Vampires and Censorship

Rachel Cullen
Tuesday, 31 October 2023

Vampires have long held an important place in the collective imagination. The ever-evolving lore and how they are depicted in arts and entertainment reflect social mores and preoccupations of the time. Vampires often represent what is feared, ideas of moral deviance and exclusion from society.

The Vampire, wearing a collared business shirt and tie.

Still of film removed for censorship purposes from 'The Vampire', 1957. NAA: C40, 1481735

Wherever ideas of the arts and morality intersect, there are also often conversations about and actions of censorship. When it comes to vampires and Australia, from 1948 to 1968 there was a ban on horror films via the Federal Department of Trade and Customs (CA 10) and Commonwealth Film Censorship.

The series ST4129 at the National Archives of Australia hold film importation and censorship documentation from 1951 to 1975. In this series researchers can trace the importation of films and whether they were granted registration. An example of this is in 1967 when the film Daughter of the Vampire was rejected.

This ban stood for 20 years and during this time there were no vampires in film or television reflecting back to Australians the shifting cultural attitudes that the horror genre explores.

Another story from National Archives, Exit the Ghouls, goes into more detail about the horror film ban and explores collection items that document this policy.

When the ban was lifted in 1968, films and TV programs were still censored, with images and scenes cut. The National Archives of Australia holds the excised film as part of its collection (see series C40 and C3057).

Like all change, it took a while to be fully implemented. In the middle of 1969 TV columnist Matt White reported on the enquiries of a schoolgirl who ' … demanded to know why no Dracula or Frankenstein films had ever been shown on television.' White investigated and explained:

Intrigued, because there have been dozens of Dracula and Frankenstein movies made of the last half century, I contacted our television stations for an explanation. The answer was swift; the censor has banned them all for telecasting, irrespective of when they were made, their quality – or even who stars in them. Would you believe that one of them, entitled Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, made 21 years ago as a slap stick comedy, is among that heap of tabooed celluloid? ....

… one television executive…is convinced that any film which has Dracula or Frankenstein in the title is automatically banned from the air.

An example of a film impacted at this time is the 1970 UK film The Vampire Lovers, staring Peter Cushing.

Footage that was removed for theatrical release include a decapitation and vampires being staked. There is also the bloody mouth of a vampire and the sound of two piercing screams.

When examined for broadcast on television an extra scene of two women kissing was also removed.

Looking through the footage selected by the censors in films such as, The Vampire Lovers (1970), Malenka, Niece of the Vampire (1969), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), The Vampire (1957) and Dracula has Risen from the Grave (1968) there is repetition in the scene removed. The scenes removed include vampires biting, the bodies of victims and hunters staking vampires.

Some of the imagery removed from the over-the-top gothic films of the era are humorous, but there is also a disturbing element to watching the fake blood, staking and hearing the screams out of context and on repeat.

The 2018 film [Censored] explores a large portion of the censorship clips held by the National Archives. Filmmaker Sari Braithwaite noted:

The censor's act of cutting a scene from a film strips it of context and its story. It does not matter if it is a good or bad film, an important or forgettable film; the act of cutting a scene, dislocating action from story, is violent.

As the ban was lifted, vampires began to also appear in Australian productions. In 1975 the ABC used vampire tropes in as part of its You're at Home with ABC advertising campaign.

Fifty years on from the ban and vampires are very visible in the film and television landscape. Australia now has its own legacy of the horror genre including the modern Indigenous vampire hunters of Firebite showing that human imagination and how we use the horror of the vampire to tell our stories continues.