Well, Western pop culture, anyway. Head over to Malaysia and you might run into a penanggalan instead. Sure, she might look like a traditional sexy vampiress, but she has a tendency to have her head pop free of her body and fly or slither around, trailing its attached organs behind.
They drink blood through their extended tongue, with a preference for children and pregnant women. Oh, and they tend to smell like vinegar.
That last bit is because after a tough night of flying around, she has to shrivel her organs back up so they’ll fit back inside the cavity of her body.
For many Americans, their first encounter with this creature was as a monster in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. The creators were desperately trying to expand the potential creature encounters for what was then a rapidly growing market, and were mining non-Western cultures for ideas.
For others, they learned of this creature in the 1994 story “The Scent of Vinegar” by Robert Bloch, which won a Bram Stoker award for achievement in horror fiction. Bloch had a history of knowing odd things about the scary side of life, having authored Psycho and been an expert on Jack the Ripper.
It’s been coming into its own in recent years, though, with the growth of the Asian movie industry. For those who really want to see a flying head with guts trailing behind, you can find it in movies such as Penanggal (2011), Voodoo (2007), Demonic Beauty (2002) or (back a few years) in Mystics In Bali (1989).
But if you’re lucky enough to have a movie theater that shows these types of films as midnight weekend showings, don’t leave your kid with an unfamiliar female baby-sitter who reeks of vinegar. It’s bad form.
Question of the night: what’s your favorite vampire story, tv show or movie?