• The rise and fall of Vampira, dark goddess of horror

    She walked screaming out of the white smoke, a black-clad goddess of death, exuding aggressive sex. Her eyes held just a tinge of threat. Her nails, phallic daggers of implied violence. Waist shrunken to a ghastly circumference, her eyebrows archly painted, her long black hair swirling behind and around her, she shocked, titillated, angered, obsessed.

    She called herself Vampira.

    She introduced every show with a scream, a bloodcurdling extrusion that had to issue out of some cavern too big, dark, and lonely to live inside her impossible 36-17-36 figure. She screamed and looked directly at the camera, a goth Garbo who seized the eye of the audience, refusing to become a simple object of their regard. She seduced them with the offer of a night of B-movies, horror and sci-fi fare, mostly execrable, but seasoned with her spicy sweetness and her undertone of aggression that radiated underneath heavy white pancake make-up.

    Nobody could turn off the TV. It was 1954.

    Maila Nurmi screamed in a postwar America of chilling optimism, everyday repressions, and awkward silences. She was the child of Finnish immigrants, a runaway in the 30's who worked as an actor, a model for softcore men's magazines, and a burlesque dancer. She had a taste for the macabre that led her to delve into the sediment of midcentury America until it yielded its dark treasures. A pin-up model who found herself turned into the 50's American middle class housewife, she refashioned herself to escape the confines of cultural expectation.

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