person suffering from Porphyria would have been suspected as a vampire. Some people say that Vlad the Impaler suffered from acute Porphyria. This obviously would have helped spur the rumors of vampires fearing the sunlight. 

This video gives a nice (if dramatic) overview of how to kill a vampire.

I kept waiting for this guy to introduce an episode of Masterpiece theater or something.

If you'd like to cover all the bases, you might want to pick up a vampire killing kit. This actual antique kit has everything you would need to kill a vampire. This particular kit was made during the 1800s and went for around $15,000 at auction.

Many vampire kits were made during the 1840s. Bram Stoker's Dracula came out in 1897. So, this kit probably wasn't a novelty item based on a book. Between Dracula having been written 50 years after this kit was made, and the high quality of materials used, I'd guess this was seriously created for killing vampires! Many more vampire killing kits (both old and new) can be found on my new favorite site:

Vampire Killing Kits on Pinterest

I'd love to see some old photos of the people who carried these kits! I imagine they'd look a little like this:


  1. nice one! you are great at these well researched posts. i just sort of spit out the contents of my brain. LOL

  2. Well, it's not often I get to share thoughts/ideas of vampire lore....

    Running water: I think the tap/shower is carrying this fault to a silly level. I've heard that as beings of earth (like needing to sleep in it) running water weakens them.

    Reflections: I heard somewhere that mirrors used to be backed with silver which a lot of supernatural beasties are not fond of. It was suggested this is another reason they don't reflect in them.

    Garlic: Never quite got this one other then vamps have super-senses. But hearing it was a purifying agent like salt, it makes more sense.

    Stakes: In one movie I think a stake was removed from Drac's heart and he came back to life. Might have been a Lee movie, I watched them all over a month, I have no idea which is which! So remember to decapitate them in case any meddling kids come around and remove your stake.

    Holy symbols: In some stories the person wielding the item must have faith or it doesn't work. It's the person's faith in their god that harms the vampire.

    Dirt: I think this goes along with running water. Olde vampires were literally risen from the grave so I'd guess keeping around the "birth dirt" keeps them strong.

  3. Decapitation is the way to go in my book!

    Tee hee!

    Happy Sunday!


  4. I hate to call all my fellow commentors wrong, but the best way to kill a Vampire.....woodchipper...hands down.

    Unless you believe the old tale about them being able to take on the form of mist... then that one is out the window.

    Speaking of modern media taking vampire lore too far. On a past episode of "Being Human(SyFy)" they purposed that a vampire could not enter a home unless invited by the owner. So they invited a bunch of orphan vampires to a big meeting in a home that they had all been invited to. The owner then sold the home to another person and POOF! all the vamps inside burst into flame and died.....

  5. @wicKED: That is off. I've only heard not being invited prevents them from entering, never heard it kills them.

  6. Pensive ~ Thank you! :) My blog posts are getting to be a little like research papers. It's not like I plan them that way, it's just that I have questions in my mind while writing. Then I want to do some research to get answers! When I'm writing about old legends, I think about which ones make sense to me and which don't. Yeah, everyone definitely has their own blogging style!

    Dex ~ Hey, look at you with all the vampire knowledge! Nice comment! So, you think that as "earth beings" vampires are weakened by another natural element? Or that they're weakened every time their old dirt washes off? :) This is the first time I've considered how stinky vampires must be!

    Oh, good call about the silver behind the mirrors! You're right, a lot of supernatural creatures are said to not like silver. Of course we all think of werewolves first, but I did read a little about silver bullets killing vampires last night. I noticed that some of the "vampire killing kits" on that Pinterest page included a gun. One consisted solely of a gun!

    Yeah, Garlic appears to be viewed like salt. I wonder why we never see salt thrown at vampires? It is thought to be a way of cleansing an area of dark mojo. I feel like I've seen salt used in some ghost movies.

    I'm trying to remember the Dracula movie where the stake is removed from his heart. Like you, I went on a Hammer Dracula spree within a very short time frame! Yes, the movies really do blend together. They begin to feel like one long story where Peter Cushing kills Christopher Lee, then some cult/naughty teenagers/power hungry men decide to bring him back. Then Peter Cushing kills him again. Rinse, wash, repeat! Haha. I still love them.

    I searched online to see which movie had Dracula returning to life. Tons of different answers appeared, but the one that made the most sense was "Dracula has Risen From the Grave". That title just sounds right. :)

    I've read some theories about faith affecting the religious items used against a vampire. Actually in "Dracula has Risen from the Grave" a young atheist has to fight him. So, that exact issue is brought up. That was a pretty good movie as I remember.

    LuLu ~ Ha! You crack me up. A simple "Decapitation is the way to go in my book!" followed by a "Happy Sunday!" :) Love it. I'm with you, no muss no fuss.

    wicKED ~ Good one! Now you have me thinking about "Fargo" ;) Yeah, let's take this a step further. Stake him, decapitate him, then into the woodchipper. That should more than take care of the problem... Although, I'm sure they'd find a way to bring him back in a Hammer movie. Someone would bury the woodchips, dance around them, and he'd magically return. It was always some crazy thing! One of those movies had men drinking cups of Dracula's ashes and that brought him back! I think that was "Dracula Prince of Darkness".

    I don't know about "Being Human" because I don't have cable. Wait, I think I maybe saw an ad for it. Is that the show with the supernatural roommates? That sounds like another new rule. So, in that case it's the ownership of the house that matters. That's definitely a creative new take on the old rule!

