In some ways, this interview has been twenty two years in the making. I first heard about John the same year J. Gordon Melton published the first edition of his famous vampire encyclopedia, courtesy of an entry on Vellutini’s Journal of Vampirology that Melton included in the book.
John’s journal was published between 1984 and 1990, and occasionally appears in citations—but he then seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Not even his contemporaries, Melton, Martin V. Riccardo, Margaret L. Carter and Jeanne Youngson know what happened to him after the journal folded. They’ll get that chance now.
In the last few years, I’ve tried to track him down. I was only able to find a few references to him, his work and torrent links to a scan of the last issue of his journal. But thanks to Erin’s sterling detective work, we can now reveal what happened after that tumultuous time and what John’s been up to since, in our exclusive interview with the elusive vampirologist.
Anthony Hogg: What was your personal investment and interest in vampirology? How did you get into it? Which scholars inspired you then? Do any inspire you now?
John L. Vellutini: As a child growing up in the 1950s, I had a severe case of insomnia, a sleep disorder that kept me up all hours of the evening and early morning hours. During this period of time I began to hear footsteps in my home. My mother would always try to convince me that it all in my imagination. Despite her disbelief, this phenomenon persisted for years. When I was old enough to read in any substantial manner, I gravitated toward(s) tales concerning ghosts and psychic phenomena. At the same time I was granted the freedom to go on my own to frequent movie theatres. I was particularly engrossed by the giant monster films from the studios of Universal International (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, etc.) and Toho Films (Godzilla, Rodan, etc.) However, it was the Hammer horror films that proved to have a lasting impact on my life. Ironically, it was one of the few Hammer films that Christopher Lee did appear in, The Brides of Dracula (1960) featuring David Peel as Baron Meinster, that has remained for me my favorite film among all the Hammer Dracula films. The concluding sequence in the windmill remains one of favorite scenes.
As real life began to intrude on adulthood, I found myself in the position of being married with child, attending college and working full time. My movie attendance was reduced to the point of a handful of films, although I tried to see every new film that Hammer released. The latter part of the 1960s witnessed the renewal of interest in occultism. Astrology, tarot cards, witchcraft, etc., all became matters with which I personally became involved. There were several metaphysical bookstores located in San Francisco, my place of residence, that I would frequent from time to time. Of especial importance were the works of Montague Summers which I devoured with a certain amount of personal avidity. My favorites were his two works on vampirism, perhaps because of my prior interest in the Dracula Hammer films. Although the works of Summers in recent years have been discredited, he remains the single most influential factor in my interest in vampirology. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) How could one not resist reading a book that begins with the sentence: “In all the darkest pages of the malign supernatural there is no more terrible tradition than that of the Vampire, a pariah even among demons.” In 1970 I enrolled in a course at San Francisco State College taught by Leonard Wolf who was in the process of writing A Dream of Dracula (1972) and who would later go on to write The Annotated Dracula. I helped provide him some information for the book and I am duly credited in the acknowledgements. For my term paper I wrote on Peter Kurten, variously known as the Dusseldorf Monster or Vampire. Following his arrest for several murders, Kurten claimed that he drank the blood of some of his victims. Scoring high marks on the paper, I turned by attention — not to vampirism — but serial killers and mass murder. I spent most of the ensuing decade (1970s) doing research in these matters. I contacted McFarland Press (Jefferson, NC) and they were enthusiastic about publishing the book when completed. I completed two-thirds of the book when I abandoned the project. It just proved too wearisome and depressing after a time, recounting murder after murder. However, I would late revive my interest in murder and created a magazine called Murder Exchange which I included as a free insert to Journal of Vampirology. I found that publishing two zines at the same time too taxing and I abandoned the idea after the initial issue.
AH: You started your journal to fill a void left behind when the Journal of Vampirism, newsletter of Martin V. Riccardo’s Vampire Studies Society, ceased publication in 1979. Can you describe the state of vampirology at the time?
JVL: It was a very lively scene at the time. In the wake of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire (1976), the floodgates were opened and it seemed like every other book published had a vampire theme. A number of amateur publications emerged, perhaps the most prominent being Martin Riccardo’s Journal of Vampirism, the title which inspired me to name my written effort, Journal of Vampirology. Other publications of interest were Eric Held’s Vampire Information Exchange and Dr.Jeanne Youngson’s Count Dracula Fan Club. However, it seemed to me that there was too much energy being expended on the literary vampire. Having a background in Anthropology with a specific interest in folklore, I decided to create a publication of my own that would address the non-fictional aspects of the vampire legend. I published the Journal of Vampirology from 1985 through 1990, 19 issues in all. It proved to be labor intensive, as I had to frequent (gasp!) libraries to access the information I needed. Thankfully, the Bay Area has several college libraries that proved essential to my investigations, such as those as Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. Because of my attention to detail and spending anywhere up to several months of research on one article, my labor of love proved more labor than love in time.
