By Meghan McCarville

Kevin Sean Michaels is a multitalented New York filmmaker who is currently touring around the country showing his documentary Vampira: The Movie.

The documentary has a very impressive cast of onscreen contributors: horror-movie icons such as Debbie Rochon (Picture: - ), Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Lloyd Kaufman, Ari Lehman, Cassandra Peterson--who is better known as Elvira (Picture: - ), Mistress of the Dark--and most impressively, eighty-four-year-old Vampira herself, the reclusive Maila Nurmi.

In the 1950s, Vampira was a Los Angeles-based TV horror-movie hostess who went on to immortal fame by co-starring in Edward D. Wood Jr.'s beloved Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Offscreen, Vampira had SMALL BREASTS and a seventeen-inch waist, and she hobnobbed with Hollywood luminaries on the legendary order of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Marlon Brando. Eventually she faded into obscurity, only returning when, in the 1980s, a hugely buxom vampire vixen named Elvira surfaced, essentially recreating Vampira's whole shtick.

After a series of drunken phone calls from Chicago to New York, I got to meet Kevin Sean Michaels face to face in a hotel room. We did not have sex, but I did get to learn some very interesting information about this gentleman and his documentary.

At first, I wondered how he rounded up all these fascinating characters to contribute to his documentary, but once I met him I realized that he was a very well-spoken and down-to-earth fellow. He has a fetish for vampire women that led him on this ambitious journey.

What made you choose the particular people in your documentary to speak about Vampira?

Many of them are friends of mine that I have met at different horror conventions. You know how hardcore these horror conventions get, and you get to talking to the people around you. So I started making a list of who I would have in this documentary, and the list of my friends happened to be fantastic horror stars--Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Debbie Rochon--so I was able to include them in the film.

Also I worked for Troma for three years. I was the art director on Poultrygueist and played a chicken zombie in the film. I had a good time doing this, and that is how Lloyd Kaufman got into the movie as well.

Why do you think that Vampira was eclipsed in recent years by Elvira?

I think a lot of time had passed. She was on TV in 1954. Plan 9 is from 1956. So forty years goes by and here's Elvira, and she's new and she's fresh.

I think a lot of people started to do research, and they knew of Vampira's image, but they really had no idea who she was and whether or not she was a horror host. A lot of people will transpose Elvira's name with Vampira's. They even think that Vampira is Elvira and vice versa.

Do you think Ms. Nurmi was envious of Elvira?

There was a $10 million lawsuit in the early 1980s where Nurmi sued Cassandra Peterson for stealing her image. It was very publicized and talked about, but what is not known is the outcome of that lawsuit, and what happened was that the lawsuit got thrown out of court, and there was no merit to the lawsuit.

It did cost Elvira $35,000 to defend herself, and the case was never brought to court. Nurmi never got the $10 million out of her, and there were a lot of bad feelings over it.

For my documentary, I figured it's time to bury the hatchet, so Elvira is in the movie and explains what happened, and everything is all settled now. It's been so many years, and even though there are hurt feelings, at some point you have to say, "Hey, I admire your character, you admire my character," and that's where they stand now. That's one of the most amazing things about the film, is that Elvira agreed to be in it and people now know the story and what truly happened. They are no longer enemies.

Who do you think made a bigger impact on pop culture, Vampira or Elvira?

Again, it's hard to say because there's a lot of confusion between the two of them and their images. A lot of people don't really know who Vampira is, or they think she was some kind of silent film star. There is a lot of confusion.

Most people think she must have died a long time ago, and actually she's still alive and eighty-four years old. You wouldn't even recognize her now. She looks like a little grandmother who would serve you cookies, but what's in the cookies?

Has Vampira ever appeared nude on camera?

She never appeared nude, but the interesting thing about her breasts is that often when people think of her they think that she had huge breasts. That's a fallacy. Since she had such a tiny waist, she had a very petite hourglass figure. She's only five-foot-five, with a seventeen-inch waist, and everyone thinks of her as Boobzilla.

