Sunday, October 23, 2011

The House of Karnstein (pt. 2)

The Vampire Witches
A pattern emerges in the Karnstein family history, that of women who came to worship the forces of darkness, becoming not only witches but remarkably powerful vampires. More than once, these women survived their own homicides, lingering in spiritual form until the opportunity to be reborn presented itself.  Three in particular stand out.
1. Wandessa "Satan's Favorite Mistress"
Circa 1480, Countess Wandessa d’Arville de Nadasdy, age 28, was murdered by her lover after discovering she was a vampire.  Wandessa had in fact been born a Karnstein and practiced all manner of black magic.  The murder weapon was a silver dagger cross, made from the Chalice of Mienza.  That it took an actual holy relic to dispatch her--which in the end proved insufficient--gives some idea as to her inherent power.  Once the dagger had pierced her heart, she was buried in a remote part of northern France.  Her epitaph read "Satan's Favorite Mistress."  When accidentally revived in the 20th century by a history student named Elvira, Wandessa lost little time in seducing the young girl and turning her into a vampire [It remains possible the student in question survived the ensuing adventure and became a horror movie hostess in America].  Her next step was an attempt to open the doors between realities, allowing some vastly powerful demonic entity to come through and bring Chaos to the world.  This would seem to be the same CHAOS later to prove a foil for Vampirella, and might be identified as the Lovecraftian deity Azathoth.  Wandessa herself seems to have been solely attracted to women, which makes it likely the lover who managed to successfully kill such a powerful vampire-witch was one of the mystical line of Slayers.  Wandessa died a second, presumably permanent, time at the claws of the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky.
2.  Donia, the Other Impaler
Very nearly the same time as Wandessa fell to a silver blade, her younger sister Donia (Baroness Varga) became the first known Karnstein to fall victim to an angry mob of peasants.  Like the far-more-famous Count Dracula, her cruelty often took the form of impaling those who displeased her upon a wooden stake.  At last her home in a remote part of the German mountains fell to a peasants' revolt and she herself burned at the stake, her ashes scattered.  Clearly her death was the work of amateurs, for this allowed the Baroness to influence the world still.  Nothing sealed her in her grave, as the silver dagger did Wandessa.  Rather, a malign influence in and around the castle ebbed and flowed for centuries.  More than one follower/worshiper of Donia became a vampire and had to be destroyed, including a wicked old woman in the 1930s.  Following the second world war, the entire area had become deserted, until two young women were lured to the castle in 1969.  Donia had had a daughter, who ended up in the care of a loyal servant named Ulla Borisov, who in turn had a daughter the same age.  The two young women were direct descendants of the two daughters, and the decadent cult under the control of Donia's spirit brought them together in order to incarnate herself in the flesh once more.  She succeeded in possessing one of the girls, but was destroyed by an occult expert whose brother had fallen under the vampire-witch's sway.

In retrospect, one has to wonder what kind of home produced two such extraordinarily evil and rapacious women?  Their lives do coincide with the construction of Castle Karnstein itself for whatever that is worth.

3.  Sasha, Bane of Her Own Blood
Unlike the other two of this list, Sasha Karnstein did not marry.  She lived over a hundred years after her forebears and in fact sprang from the cadet or Hungarian branch of the Karnstein family tree.  Her tale was chronicled twice in different motion pictures, each changing all kinds of small details but keeping the basics intact.  In this they resemble two more-or-less faithful adaptations of Dracula--that of the BBC in 1979 and the Francis Ford Coppola version in 1992.  Yet apart from the peculiar details of the story which remain identical, other hints clearly show them to be the same story--not least the reference to the silver griffin which is the heraldric sigil of House Karnstein!  Neither film uses her correct name, however.  One dubs her Asa and the other Sera (the former also relocates the story to Moldova in the Russian Empire). 
Essentially, Sasha Karnstein fell victim to an Inquisitor of the Church, her brother Gregori Karnstein.  He discovered her crimes, including the worship of Satan and the practice of vampirism, and oversaw her execution.  She leveled a curse upon him and his descendants, vowing to return.  He evidently took precautions, nailing an iron mask upon her face and sealing her casket with a cross to hold her there.  This was April 23, St. George's Day, 1660 CE.  According to legend, exactly one hundred years later she sought to escape her grave but failed.  Masha Karnstein, her physical twin, died that very night mysteriously.
At this point something truly strange--but for Sasha, fortunate--happened.  One of Dracula's soul clones, dubbed Mordante (who would later encounter Vampirella), suffered pretty clearly from what we would call bipolar personality disorder.  His lair in Transylvania lay near the Borgo Pass, in an abandoned asylum once used as a kind of 'blood farm' by Dracula Prime and/or his get.  But Mordante, emotionally unstable, somehow got ahold of some notes by one of the Van Helsing family speculating about Dracula's many appearances.  Taking these theories as gospel, Mordante decided he needed to resurrect "Dracula's Daughter" to be fully himself again.  Either he himself or his servants stole the mummified corpse of Sasha Karnstein, intending to resurrect her in a blood ceremony.  However, having fallen in love with the woman whose sacrifice was to be the heart of this ritual, Mordante let her go.  Instead, he tossed Sasha's coffin into the river and destroyed the other vampires he had created there.