AH: In the same issue, you alluded to “certain vampirologists whose sensationalized efforts have done much to stigmatize vampirology and give it a bad name.” Are you at liberty to discuss who you were referring to? The only person who seems to fit the bill, to me, was Stephen Kaplan, who was both a vampirologist, a bit of a sensationalist and contemporary – but you also credited him with support in the journal’s second issue.
JLV: Yes, that passage was in reference to Dr. Stephen Kaplan, who I felt was exploiting the vampire movement for his own personal gain. However, in the only communique between us, Dr. Kaplan came off as both serious and sincere and not some huckster. He may have trafficked in sensationalism, but he did help promote the field of vampirology in a signifcant manner. His exposure of the so-called Amityville Horror in his The Amityville Horror Conspiracy (1995) can also be read with some profit.
AH: At the time, you said these “dubious researchers view themselves more as pioneering sexologists than serious students of the vampire legend, treading more in the footsteps of a Kinsey or Krafft-Ebing than a [Augustin] Calmet or [Montague] Summers.”
Considering that vampire research now also involves sociological examinations of self-identified vampires and their communities courtesy of scholars like Joseph Laycock, John Edgar Browning and DJ Williams, and the traditional writers – particularly Summers – have come under greater scrutiny and the reliability of their work questioned, are we witnessing a paradigm shift? Is there still a place for traditionalist scholars?
JLV: I an not certain at this late date what prompted me to make such a statement, although I suspect it was the publication of Dr. Kaplan’s lurid Vampire Are (1984) that compelled me to make such an assertion.
I haven’t witnessed a paradigm shift concerning vampire research, traditional or otherwise. What I have noticed is that contemporare researchers are far more informed than I was when I first began my fledgling efforts back in 1985. I credit the internet in this regard and I wish I had its services available to me then; otherwise, I might be still publishing the JOV to this day.
As for those individuals who claim they’re vampires, I find the vast majority of them to be simply poseurs, a reflection of their involvement in the goth scene. Those remaining who possess a psychotic need for blood should be institutionalized to spare the lives of others. Until that day someone provides incontrovertible evidence that he or she is a reanimated corpse that prays on the living for their essential sustenance, I choose not to believe in traditional or contemporary forms of vampirism.
AH: There were several suggestions in your journal that you believe in the existence of vampires. For instance, you said you were “open to the possibility that vampires represent a mutant strain of the human race” and “current theory which suggests that vampirism is due to some medical cause, whether it be bubonic plague, genetic mutation, pernicious anemia, porphyria, rabies . . . or pathogenic anaerobic bacteria (as I believe).” Do you believe in vampires, John?
JVL: I believe that anything is possible and everything is relative, therefore, yes, I believe in the possibility that vampires in the strictest sense of the word exist. That said, I don’t believe in the actual existence of vampires. Vampirism in recent years has become synonymous with blood drinking and sexuality, an unfortunate development. This charade allows individuals to claim their vampires, have their canines fashioned into fangs and dress up in goth-like clothing. These are sham vampires, nothing more. My definition of a traditional vampire is a revitalized corpse who preys upon the life forces of the living. Blood is not necessary for a vampire’s sustenance.
Relative to the above I once interviewed an individual in Berkeley concerning his own personal fantasies. It soon became apparent to me that he was a closet pedophile who fantasized about sucking the blood of young boys. This proved to be such an unsavory experience that I never conducted another interview, either in person or by correspondence, with someone claiming to be a vampire. Perhaps my current distaste for latter-day vampires derives from this encounter.
AH: You made some interesting observations on African vampirism, noting “Vampirologists have a tendency to treat vampirism as if it existed in a vacuum, largely ignoring any cross-cultural parallels,” which I thought was a staple of vampirology, particularly through Summers, anyone who’s based their work on his, and the recent work of Theresa Bane, author of Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology (2010). Yet in the same breath, you add “vampirologists are always trumpeting the fact that vampirism is universal in nature (which it is not), yet seldom they educe any examples to this effect.” If the vampire isn’t universal, what is it? What is an acceptable representation of the vampire?
JVL: I have always railed against the exclusivity of Western vampire research. I admit that there are few cross-cultural parallels that exist between the European vampire and elsewhere. However, Africa does provide some parallels and it is my hope that someday someone will expand upon my research. There are any number of folkloric or legendary creatures that subsist on the blood of the living, but these are not truly the undead. Ironically, of all the articles that I appeared in the Journal of Vampirology, my favorite remains “The Viscera Sucker of Southeast Asia,” which yet remains the most detailed account of this extraordinary creature so far written. I have been informed that the entire article will be reprinted in the next issue of Monster International supplemented by listing of films in which the creature appears.
