Amy Ryan
January 15, 2008 AT 09:35 PM EST

I love it that the Associated Press’ obituary for Maila “Vampira” Nurmi suggests that she was the first Goth chick. Which is probably true; certainly, the campy/vampy persona and undead-chic style she pioneered and embodied lives on among black-nail-polished gals everywhere. Nurmi, who died Thursday at the age of 85, first made an impression in the 1950s when she invented the Vampira character to host a Los Angeles-area horror-movie TV show. Her sexy succubus seemed an apparent inspiration for later horror/camp sirens like Carolyn Jones’ Morticia Addams and especially Cassandra Peterson’s Elvira, though Nurmi filed an unsuccessful $10 million lawsuit against Peterson for allegedly stealing her character.

Even if you never saw Vampira’s TV show — and few did — fans everywhere can enjoy her work in a variety of Z-grade movies, most famously, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), in which she gives an aptly robotic performance as a zombie. Sure, the movie is terrible (it’s the ultimate so-bad-it’s-good flick), but like so much else in it, Vampira’s performance has a weird energy that’s absolutely riveting. Who knows whether she had talent as an actress; she had presence, a screen charisma that earned her generations of cult fans, and that will surely continue to astonish, delight, and haunt fans of the bizarre and macabre.

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