More often than not, I will cite “Dracula” by Bram Stoker as a key piece of vampire literature. The reasoning is obvious, the book has never been out of print since its publication in 1897 and there are very few people that have not heard of the character, even if they haven’t read Stoker’s seminal work. A quick search on imdb shows over 140 movies with a full or partial name match to Dracula, not to mention those other movies directly linked to the book and/or character.
Another, less well known vampire story was by another Irishman, Sheridan Le Fanu and his story “Carmilla”, which was first published in 1872, has had a defining effect on the genre also. It is clear that Stoker was aware of “Carmilla”. Le Fanu’s story is set in the country of Styria and, in an early manuscript, “Dracula” was also destined to be set there, until Stoker changed location to Transylvania. The deleted first chapter (according to Florence Stoker) of “Dracula”, “Dracula’s Guest” is still set in Styria.
In Le Fanu’s novella, a wealthy English widower retires to Styria with his daughter Laura. Laura awaits the arrival of a friend when General Speilsdorf, her friend’s father, sends a letter to say that his daughter has died.
There is then a carriage accident outside their home. Carmilla, the young passenger, is uninjured but her mother informs Laura’s father that she is on urgent business and cannot be delayed, thus arranges for Carmilla to stay with the family.
Carmilla is, of course, a vampire, and takes both a predatory and romantic interest in Laura – a brave move by the author considering when the story was written.
As Laura’s health declines so we discover some of the “rules” LeFanu introduces for his vampire. She sleeps often through the day, she is enraged by the singing of Christian hymns, she can pass through walls and takes the form of a monstrous black cat.
We eventually discover that the General’s daughter was killed by Millarca, Carmilla under an anagrammed pseudonym and the source of many film makers using the anagram of Alucard for Dracula, and they go to find Carmilla’s tomb. The tomb is that of the Countess Mircalla Karnstein and Carmilla is disposed of by staking through the heart, cutting off the head, burning the remains and scattering the ashes in a river.
Amongst the movies Carmilla inspired are a trio of Hammer productions “The Vampire Lovers” (1970), “Lust for a Vampire” (1970) and “Twins of Evil” (1971), the latter being the source of the still at the head of this piece. You can find the novella itself through Project Gutenburg and it is well worth a read.