Lisa Marie Smith poses as Vampira for the film Ed Wood (1994). Photos by Tim Burton.

Rare photo of Vampira by Dennis Stock, 1954

Vampira in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Vampira in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Vampira, 1954

Maila Nurmi c. 1955

Vampira in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Happy Birthday Maila Nurmi aka Vampira

(December 11, 1922 – January 10, 2008)

Vampira c. 1950s

Maila Nurmi in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)


30 Days, 30 Scream Queens | day thirty
↳ Maila Nurmi

Maila Nurmi, the queen of us all.

Born Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi, Nurmi is perhaps best known as her character Vampira, which she originated for late-night television. At the height of late night horror-host craze, Vampira was among the best. Though there have since been many female horror hosts, Vampira was the first, and her legacy is the most enduring—if not partially because of Elvira ripping her off years later. But, I digress. 

Part Snow White’s Evil Queen, part Dragon Lady, part Morticia Addams, Vampira was the weekly host of KABC-TV’s The Vampira Show. Although the show was an enormous hit and landed her guest roles on numerous variety shows, it was ultimately short lived. There was an attempted revival in the 80s, but after some legal battles and creative shouting matches, the new show was ultimately packaged and released as Elvira’s Movie Macabre, starring Cassandra Peterson.

Far be it to me to say that one horror hostess was superior to the other, but it’s hard to talk about one without at least referencing the other. While Peterson’s hyper-sexualized brand of very broad comedy certainly plays well, it lacks the atmosphere of Nurmi’s early broadcasts. The Vampira show is the definition of gallows humor, a more subtle show of macabre delight from a woman who put horror first and, as evidenced in her opening credits, knows how to scream. RIP, Maila. 

FILMS TO WATCH: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), Vampira: The Movie (2004), American Scary (2006)