Creature Feature: VAMPIRES

Happy Halloween! In honour of this holiday (barely celebrated in my country leaving me little to do but watch a horror marathon and dress my dog up in a bumble bee costume) I present another one of... these things. Following up my werewolf blog with a vampire one. Bet you didn't see that coming. ;)

Note: This is a really big subgenre. Please bear in mind, it's going to be missing at least one thing you like. Including the Twilight series in the Top 10 movies would've automatically eaten up five whole spots... Be fair.

Artist: Frederico Musetti
Artist: Frederico Musetti

Origins

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Back in older, more plague-ridden Europe, people had a tendency to suddenly wither and die and villagers looking for answers that didn't involve self-flagellation decided to exhume some of the deceased only to find, to their shock and horror, bloated and decidedly non-decomposed corpses! Obviously it didn't take a genius to figure out what was happening: the corpses were exiting their graves at night and stealing life from the living which never would've happened if they were all more Catholic (or in other parts - weren't so Catholic). Of course in boring-old-nowadays this would most likely be attributed to bodily gasses causing a swollen appearance while pressurizing within, forcing blood to emerge from the mouth while the victim's sudden deaths could possibly be because the village populace were throwing their feces out the window. In any event, the solution was simple: stake them through the chest. Although back in the day it did not need to be a wooden stake as the purpose was not to destroy the vampire's heart - it was to pin him to the ground so he couldn't get back up... Which to me, personally, brings up the hilarious image of a pissed off vampire failing his limbs around like a turtle on it's back...

In the 19th century the vampire received something of a make-over thanks to the birth of the vampire novels, no longer random undead peasants coming after their former loved ones the vampires had now infiltrated the famously decadent aristocracy. Books like "The Vampyre" by John Polidori, Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" and James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest's "Varney the Vampire" penny dreadful series to name a few. Also a guy named Bram Stoker wrote something more or less concerned with the subject... This is a trend that is still going today.

The new bourgeois blood-suckers did not rise from the dirty ground like some common zombie, they secluded themselves in old castles or fancy estates and preyed upon the innocent proletariat. Some notable historical figures were influential in shaping this image:

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Vlad the Impaler: Vlad III is by far the most obvious real world icon of this genre. The 1400's most notorious Wallachian Prince has become synonymous with vampirism due to Bram Stoker using him as an inspiration for the vampyric villain in his novel Dracula, Vlad being the "son of Dracul" ("The Dragon"). Stories of his cruelty are quite morbid from nailing turbans to the skulls of Turkish diplomats who wouldn't take them off in his presence to impaling the bodies of boyars to create a forest of them, enjoying a meal while watching them twitch.

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Countess Bathory: Obessed with youth, Elizabeth Bathory is said to have bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her own so she's a clear link in this case. The Countess had many servile maidens she just adored torturing in some very creative ways: sewing their mouths shut, smothering them in honey and feeding them to the wasps, deflowering them with burning-hot irons, forcing them to eat flesh cut from their own rear etc. Just gonna stop writing, I don't know how to follow that.

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Gilles de Rais: A former ally of Joan of Arc, Gilles is remembered in a slightly different light to her - a medieval Jeffery Dahmer. A decorated nobleman his public persona was that of national hero until his preferred hobbies came to light: kidnapping, murdering, raping and eating children to quench an ever-growing thirst for brutality and apparent desire to please the demon, Barron. Some speculate his body count may be upward of 600.

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Lord Byron: Not a serial killer but a legendary poet of the Romantic Movement. His scandalous personal life served as the inspiration for his physician Polidori's 1819 novel The Vampyre so he was pretty influential. One of these things is not like the others.

Black Wreath's Top Ten Favourite Vampire Movies

Please note there are some popular vampire movies excluded from this list, if your favourite is missing then I probably did not get the chance to watch/re-watch them. Obviously doing this by Halloween was more important to me than doing it... you know... good.