Do you think that Vampira is ultimately satisfied with her life and her career?

Vampira definitely feels accomplished. She feels like she's made an indelible mark because people know her, and maybe it's for the "worst movie ever made," but they know her.

Many people in the goth scene are inspired by Vampira, especially the long fingernails and the corsets.

She had the smallest waist in the world at one time, and it's in the Guinness Book of World Records at seventeen inches.

It wasn't until many years later when people started to look at her and say, "Wow! I can dress up like her and wear black makeup and be a strong woman."

She feels that she's a role model for women in general. She was out in L.A., doing her own thing, making a mark as a woman. Even today women don't get very good roles on television, and there she was with her own show and she had fan clubs all over the world.

Who are your favorite current female stars?

Julie Strain (Picture: ) is one of my favorites, if you know anything about her, she's been in a million films, but she's really articulate and smart and she knows about films. She was Penthouse Pet of the Year, and people assume that she might be bubble-headed, but she really knows her stuff and she's got it together. She's an incredible person.

Julie's husband, Kevin Eastman, created the Ninja Turtles, so right away he's my hero. I managed to have them both in my film, and I feel like it's truly amazing.

Another great horror actress is Debbie Rochon. She has been in over one hundred films and she is truly an icon. She comes to these conventions and travels around the country. She has the best scream in the business. She has such an insight into making these appearances.

That's what they would do with Vampira back in the day. She would be cutting the ribbon at supermarket openings. She ran for mayor. She had to jump out of an airplane with a black parachute. She was so gung ho about it. Vampira would do everything.

Has Maila seen the film?

No. Maila does not watch anything. At all. Never. She doesn't have a TV. She does not own a phone. She is very anti-technology.

But she let you film her?

That was an interesting process, because Maila does not do anything with anybody. She won't do interviews anymore, and she is completely reclusive. So because of that I had to become her friend first and show her that I wasn't out to make a buck or anything.

We started to hang out and we laughed and talked, and she started telling me these stories and I had to get them on tape. She starts talking about Marlon Brando, when she says Marilyn, she means Marilyn Monroe, and she talks about Tony Perkins, Bela Lugosi.

She saw 1950s Hollywood firsthand. But she'd just rattle them off like it was nothing. She'd say Jimmy, and she was talking about James Dean. That's awesome. I kept saying "That's awesome!" and I said I have to get a camera but she said no, but as our relationship developed she finally said ok . . . for me.

So now we have this document, and we're seeing it and how much there is to her story.

Is this the first movie that you've made?

Yes. This is the first documentary. I knew how to shoot. I knew how to put together a film, but there was a lot I didn't know. I had to go travel a lot. I had to find everyone where they were.

We have a slogan, "So indie it hurts," and it's literally true because you find yourself physically skipping meals and sleeping in closets to fund this film. It was very much me and my camera.

What advice do you give to a struggling documentarian who has a desire to make a movie?

Listen to your natural inquisitiveness, and you have to be curious and know how to ask questions and get information. That has to be part of your character to be naturally curious.

Sometimes it's hard because everyone has an idea of what they do, and I have an interest in vampire women, and I go on all the time and type in Ingrid Pitt (Picture: - ), and there's Ingrid Pitt, and there's all the clips for the vampire lovers.

So I find it natural to make a film about that, but if I was a different person I could be giving cameras to Cambodian children and asking them to shoot my film and that could be my documentary, so anything could be a documentary. You must absolutely also want to catch these stories.

Stories are like memories; one day they're here and then they fade away, and if you don't tell them or catch them on film they're gone. Maila Nurmi is eighty-four years old. If this was ten years later, the story would be a lot different.

Follow your interests. I love vampire women, so I follow them; maybe they'll turn around and put a stake through your heart, but I follow them.

Is there anything you're thinking of working on next?

It's a little early to say, but I really want to work on something on Ingrid Pitt. She was in horror films with Christopher Lee. And she also played Countess Dracula. She is an amazing woman.

Related Links: