Vampire Festival moves from Transylvania to Highgate

DRACULA by Bram Stoker ;
Helen Chandler (as Mina ) ;
Bela Lugosi ( as Count Dracula ) ;

DRACULA by Bram Stoker ; Helen Chandler (as Mina ) ; Bela Lugosi ( as Count Dracula ) ; Directed by Tod Browning ; 1931 film classic ; Credit: Topofoto / ArenaPAL - Credit: Topfofo / ArenaPAL

Hammer Horror screenings, original ‘scream queens’ a fangstastic cabaret and the Golden Stake for vampire literature, are on the line up for those bats about bloodsuckers

The story of the Highgate vampire featured on the front page of the February 27 1970 edition of the

The story of the Highgate vampire featured on the front page of the February 27 1970 edition of the Hampstead & Highgate Express - Credit: Archant

Those bats about bloodsuckers can celebrate the International Vampire Festival migrating from Transylvania to Highgate this year.

As well as a two day conference of Vampire academics at Lauderdale House, Vampfest includes Hammer Horror screenings at East Finchley's Phoenix, a fangtastic cabaret at the Bird Cage, a Vampfire Ball in Stables Market and three nights of dark magic Upstairs at The Gatehouse.

There is also a walking tour of sites associated with Dracula author Bram Stoker, whose character Van Helsing dines in Jack Straw's Castle, namechecks the Spaniards Inn, and visits a tomb in Highgate Cemetery. Stoker's own final resiting place is in Golders Green crematorium.

Co-organiser Peter Philips, who also runs Elvis festivals and a Father Ted event on the Arran Islands, said moving the festival from Romania would open it up to the public.

Bram Stoker 's Ashes at Golders Green Crematorium

Bram Stoker 's Ashes at Golders Green Crematorium - Credit: Nigel Sutton

"My partner and I couldn't believe there wasn't a festival dedicated to Vampires, which cuts across so many genres from film, TV books, art, gaming and theatre," he said.

"The obvious place to do it was Transyvania - it turns out that a lot of peple don't think it's a real place, they think it's like Narnia or OZ.

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"But it's a fantastic evocative and spooky place where if you venture off the beaten track you feel you could be back 300 years."

But staging Vampfest in a citadel associated with Vlad Tepes or Vlad The Impaler for the past three years drew only academics who study Gohtic vampires in literature.

"It was quite serious element, don't get me wrong, we had good parties, but the infrastructure wasn't there and there was no public participation.

"In Romania they consider Vlad more of a folk hero than a horror figure, so we decided to take it on tour."

After discounting Whitby, Dublin and New Orleans, they settled on Highgate which "still has a village feel to it".

Philips is "aware of the sensitivities" around vampire associations with the area, but says one of the papers at the Lauderdale House symposium discusses the original 1970 claim by the late David Farrant in the Ham&High of a superanatural figure in Swains Lane.

"One paper looks at the media hysteria of how a fake news story can spread and have such a lasting effect."

Film critic Mark Kermode intruduces his favourte vampire movie, a trio of 'Scream Queens' who appeared in the original Hammer films do a Q&A at The Phoenix, where Interview with A Vampire producer Stephen Woolley also gives a talk. Meanwhile The Gatehouse hosts performances of Sherlock Holmes versus The Sussex Vampire and Don't Go Into The Cellar.

Philips himself is no fan of the genre.

"I saw a Hammer vampire film as a kid and it scared the bejezus out of me, but I have come to understand the enduring appeal of the myth.

"It's easily transferable into different stories and genres, it's iconic, sexy and fun to dress up, and scientists have shown that like rollercoasters and extreme sports, watching horror films gives you a boost of endorphins from being scared. It never goes away."

The International Vampire Film and Arts Festival runs July 10-13.