10. The Addiction (1995)

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This movie is even more 90's than my wardrobe, it's like the Clerks of vampyric arthouse movies. Philosophy student Kathleen (Lili Taylor) gets bitten and becomes a vampire amongst racial turmoil of early 90's New York. Fellow vampire Peina (Christopher Walken) shows up and informs her of what she now is, an addict and that he has beaten his own addiction and is now almost human - teaching her that this is an option. Ponderings over the nature of addiction and the responsibility of her own prey to resist her, Kathleen philosophizes herself into a thoroughly gruesome conclusion. It's... exactly as pretentious as it sounds.

9. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

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The cult following of Nosferatu is inspired by, in no small part, the unnerving performance of Max Shreck. Unlike, say, Bela Lugosi much-publicized private life we don't know a great deal about the man under the make-up when it comes to Count Orlock (he was an odd, obscure character actor before this film and remained one after) which gave rise to a popular fan joke that the reason Shreck was so convincing as a vampire was because he secretly was one... Which gave rise to this movie. A fictionalized version (...or is it??) of the making of Nosferatu, Shadow of the Vampire follows F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) as he takes his crew to the Carpathians in order film his unsanctioned adaptation of Dracula. Murnau is apparently an auteur obsessed with authenticity so he secretly makes a deal with Max Shreck (really Count Orlock) whom only he knows is really a vampire to be in his movie in exchange for actress Greta Schröder. Naturally, having a vampire working on your movie leads to zany hijinks and this quickly becomes a problem. Willem Dafoe is pretty creepy as Shreck and Malkovich is perfectly pompous as Murnau, I also found it fascinating to see a 1920's silent film get made.

8. The Lost Boys (1987)

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The Lost Boys is interesting to me, it's before my time so it's hard for me tell if it's a legitimate portrayal of 80's counterculture or some old studio executive's idea of "cool" at the time (I mean there are kids headbanging to a saxophone but then, I don't know, maybe that really was a thing at one point?), nonetheless it remains iconic to the decade. One part gang movie, one part teen movie and another part horror- the movie is notable for being one of most effective films in selling the idea of being a vampire as an awesome experience - the Lost Boys are young forever and they do whatever they feel like because no-one can stop them. Some feel it is a metaphor for coming out of the closet but personally I see it as more reflective of society's youth obsession and the temptation to remain man-children always. Growing up is shit, who wouldn't join them?

7. Blade (1998) and Blade II (2002)

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The idea that Blade started the superhero movie trend still going today to me is fraudulent since Blade itself takes clear inspiration from another comic book movie The Crow just a couple of years earlier (and that movie took inspiration from the likes of Batman, Highlander and Blade Runner and so forth... Then The Matrix and Underworld continued this style - trends begat trends) and the fact the movie wasn't even really sold as a superhero movie but as an action-horror. However it definitely kicked the Marvel adaptation craze into gear by being their first watchable film and it has aged pretty good considering most other blockbuster action movies from the late 90's have not. What I like best about both movies is how little time they waste, knowing what the audience came for giving it to them - exceptional style (particularly Del Toro's sequel) with zero pretentiousness. Let's just forget Trinity, a movie clearly trying to ice skate uphill.

Blade: I really love the performances of Wesley Snipes (eschewing source-accuracy and playing Blade more like... Wesley Snipes), Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost, who understood a truly great villain is one you don't like) and Donal Logue (Quinn, understood the same). N'Bushe Wright's Dr. Karen Jenson is a kind bland everyperson but considering her usefulness and the fact she is not a love interest/eye candy is a major step up from typical female leads from the era. Also nice to see Udo Kier turn up, a staple of all good vampire movies.

Blade II: This movie seems to take place during a Powerpuff Girls marathon... Guillermo Del Toro takes over and brings a welcome focus on art design while still making it feel like a Blade movie. Awesome new cast members join too giving early exposure to gifts like Ron Perlman, Norman Reedus and Donnie Yen in their careers while also creating some kick-ass new creature effects. It has all the pieces to be a superior follow-up yet I still prefer the original, though I still include this one because it does deserve it.

6. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

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An artsy indie romance about the immortal relationship between a vampyric Tom Hiddleston (Adam) and Tilda Swinton (Eve) and how they've lasted centuries as an item. Pretty different for a vampire movie - what it lacks in horror, it makes up for in... err Taoist philosophy as Eve (perky, spirited, extroverted, avid consumer, wears white) and Adam (brooding, melancholic, introverted, compulsive creator, wears black) are frequently framed in Yin Yang symbolism as the movie explores their opposites-attract dynamic and how important they are to each other's continued survival (the younger Adam more so as he has contemplated suicide). Other vampire characters like John Hurt's Marlowe and Mia Wasikowska's Ava turn up with their own approaches to eternal life (though Ava's seems destined to end in epic self-destruction) but the movie makes it clear if you going to live forever, find a soul mate. Preferably a hipster.

5. Near Dark (1987)

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Katherine Bigelow's Near Dark was originally intended to be a western but when it became apparent she wouldn't get funding, she altered it from a dead genre to an undead one thereby ensuring I would actually watch it. The film is slightly similar to The Lost Boys in that both center around a vampire gang recruiting/abducting a reluctant new member but Near Dark is just a little bit darker and grittier. Bill Paxton definitely steals the movie as the violent, out of control Severen and the film's cinematography and action scenes are masterfully shot. When someone bleeds - you feel it, when someone burns - you feel it. Platinum Dunes had a remake planned but shelved it on account of its similarities to Twilight (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), that information should make a Twi-hard out of anyone.

4. Nosferatu (1922)

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A movie (that is nearing its 100th birthday) is basically a requirement of any vampire movie list regardless of whether the writer has actually sat down and watched it or not, I assure you that I have and that this movie makes my list on its merits and not on my craving for cinema snob cred. I also genuinely recommend modern viewers do take the time to view this silent film in its entirety as I really do believe it still has a lot to offer and we should all be thankful F.W. Murnau's masterpiece of German expressionism still exists at all as he adapted Dracula without legal permission to do so while merely changing the names and enough details to escape an infringement case. This failed as Bram's widow Florence Stoker took action against the movie (and by the way she had right to) and subsequently all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed, thankfully some survived to be discovered later. Scenes in this movie legitimately give me chills, something I did not expect to be possible - but Shreck's Orlock lives up to the hype and I find the bittersweet climax to be genuinely affecting.

3. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

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Louis bitches so much about drinking blood because he doesn't want kill people... Umm, you know what else kills people, Louis? Starting fires. Seriously, the amount of buildings that burn down as a result of Louis' actions may put his body count even higher than Lestat's - strange that he never angsts over that...

So Interview... is the beloved story of sexy brooding vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) meeting his life partner the sexy badboy vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) and settling down to raise their adopted vampire daughter Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Also features sexy stage actor vampire Armand (Antonio Banderas) who wants to have Louis all for himself. It's... super gay but doesn't want it to realize that, yet the movie is much better when you do. I haven't read Anne Rice's book and am aware Armand is far from source-accurate but his sinister, seductive performance makes him a strong candidate to play Dracula and that's not a conclusion I would've naturally come to so I thank the movie for that and it has my favourite Cruise and Dunst performance. An easy film to recommend (although you've probably already seen this one) and to my knowledge the first to be completely from the vampire point of view, making humans nothing more than scenery/snacks - redundant to the dysfunctional family drama. Also the aesthetic is the perfect representation of the aforementioned vampyric aristocracy.

