Tuesday, November 14, 2023

The Afterlife Wanderer, 1915, is cinema's first vampire film

(Both photos from The Afterlife Wanderer are courtesy of Daydreams Database: Cinema of the Russian Empire and Beyond, edited by Anna Kovalova and developed by Alexander Grebenkov.)

It seems the very first vampire film has been discovered. It's from 1915, titled The Afterlife Wanderer. (See stills from the film above). More below:

Film scholar Gary D. Rhodes is found in many of the pages of Plan9Crunch blog. He's written extensively about Bela Lugosi, and recently -- along with co-author Bill Kaffenberger, unearthed new information about Bela Lugosi's pre-Dracula years in the two-part Becoming Dracula series. 

A few years ago he also unearthed information on the lost Hungarian silent film, Drakula Halala, regarded as the first film to use Bram Stoker's tale as provenance, albeit loosely. However, as Rhodes notes, there's really no vampire in Drakula Halala. Just like there's no real vampire in Tod Browning's lost 1927 silent film, London After Midnight (see star Lon Chaney in a still from the film below).

Often the 1922 classic Nosferatu is regarded as the first vampire -- of the blood-sucking variety -- film (see star Max Schreck, who really resembles a rat, in a still below). But Rhodes has unearthed a 1915 Russian film, unfortunately lost, as likely the first film to feature a blood-seeking vampire.

As mentioned, it's called The Afterlife Wanderer, and it stars a young Olga Baclanova, who would later see her career surge in Hollywood. She's in a lot of films, but is perhaps best known for playing the evil, ill-fated circus vamp in Browning's "Freaks." 

On the Medium website, Rhodes writes in detail about the film, its history and how it earns the distinction of being cinema's first vampire film. Here is one paragraph from Rhodes' article:

"One review described The Afterlife Wanderer's title character as 'vampire who sucks the blood of the living people at night.' Another called her a 'vampire woman sucking blood from loved ones.' No doubt about it: she was a real vampire and a reel vampire."

According to Rhodes, reviews were mixed -- to be kind -- for The Afterlife Wanderer. It was banned by the mayor in one city. Baclanova's performance was subtly mocked by one reviewer. The Afterlife Wanderer will be discussed in detail in a book by Rhodes slated for publication next year, Vampires in Silent Cinema.

But there's lots of information on The Afterlife Wanderer, and other similar silent films, in the Medium piece. It can be read in its entirety at the Medium website. Rhodes forthcoming book, available next year, Vampires in Silent Cinema, can be pre-ordered here.

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