Vampires are virtually a genre unto themselves – in books, comics, films, music, videogames, and in art – and the mythos and vast realm in which they inhabit in the pop culture universe is the subject of a forthcoming documentary called A Place Among the Undead, from actress-turned filmmaker Juliet Landau. Fans of vampires in pop culture will most certainly know Juliet from her role as Drusilla in Joss Whedon’s immensely popular television programs Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff show Angel, and her connection to vampires goes ever further, as her father Martin Landau won an Oscar for his role as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood. Juliet is launching an Indiegogo campaign on Tuesday, October 27th to help fund her documentary, which she’s already conducted a great many interviews for. She took a moment to discuss the project and what fans of vampires can expect to see once the film is fully funded. Please visit https://igg.me/at/theundead for more information.
Diabolique: Juliet, your documentary A Place Among the Undead is about to launch an Indigogo campaign. Tell me a little bit about your project.
Juliet Landau: My husband Deverill Weeks and I are directing this project, which is the first of its kind in many ways. It is fast becoming the most definitive vampire documentary ever made. It gathers the ‘who’s who’ of the genre, never seen before together in one film. It provides a rare perspective … it provides an insider’s view into the vampire phenomenon. Every interviewee shares stories that have never been seen on film. The film transcends the traditional idea of a documentary. It’s a tapestry with interlinking narrative films, inspired by the conversations. We’ve been interviewing just amazing, amazing people.
Diabolique: I know that you’ve been interviewing people like Willem Dafoe, Anne Rice, Gary Oldman, and Tim Burton …
JL: Burton, Joss Whedon, Charlaine Harris, who wrote the books that True Blood are based on, Kevin Grevioux, who created the Underworld franchise. And many more, actually.
Diabolique: Let me understand this: There’s going to be a narrative as well as documentary footage?
JL: Yeah, they’ll basically be inspired by the conversations. It’s been really interesting in talking to all of the creators of the vampire content. There’s a myriad of uses of vampirism to explore such a diverse range of the elements of the human condition. For instance, with Joss Whedon, high school is a nightmare. Anne Rice wrote Interview with a Vampire when her daughter had died of leukemia, and so she created a child vampire, based on her daughter. It was really about loss and grieving. Kevin Grevioux created Underworld based on his experience with interracial dating. Joss talked about with Angel, that the television show was really about addiction. There’re so many different facets with our natures that get to be explored through or using this metaphor of vampirism. The interlinking structure of the piece is narratives that get to explore each of those metaphors.
Diabolique: You are coming from a place where you have a very close connection to vampires since you’ve played one on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Why don’t you say something about that?
JL: What I do know is that I was so fortunate to work with the brilliant Joss Whedon and to get to play Drusilla on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and on Angel. It was such a complex, rich, and interesting character. Joss’s fan base is so incredibly passionate and will follow you literally into any other project in any other realm that you do, which is so wonderful. I have some fans, and I know that there’s a gal who’s changed her name to Drusilla Summers, which is a cross between my character’s first name and Buffy’s last name. She’s literally changed her name. It’s kind of amazing what’s been happening with our film. We launch our Indiegogo campaign on the 27th of this October, and what happened is that Deverill and I were self-funding the project but it has just grown beyond our wildest expectations. We have so many more people who want to be interviewed. We started to put the word out with my fan base to see if we could help get the word out. It started with 40 people, and since last week, it’s gotten to be 1600 strong. They’ve actually named themselves, and I now have a legion. They’ve been really wonderful. Drusilla Summers is actually among the legion.
Diabolique: How far along are you? What’s the reality of your progress on the project itself?
JL: We’ve shot 50 percent of the documentary. We have cut a number of promos, and some excerpts will be available to watch on the Indiegogo site at certain perk levels. We plan to resume shooting in January, and then finish up shooting. We’ve shot two of the narratives, one in New Orleans and one in London. We have some more narratives to shoot. It will be born! Or should I say unborn? [Laughs]
Diabolique: For other narratives, I’m just curious, but would you shoot any of them in Romania, the birthplace of Dracula?
JL: We would love to! That’s one of the things we’d really like to do, one of our goals. Romania would be fantastic in terms of the locations. We shot some footage outside of Bram Stoker’s house in London, so that was really interesting to see where he lived. Romania would definitely be great.
Diabolique: Your father Martin played Bela Lugosi, the second most famous vampire-related character aside from Dracula himself. Any comments about that?