2. What We Do in the Shadows (2011)

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This Kiwi film is the final word on vampire parody, not some half-assed hodge-podge of references to the current trend but a magnificent winking look at the genre as a whole and a labour of love for amazing duo Taika Waititi and Germaine Clement that was 9 years in the making. This movie is so brilliant it actually took me more than one viewing to grasp the scope of satire, a mockumentary following the exploits of vampire roommates: Viago (Waititi): an almost-maternal Victorian era dandy with a tragically romantic past straight from an Anne Rice book, Vladislav (Clement) the Impaler Poker: a Gary Oldman/Vlad Tepes-inspired medieval despot longing for his glory days before his defeat at the hands of "The Beast" (I definitely will not spoil this particular arc), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh): a rebellious younger badboy vampire in the vein of a Lestat or Spike or at least that's how he sees himself - in reality his attempts to be cool result only in douchebaggery and Petyr (Ben Fransham): an ancient Count Orlock type/actual scary vampire shut away beneath the house while the younger (more pathetic) vampires take center stage... have I mentioned yet that this is brilliant? They are then finally joined by a new modern hipster vampire whom they have turned named Nick (Cori Gonzales-Macuer) who upsets the group dynamic and mostly fails to adapt to the established vampire tropes, you already know who he is based on. There's actually too many great nods to mention in detail so here's some great ones: Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), Deacon's Renfield-like servant, working in exchange for being made a vampire which Deacon continuously puts off, a rival werewolf pack headed by Anton (Rhys Darby) and quite possibly best of all Stu (Stu Rutherford), an ordinary human with no discernable character or personality traits that the vampires inexplicably adore.

1. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

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This was not only the first vampire movie I ever saw but also the first horror movie I ever saw so I genuinely feel indebted to it. A strange movie, it is somehow so many things at once: sophisticated, erotic, hammy, gruesome, trashy, romantic, eccentric... And I love it for this, this is to date still closest adaptation of Dracula to date - though I dream of, one day, a Netflix series that manages to be even closer. Everyone knows about Keanu Reeves' amusingly incapable performance as Johnathan Harker but I don't think that should diminish the rest of the cast's good work Gary Oldman is, of course, magnificent, Anthony Hopkins' Van Helsing is comically unhinged and Winona Ryder is the definitive Mina (Google "Mina Harker" and there's a picture of her) but the supporting cast is also exceptional: Sadie Frost, Cary Elwes and Richard E. Grant are all underrated and damn-near perfect in their roles but the biggest scene-stealer is musician Tom Waits' beautifully deranged Renfield. This movie also features one of my all-time favourite movie scores courtesy of Wojciech Kilar, which is suitable one part prestige picture and one part B-movie and like the title character a timeless, iconic monster. I watch this movie once a year, this one is special to me. Oh, and Winona forever.

Honourable mentions:

