Thursday, September 03, 2009

Interesting Shorts: the Family of the Vourdalak


A short story from 1843 by Count Alexis Tolstoy, this sometimes makes an appearance under the title “the Curse of the Vourdalak” and has been adapted twice for film. It was one of the three stories in the Mario Bava anthology film Black Sabbath and then produced as a feature length in its own right as Night of the Devils.

The story itself is interesting for a turn around it displays in sexual aggression. The narrator of the story immediately lets us know that he is a bit of a lothario by saying that he has to speak of his love affairs. Feeling teased by one potential conquest he goes on a diplomatic mission and ends up, due to icy weather, taking shelter with a family. They were awaiting the return of their father, Gorcha, who had gone off hunting the Turkish brigand Ali Bek. He had told them that if he was not home by a certain time to bar his entry, he would be vourdalak.

Vourdalaks are described as “dead bodies who rise from their graves to suck the blood of the living. To this extent, their habits are of all vampires, but they have another trait that renders them even more fearsome. The vourdalaks, Mesdames, prefer to suck the blood of their closest relatives and most intimate friends…” They can be killed by stake through the heart but it must be an aspen stake. One little extra bit of lore was the (physical) admonishment of the grandchildren for asking for grandfather as they wait for the ‘old man’s’ return – if he is vourdalak then naming him might call him.

Of course Gorcha is a vampire and he tries to predate on his family. In the meantime the narrator is trying to sexually predate on Sdenka – the youngest daughter of the family. He is rebuffed by her fear of what her family might say and, when he leaves, it seems that Gorcha has been dealt with.

He returns home, 6 months later, via the village and is warned that it has been plagued by vampires. Be that as it may he decides to return to see Sdenka (who is said to have gone mad) and discovers that it is now she who is the sexual predator (and ultimately a predator after his blood as she has become vourdalak). However it was this turn around that made the story for me – as well as the fact that the village situation remains unresolved, though he escapes by the skin of his teeth. This is helped in part by a cross which he wears and stabs him in the chest whilst with Sdenka. Normally the cross wards off the vampire, but in this case it allows him to see her as the cadaverish creature she has become, rather than the pale beauty trying to seduce him.

The story was adapted (shall we say) into the opening scene of They Thirst by Robert McCammon and this underlines the fact that, whilst perhaps not very well known itself, it has had a seditious influence on the genre – especially as one of cinema’s great horror directors adapted the story.

8 comments:

Zahir Blue said...

Thanks for that.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No problemo - by the way Zahir, I have been very much enjoying your blog

OllieMugwump said...

Last year I bought the extremely rare "Vampires; Stories of the Supernatural" (1969), containing as well a "Vourdalak", three other tales by Tolstoy:

"Oupyr/The Vampire"; an eighty-page novella which crams so much in: vampires, family curses, devil-pacts, haunted houses, 'the man in black' and even a creepy cameo by the Lamia halfway through.

"The Renunion after Three Hundred Years"; a sort of sequel/prequel to "Family of the Vourdalak" featuring the Marquis d'Urfe and narrated by his former mistress the Duchesse de Gramont

and "Amena" about an early Christian Roman seduced from his brother and betrothed into a cursed eternity by the titular vampiress.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Ollie, that is something I must keep an eye out for.

Zahir Blue said...

Thankee for your words!!!!!

Christine said...

Sounds interesting.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine - it really is. I have ordered the volume mentioned by Ollie and I will, obviously, be bringing folks news on that in the future.

In the meantime the volume I illustrated this with has a fine translation and is, itself, a must have for all vampire genre fans. The review of the volume is here.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Unknown said...

A name very simler to "Vourdalak" is use din "The sad story of a Vampire" aka "True Story of a Vampire" whihc also has Blatant references to Carmilla.