AH: In the same issue, you said “I’ve railed against this exclusivity in vampirology before without, it seems any perceptible success. Perhaps if I termed the whole subject of vampirology inherently racist, rather than elitist, I might see more constructive results.” Do you genuinely believe racism is to blame or could there be cultural limitations for authors not familiar with works written in other languages, for instance?
JLV: Yes, I do believe there is an undercurrent of racism, enthnocentrism, call it what you will, in contemporary vampire research. Yes, language is a factor, but I still managed to overcome such barriers. I accomplished all my research by frequenting libraries. I did not have the benefit of computers, printers, online sources and Google translate. I had to rely on typewriters and, later, thermal typewriters and copy machines. If I accomplished as much under such primitive circumstances, the contemporary researcher can readily do so with ease.
That said, the works of Anthony Hogg (https://thevampirologist.worldpress.com) and Neils K. Peterson (www.MagiaPosthuma.blogspot.com) are a reflection of what a diligent researcher can accomplish. Their contributions to the field of vampirology are in the best tradition of a fact gatherer as Montague Summers was. Their blogspots are extraordinary and put my paltry efforts on paper to shame. I feel that I have nothing of relevance to contribute to the field of vampirology in the wake of their talents.
I would also like to give a special shout out to Andy Boylan. Not constrained by personal ethnocentrism, Andy has written extensively on the cinema of the Asian vampire. I have found myself referrencing his blogspot Taliesin Meets the Vampires, (www.taliesinttlg.blogspot.com) frequently in the past and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.
AH: Is there any way interested readers can obtain copies of your journal? Do you have any plans to revive it, as you suggested in its last issue? Will the unpublished articles ever see the light of day? For instance, I’m not sure if you ever published “Flatulence, Spontaneous Human Combustion and the Gaseous Elements of Vampirism.”
JVL: I do not respond to requests concerning back issues anymore. I was overly generous in accepting such requests in the past, so much so that I have only one copy of several issues. I do not intend to revive the JOV. If I were to revive the Journal, it would simply be more out of vanity than anything else. The blogspots of Hogg and Peterson should more than suffice for the serious researcher.
Despite an immense amount of material I have accumulated over the years, those unpublished articles will probably never see the light of day. You’ve got a better memory than myself, Erin. I had forgotten about that proposed article. It would have involved the bloating of exhumed corpses suspected of vampirism and the so-called “miasmic vapor” associated with outbreaks of contagious diseases.
AH: In the final issue of your journal you said: “Mounting personal problems, exacerbated by financial woes, have left me physically, mentally and emotionally depleted.” Allusions to these problems also appeared in several other issues. If you don’t mind me asking, what happened exactly, and what have you been doing since then?
JVL: My decision to cease publication of the JOV in was largely due to personal burn out and not due to lack of interest. Financially, it was proving to be too great a burden as well. I had approximately 60 subcribers when I ceased publication. Persistent vision problems which have intensified over the years also acted as an additional hindrance.
I also experienced a bizarre personal setback that left me demoralized at the time. Having completed the second part of my article on the Vampire in Africa, I went to my local print store and duly handled over my draft to the person behind the counter, a black man. Several days later I returned and was informed by the Manager that the clerk I had dealt with had absconded with all the money in the cash register later that day. The only other item stolen was my manuscript on the Vampire in Africa. You can imagine how devastated I felt. I had to return home and start from scratch. As I believe in omens, I told myself that someone was trying to tell me something. I published two additional issues of the Journal of Vampirology and called it quits in 1990 with few regrets.
My attention now shifted to Asian cinema. In Jonathan Ross’ The Incredibly StrangeFilm Show (1988-89), a glimpse of a Chinese Hopping vampire in both the opening credits and a brief film clip which preceded a segment devoted to Tsui Hark (Chinese Ghost Story) that proved to be a personal revelation. I learned that the video clip in question was taken from a Hong Kong movie entitled Mr. Vampire (1985) and that its popularity had given rise to a whole slew of imitators. Being in the advantageous position of residing in San Fancisco which hosts the largest Chinatown west of New York City, I was able to frequent Chinese video rental stores whose inventories contained number of films featuring hopping vampires and, by extension, the entire Asian horror film industry.
During the latter part of the 1980s through the early 1990s, I began contributing film reviews to Tim Paxton’s Monster International and Damon Foster’s Oriental Cinema. Coincidental to these efforts, I was also submitting film reviews of Mexican Masked Wrestler movies featuring the likes of el Santo, Blue Demon, Mil Mascaras, etc., to Brian Moran’s Santo Street and continued to do so until it ceased publication.