    Dex ~ Hello again! I've never heard that one either. As I said to wicKED, it sounds like a new take on an old rule. The vampire rules always seem to change depending on the show/movie!

  7. Great post about my favourite monster! I settled in for a good read with my coffee. ;)

    I'm looking forward to browsing through the list of vampire traits in different movies. I know that there is ancient folklore about spirits not being able to cross running water, like a river, but I think death by shower is a bit of a lame way to kill a vampire! :)

    I actually have an old book my dad gave me called, 'The Natural History of the Vampire' by Anthony Masters. It's probably out of print, but if you ever see it in a secondhand book shop, I think you may find it interesting. It's full of all the rites, rituals and legends about vampires throughout history and around the globe. The creepy thing is that every culture on earth seems to have had some version of the vampire myth.

    The Twilight stakes are absolutely hilarious, and you've made me want to watch 'The Lost Boys' again! :)

  8. PS. Salt is always used in 'Supernatural'. It's their number one weapon and they use it by the sack load. The boys even make salt rounds for shotguns to blast the vengeful ghosts, demons and other monsters.

  9. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Haha! Yes, this was another coffee post. :) Actually, they're all getting to be coffee posts. I'm afraid I can't stop myself from writing a lot, but I did cut myself off a little bit. There were even more vampire rules I wanted to get into!

    Vampires are probably my favorite monsters too. I like werewolf movies, but there aren't so many of those. So, I guess I forget about werewolves. Oh? I'm not familiar with the stories about spirits and running water. You're right, somehow it's lame to use a shower to kill a vampire. It seems like an awfully ordinary way to kill a bloodthirsty undead demon.

    I'll definitely keep an eye out for 'The Natural History of the Vampire'. Maybe I could even find the book for sale online! Oh yeah. It seems like there are different kinds of vampire stories all over the world. Each with it's own folklore and rules.

    I love the Twilight stakes! It appears that they're just hanging in someone's backyard. I wonder if a stake would even work on vampire in Twilight. They're such non-traditional vampires. This may have been mentioned during the movie, while I wasn't wasn't paying attention...

    I've made myself want to watch 'The Lost Boys' again too! It's kind of insane, given that I've seen that countless times. Maybe 20? It's definitely a favorite movie of mine!

    Ha! You're back with a P.S. before I got a chance to answer your first comment. :) I had to run off while in the middle of responding to the first part. They use it by the sack load, hey? They must travel around with a bunch of it, just in case. Loading salt rounds into shotguns is pretty creative! So, how does salt effect the vengeful creatures on this show? Does it always kill them, or just repel them?

  10. No, the salt just repels, it doesn't kill. Demons are repelled by salt but the boys use an exorcism ritual to send them back to Hell. They shoot the vengeful ghosts with salt rounds, causing the ghosts to dissolve, but they always come back. They tend to use the salt to buy time. For the ghosts, they have to find the remains of the bodies, then burn them, and salt the graves in order to get rid of them permanently. Demons and ghosts can't cross a line of salt either. The vampires they just decapitate.

    By the way, talking of holy water, I've got a book that describes an ancient ritual to make holy water. It has nothing to do with the modern Christian idea of the water being blessed by a priest, but rather that the water contains salt, which I thought was interesting.

  11. It seems like every book and movie alters the way you can kill a vampire a little. I love your list and I especially love the sign with the stakes that says "Break off in Case of Sparkly Vampires."

  12. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Wow! There are a lot more steps involved with eliminating the ghosts than the vampires on that show. How interesting about the ancient holy water ritual. I haven't heard that before, but it does go along with a lot of what I've heard about salt. While doing a little research for this post, I saw some articles about how to make your own holy water without the help of a priest, but I didn't read them. I should take a peek and see if they mention salt.

    Jessica ~ Thanks! Yeah, every story is a little bit different. Some of this vampire folklore probably didn't change for hundreds of years. I would assume that some new things are added so each movie/show has a little something different. Or maybe the writers got bored with the same old rules? Whatever the reason, I actually get a little annoyed when the rules change! I love the sparkly vampire stakes too. :)

  13. Lot's of really great stuff to kill vampires with. I especially love the kit and sign hanging on the fence.

  14. Adsila ~ So far, I think those sparkly vampire stakes are the most popular weapon here! They remind me of those advertisements for music lessons or a free couch or something. You know, those things where you tear off one of the the little pieces of paper with a phone number on it. Only it's a stake this time. :)

    I love the old kits too. It's so fascinating to see how they differ. I guess even back in the day people had different opinions on the best way to kill a vampire!

  15. I just checked that book and it says that the addition of consecrated salt to make holy water is common to most traditions, including Judeo-Christian. The book gives the Roman Catholic ritual for the exorcism and blessing of the water and salt. Basically, I think they're suggesting that anyone can perform the ritual for making holy water, and that it doesn't require a specific blessing from a priest, although the priest blessing seems to be the message in most movies.

  16. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Thanks for checking! How interesting. Yes, after watching enough of these movies, I believed that a Priest's blessing was a requirement in making holy water. I suppose that adds a little more drama to the story. I'd be curious to read more about the Roman Catholic ritual for exorcism. Again, I've seen a lot of movies that involve an exorcism. I've never read through the process, though. I find these rituals pretty fascinating!