  • Byzantium (2013): This is a divisive film it seems, some see it as a beautiful film while others see it as pointless and forgettable - I'm the former. It looks pretty, has compelling characters, I love the score and especially the flashback scenes even if I'm not sure why fangs needed to be replaced with a thumbnail... Uri Gavriel just has this amazing face for horror movies, I want to wear it as a mask!
  • Brides of Dracula (1960): Hammer Studio's Brides of Dracula is the first of many sequels to their 1958 Horror of Dracula. On the one hand I love the image of Brides from the the book and would love to see their roles expanded upon since they don't even have names, on the other hand this movie does not feature them. Or really any character who qualify for that title. Or Dracula. On the other, other hand it's easily one of the best movies in Hammer's Dracula series with one of best "everything catches fire" climaxs I've seen and is vastly far superior to its predecessor's ending. No Christopher Lee this time but Peter Cushing is more than capable of carrying the film alone as Van Helsing.
  • Fright Night (2011): Heretically I am placing the remake on my list instead of the original. I believe it is easily one of the best horror remakes, its cast is amazing and I love Colin Farrell's toxic-masculine take on Jerry, the new vampire next door. Another movie whose score I have to praise and I love its visual style.
  • Daybreakers (2009): In the future vampires have become the dominant species milking humans for blood like cattle, unfortunately a blood shortage is causing many to become rabid monsters leading to an impending dystopian nightmare. An Australian movie masquerading as an American one (more common than you might think) starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neil. As a local I'm always proud to see one of our films scrape together enough to look this professional even if this one would be improved simply by taking itself a little less seriously.
  • Dracula (1931): The original Dracula has aged pretty badly, it was adapted from a stage play and it definitely feels more like one than a movie, it suffers particularly when compared to that other big early Universal film and eternal bedfellow Frankenstein which was released the same year. Bela Lugosi's performance shines mostly because everyone elses is way worse, with the exception of Dwight Frye - who is the second best part of the film (I'll get to the best in a moment). However, for a movie that lacks the balls to show Dracula getting out of his coffin, having fangs or even his climactic death (which incredibly takes place off-screen in the definition of "anti-climactic") there is one thing this movie has yet to be upstaged on and that's the Castle Dracula set - unburdened by colour, it is still positively the grimmest, bleakest version of the iconic location I've seen. Its aesthetic is pure gothic horror, even the cobwebs have cobwebs. The stuff afterwards is milquetoast but this movie will always have its opening.
  • Queen of the Damned (2003): Queen of the Damned isn't a great movie and huge step down from Interview but it has a personal sentimental value for me as my partner was on the make up team for it (the movie was filmed in my city). Also Jonathan Davis put together a pretty amazing soundtrack proving that not all nu metal aged like a turd.

Comics

I don't do these in any order. For some reason...

I, Vampire (Reboot) by Joshua Hale Fialkov

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My favourite New 52 series, I, Vampire begins focused on the age-old feud/affair between vampire couple/enemies Andrew Bennett and Mary Seward or at least that is its most engaging aspect. Andrew and Mary already had a complicated relationship as it was what with Mary being a servent of the wealthy Bennett family and Andrew passing his vampyric curse onto Mary only complicates matters being that while his conscience and humanity remains relatively unchanged by it, her curse makes a monster out of her - albeit one with delighfully irreverent sense of humour that only makes her 10 times more entertaining than the morose hero of the story. She also wishes to destroy human civilization and replace it with a vampire autocracy while basically farming humanity, always with compelling arguments for why like any good insurgent leader. Also features some cool side characters: Tig, Professor Troghton, Cain, The Van Helsings, Justice League Dark, some Batman guy etc. and Andrea Sorrentino's art is just... the best, I can't praise that aspect enough, the use of shadow makes everything look so haunting. But seriously, read it - you complete me, Queen of Blood.

American Vampire by Scott Snyder

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I'm probably not the right cat to talk about this Eisner Award-winning series since I confess I am still only up to volume five, but I have to say that it's been a killer series so far and have every intention on following it through to the end. Basically following the exploits of vampires and their role in American history starting with the first of the new American species of vamp whom is a superior breed to the old European one (haha, oh you guys! :P) with none of the vulnerabilities of the old guard and powered by the sun beginning notorious Old West outlaw Skinner Sweet. Though there are frequent flashbacks, each part appears on a new decade so the setting is always fresh and the characters are memorable and/or likeable. Plus I'm pretty sure Ryan Murphy is a fan since American Horror Story: Hotel totally steals Pearl Jones' origin for Lady Gaga's Countess character...

Sea of Red by Rick Remender

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Sea of Red is about vampire pirates (admirably the term "vampirates" is only used once, exercising more restraint than I'd be capable of) but the story continually changes direction the only thing you can expect is that you won't know what to expect. I don't want write too much about the plot because while I bought it wanting a vampire swashbuckler, being surprised ended up being half the fun and being a fan of Remender's work had no problem going along with the ride. Colour is scarce, cursing is not.

Graveyard Shift by Jay Faerber

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Graveyard Shift features one of my favourite horror openings in a comic, I have to give it special mention, I love the tension in it. This book is part horror, part crime thriller and part romance and all three elements are handled surprisingly well - even the latter, the vampyric curse is what brings a husband and wife closer together. The noir-inspired art for me was the higlight though, vibrant colour and intense shadow is used throughout which is total eye candy for me.