In 1996 I self-published a 60 page pamphlet entitled “Hopping Horrors: The Chinese Vampire in Folklore, Literature and Contemporary Cinema.” At the insistence of Dr. Jeanne Youngson, then head of the Count Dracula Fan Club, I attended the centennial celebration of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula known as Dracula 97. Save for Dr. Kaplan, all the heavyweights in the field of vampirology were present, such as J. Gordon Melton, Radu Florescu and Martin Riccardo. An astounding 85 papers were presented at the convention and I doubt if such a large gathering of experts has ever taken place since. I felt some what out of place, given the fact that I was one of of only a handful of presenters whose subject matter did not deal with the Western vampire or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. My paper was entitled “Bell, Book and Bagua,” perhaps not the most compelling of titles in hindsight.
The first decade of the new millenium proved to be a fallow one for me. The Chinese video stores began to close one by one, thereby preventing me from keeping up with the so called “kung fu horror” cycle. In 1999, perhaps in frustration, I began broadcasting a program for Public Access TV in San Francisco concerning a Martian who had been marooned on this planet following the aborted effort by Mars to conquer the Earth in 1939. Originally titled Brainiac, the show is now broadcast under the name of Martians for Christ. The program has over the years featured clips from anime features, zombie films, Asian horror, etc. I currently broadcast Japanese super-hero episodes from the 1970s, showcasing the heroic efforts of Kamen Rider and Ultraman. I’ve done over 400 shows and counting.
AH: Do you plan to write a book on vampires? Considering the standard set by your journal, I think it you’d be more than qualified to do so.
JVL: I am in the process of writing a book on the Chinese Hopping Vampire, both in folklore and contemporary cinema.
- courtesy of an entry on the Journal of Vampirology Melton included in the book: J. Gordon Melton, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994), 339–40.
- thanks to Erin’s sterling detective work: Erin Chapman, “Finding Vellutini: How I Tracked Down the Editor of the Journal of Vampirology,” Vamped, June 25, 2016, accessed August 4, 2016, http://vamped.org/2016/06/25/finding-john-vellutini-author-journal-vampirology/.
- our exclusive interview with the elusive vampirologist: Erin Chapman emailed my questions to John on March 12, 2016. His responses arrived in an .rtf document on May 29, 2016. That is why I am referred to indirectly within the interview; Vellutini thought Erin had created the questions for him.Certain responses needed revision; the revised responses were emailed on September 11, 2016. The responses in this interview are from that version. Further amendments were sent on September 12.
- You started your journal to fill a void left behind when the Journal of Vampirism [. . .] ceased publication: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 1, no. 1 (1984): 1.
- 19 issues in all: However, J. Gordon Melton says there were 18 issues. Melton, The Vampire Book, 339.
- In the same issue, you alluded to: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 1, no. 1 (1984): 1. My goof: I forgot to specify to the issue I was referring to when I sent the questions. Fortunately, Vellutini was still able to answer the question.
- but you also credited him with support in the journal’s second issue: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 1, no. 2 (1984): 1.
- “dubious researchers view themselves more as pioneering sexologists”: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 1, no. 1 (1984): 1.
- and the traditional writers – particularly Summers: Niels K. Petersen, “A Delayed Demonologist,” Magia Posthuma (blog), Sept. 24, 2011, accessed Feb. 6, 2016, http://magiaposthuma.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/delayed-demonologist.html. archive.is link: http://archive.is/3iACh.
- “open to the possibility that vampires represent a mutant strain of the human race”: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 1, no. 1 (1984): 1.
- “current theory which suggests that vampirism is due to some medical cause”: Ibid., 2.
- “Vampirologists have a tendency to treat vampirism as if it existed in a vacuum”: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 5, no. 2 (1988): 1.
- “I’ve railed against this exclusivity in vampirology”: Ibid.
- Do you have any plans to revive it, as you suggested in its last issue?: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 7, no.1 (1990): 1.
- I’m not sure if you ever published “Flatulence, Spontaneous Human Combustion and the Gaseous Elements of Vampirism”: Mentioned in John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 3, no. 1 (1986): 2.
- “Mounting personal problems, exacerbated by financial woes”: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 7, no.1 (1990): 1.
- Allusions to these problems also appeared in several other issues: John L. Vellutini, editorial, Journal of Vampirology 5, no. 1 (1988): 1.
We’ll keep you posted on the reappearance of John’s “The Viscera Sucker of Southeast Asia” article. In the meantime, you can read “Ties That Bind: The Pocong & Other Creepy Creatures in Contemporary Indonesian Horror Cinema,” his article for Monster! (September 2015). The issue is available on Amazon.