JL: Yeah, well, it’s been kind of an interesting thing because I played Drusilla, and with my dad having played Bela … I don’t know what this whole vampire strain in our family is, but it seems to be strong. Actually, my father, before he did Ed Wood, he did a tour playing Dracula, which is funny because the character in the movie says, “I did a bus tour playing Dracula – twelve cities in twelve days!” That dialogue is in the movie. My dad actually did that years before getting to play Bela, that’s the incredible part.
Diabolique: You meet fans all the time that must recognize you from Buffy. You’re going to have a whole new thing now to give to them with this documentary.
JL: Yes, and what’s been interesting is that in the last few years my husband and I started a production company, and we did two other projects, one of which was a documentary with Gary Oldman. Last year, we made another documentary and we got to interview Rian Johnson and Guillermo del Toro. Then, this project has been so incredible. My life has been taking a really interesting journey in that way. The legion keeps growing. There’s really been a thirst for this – pun intended. No film like this has existed before.
Diabolique: I can’t even imagine how big this picture is going to be. There’s so much you can cover. Where and how are you going to limit it?
JL: That’s been interesting. The material is so vast. At the moment, we’re making two feature-length documentaries. One is going to be about the crime and reality of it – where people take their fantasy of vampirism too far, and then there’s A Place Among the Undead, which covers pop culture, which is TV, movies, art, comics, music, video games, young adult literature, and this is the project we’re going to Indiegogo for. What’s become amazing is that because we have so many people who want to do interviews, we’re actually looking at a possibility of it becoming a six-part TV series, or an eight-part TV series. There’s just a plethora of material. We have some of the original Hammer people on board. One of the reasons why we decided to go with Indiegogo is that when we met with a number of production companies who were interested in investing, we really wanted to make a movie that fans wanted to see. One of the meetings we had, they wanted us to cut out the Hammer people because it’s not “hip.” We felt that we couldn’t make the definitive vampire documentary and not include Hammer. When we were sitting talking with Tim Burton and Tom Holland, who made Fright Night, the reason they became filmmakers is because of Hammer. The fans really understand the genre, and we love it too.
Diabolique: I’ve got to bring up Twilight, which became a phenomenon regardless of the fact that it has vampires and werewolves. It caught on with an entire generation of readers and moviegoers. In your studies, do you think Twilight hurt or bolstered the vampire mythology? What do you think the effect Twilight has had on pop culture?
JL: You know, first of all, it certainly is a phenomenon on pop culture. We have not – as of yet – covered it, but we absolutely will. It’s kind of like Hamlet. There can be so many renditions of Hamlet that are valid and touch people in different ways. That’s one of the things about the vampire genre: it can be used in so many different ways. You look at Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain or Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night. Those vampires are very different than the vampires in Twilight. People gravitate towards the kind of stories that they want to tell. A lot of people gravitated toward the Twilight universe.
Diabolique: What are some of your personal favorite “go-to” vampires in books, comics, or films?
JL: I would say, Coppola’s Dracula, Gary Oldman’s Dracula is unbeatable. Bela Lugosi is so iconic. Once you’ve seen Nosferatu, it’s seared into your memory forever. It’s such an icon of a film, which is what makes a great film. 30 Days of Night, for me, is a successful comic book and a movie because those vampires are absolutely terrifying. There is nothing in them that … Steve Niles said that he based them on shock. There is nothing human in them. There is no mercy in them whatsoever. The way they are executed in both the comic and in the film, I think is so scary.
Diabolique: A lot of people associate vampires with romance, but like you’re saying, there’s nothing romantic about the vampires in 30 Days of Night. Oldman was able to do both shock and romance in Coppola’s Dracula.
JL: Buffy had a mix of both. In terms of my character, there was an epic romance that lasted 200 years with the character Spike, and it also had a disturbing relationship as well. There was an element of romance and it was also scary. Of course there’s always humor as well, so there are so many different elements.
Diabolique: In terms of doing all of your interviews, are there some people – some filmmakers or creators – that you have not gotten yet that you would really like to?
JL: There are, actually. A lot of people started coming to us. There are quite a few people that I’m super excited about. After the campaign, I’ll be telling you who is on board. We also have some A-list people who are committed.
Diabolique: What else can you say about this project at this point?
JL: It’s been a real passion project. It’s been so fun. You’ll see a side of people you’ve never seen before in the interviews. Every person that I’ve interviewed … when I talked to Anne Rice, I actually re-read all of her books beforehand, and when I interviewed Charlaine Harris, I re-read all of those books because I like to go in super prepared. There’s a camaraderie that comes across in the interviews when people share stuff, and you see sides of them that you’ve never seen in other interviews before. There’s been something really charmed and special about this.
Please visit https://igg.me/at/theundead for more information.