I date this event to 1909, in terms of how the characters have heard of Count Dracula (making it well after 1897 when Stoker's novel saw publication) but also due to events surrounding the somewhat convoluted life of Mordante (who at one point ended up stranded in his own past).

Sasha Karnstein's body was found by a doctor who soon fell under her power.  Although lacking (as yet) a body with which to fully reincarnate, Sasha proved fully capable of killing most of the young females of her despised brother's family, including Tilda daughter of Franz Karnstein.

Now by this time the Styrian title had gone to the Hungarian branch, by then headed by one Count Ludwig (circumstantial evidence indicates his mother was English, of the same family that gave rise to the Dracula soul-clone known as Denrom).  He had two children, Konstantin and Katia.  This latter was the physical twin of Sasha.  More she possessed psychic gifts.  In her dreams she saw her young cousins dying one by one, saw herself as the guilty party, and began to believe herself somehow damned.  A young doctor staying at her father's castle tried to comfort her, but to little avail.  Then Sasha's astral form--insubstantial but real to mere human senses--infiltrated the household as a beautiful stranger.  Slowly she began to feed upon Katia, initiating the process that would allow her to possess the living girl's body and live again.  The young doctor, following clues in the family portraits at the castle, eventually tracked down Sasha's grave, destroying it.  He believed he'd saved his love.

He was wrong.  Not knowing precisely how to destroy a vampire-witch like Sasha Karnstein, he merely delayed her.  Katia married her seeming savior, until the taint within her grew too strong and she consumed his life's blood.  Rather than threaten her brother Konstantin and his family (his daughter Carmilla would run afoul of a another vampire soon after WWII), Sasha fled to America.  There she found a small town called Astaroth that she slowly converted into her own personal territory, eventually having to fight off an attempt by Orlockians to take it over.  In this she found herself behaving more and more like the long-dead Sasha, even as she changed her name to Lemora. 

The 1973 film that chronicled a portion of this story noted how "Lemora" became entranced by a girl named Mary Jo, who ultimately died without becoming herself undead.  While the film indicates Mary Jo died sometime in the 1890s in fact she must have died between 1910 and 1920.  Sometime before 1933 (the end of Prohibition) another beautiful girl child came to Astaroth, named Lila. Her appearance coincided with the final battle between Lemora's vampires and the Orlockians.  Lila herself accidentally removed the wooden stake with which Lemora had been defeated, leading to her own victimization.  Unlike Mary Jo, she did become a vampire. 
Parenthetically, it seems more than likely Lila come to the town of Los Alamos New Mexico in 1983 where she was responsible for several murders, yet evidently fell in love with a twelve-year-old mortal lad named Owen.  They left the small town together.  By then Lila, like many undead who move around a great deal, had changed her name, to Abby.

Katia/Lemora on the other hand would seem to have taken another name in the interim, that (ironically) of Diana Le Fanu who lured both men and women into her arms to feed upon their blood.  Her lair in the 1970s had become a ranch in the Southern California desert, which made preying upon the swingers of that era so much easier.  

By the 1980s she was on the other side of the continent, hunting and seducing in New York City under yet another name--Rachel.  Interestingly, her prey still only sometimes turned into vampires themselves (although one memorable victim named Peter came to believe he was undead).

Werewolf Shadow (motion picture)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (t.v. series, comics, novels)
Vampirella (comic book)
The Devil's Plaything (motion picture)
Lust for a Vampire (motion picture)
Vampyr (motion picture)
Mask of Satan (motion picture)
Dracula's Great Love (motion picture)
Crypt of the Vampire (motion picture)
Lemora (motion picture)
Let Me In (motion picture)
The Velvet Vampire (motion picture)
Vampire's Kiss (motion picture)

The above clearly disputes some of the conclusions of Mr. John Small in his seminal work Kiss of the Vampire, in which he traces the life and undeath of Vampirella.  However, for the record, I totally agree with primary point, the identification of that lady with the 19th century adventurer Lady Rawhide.  I have my own theory about what this individual was doing between her falling victim to Carmelita and her appearance circa 1969 as the aforementioned "Vampi."

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