Curse of Dracula by Marv Wolfman

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Wolfman writing Dracula - there's a joke there somewhere. While this is the same team that worked on Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series but it is unconnected (I have not read Tomb, I will one day and then my life will be complete). So in modern day the Count has infiltrated power players while his hordes enjoy sadistically preying on humans on the street. The story follows a team of vampire hunters trying to stop Drac before his ascent to power is complete led by a descendent of Van Helsing from very different backgrounds united by two things: a hatred of vampires and tragic backstories... each one more tragic than the last. Families dead, blindness, vocal chords ripped out - the usual Wolfman pleasantness. I wish this series had gone longer as I found it very engaging and it has a particularly charming Dracula.

The Complete Dracula by Bram Stoker (adapted by Leah Moore & John Reppion)

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An impulse item I jumped on and actually regretted having to read due to my noted familiarity with the story... However this adaptation quickly reminded me of just why I love the story so much! Though the painted art isn't perfect in every panel, it is more often than not strikingly beautiful and the book perfectly captures the gothic atmosphere of the source showing restraint in keeping the Count operating in the shadows until it is the right time for him to take the spotlight. I understand that Bram Stoker's original novel isn't the easiest thing to read but if you are still interested this is a really good, easily digestable version.

NosferaTunes

  • Adam Ant: Vampires
  • Alice Cooper: Fresh Blood
  • Alkaline Trio: Burn
  • Ash: Vampire Love
  • Avenged Sevenfold: Bat Country
  • Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi's Dead
  • Bif Naked: Vampire
  • The Birthday Massacre: Red Stars
  • Blitzkid: Return to the Living
  • Blue Öyster Cult: Nosferatu
  • Blue Öyster Cult: Tattoo Vampire
  • Burning Brides: Vampire Waltz
  • Calabrese: Vampires Don't Exist
  • Concrete Blonde: Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
  • The Creepshow: Take My Hand
  • The Cure: Blood
  • Dead Can Dance: Beyond the Realm of a Dying Sun
  • Def Leppard: Love Bites
  • Emilie Autumn: Dead is the New Alive
  • Genesis: Blood on the Rooftops
  • Gerard McMann: Cry Little Sister
  • Godsmack: Vampires
  • Gorillaz: Dracula
  • HIM: Vampire Heart
  • Ian Hunter: Once Bitten, Twice Shy
  • Iced Earth: Dracula
  • Iron Maiden: Transylvania
  • Lacuna Coil: Die & Rise
  • Marilyn Manson: If I Was Your Vampire
  • Moonspell: Vampiria
  • My Chemical Romance: Vampires Will Never Hurt You
  • Neil Young: Vampire Blues
  • Nine Inch Nails: Suck
  • Outkast: Dracula’s Wedding
  • Paul Simon: The Vampires
  • Radiohead: We Suck Young Blood
  • The Rasmus: In the Shadows
  • Roky Erickson: Night of the Vampire
  • Rush: Fly by Night
  • Sam Harris: Sugar Don't Bite
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees: We Hunger
  • Six Feet Under: Vampire Apocalypse
  • Slayer: At Dawn They Sleep
  • Smashing Pumpkins: We Only Come Out At Night
  • The Smithereens: Blood & Roses
  • Static-X: Cold
  • Testament: Cold Embrace
  • Tiger Army: Santa Carla Twilight
  • Venom: Bloodlust
  • Voltaire: Vampire Club
  • Most any song by Theatres Des Vampires

Obligatory Cat Picture

One Cat... Two Cats! Ah. Ah. Aah!
One Cat... Two Cats! Ah. Ah. Aah!

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And if you really just... cannot get enough of my take on the subject... then here's two lists... >.>

To Impurest_Cheese. Rest in Peace.

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