Wartime horror is one of those subgenres that’s never really taken off. War itself is horrific enough. You don’t need to overegg the pudding with something supernatural.
SF can get away with the setting, as it’s an excuse for cool dieselpunk gadgets and Nazi robots and that.
There’s been a bit of an upsurge in films about Nazi zombies lately, but really they’re just the walking dead in an emotive costume.
I’m kind of disappointed that there’s been so little material on Nazi vampires. I can’t think of anything in the realms of film apart from Michael Mann’s discodelic The Keep (oh, those lasers…). Angel and True Blood have both had WW2 vignettes.*
But it’s comics that have brought us the best examples of an admittedly niche trope. Some fine recent examples include the current run of American Vampire, and a lovely, creepy Captain America strip by Ed Brubaker and the sorely missed Gene Colan, that you can read in full here.
But for the definitive WW2 vampire story, look no further than my beloved 2000AD, and Fiends Of The Eastern Front. Drawn by one of the most celebrated artists on the British scene, Carlos Ezquerra, and written by one of it’s most under-rated scribes, Gerry Finley-Day, FOTEF is a stark, uncompromising and gloriously pulpy bit of horror.
The comic is set during the Russian campaign of 1942, and takes the form of a diary written by a German trooper, Hans Schmitt. His regiment becomes host to a group of Romanian partisans led by the charismatic Captain Constanta. They seem unstoppable in battle, and fight by night, spending the day asleep.
You’ve guessed it. They’re Transylvanian, and Schmitt discovers their bloody secret. Of course, none of his comrades believe him, and Constanta gives him a not-so-friendly warning. When the tide of the war turns, and Romania changes sides, Schmitt and his regiment face a new and remorseless enemy who are quite literally after their blood.
2000AD is unfairly tagged as the Judge Dredd comic, when it has published a wide range of solid genre work over the years. Their horror is particularly good (and probably worth a post all to itself), and I would hold up FOTEF as one of the AD’s finest hours.
Ezquerra’s stark black and white art is dripping with atmosphere and a sweaty, febrile dread. Findley-Day’s script is stripped to the bone, as tight and inevitable as a hangman’s noose. Bookended with a scene set in a Berlin bunker twenty years later that provides a neat final twist, FOTEF is a deeply satisfying read that motors along breathlessly. As a treatise on the way allegiances can all too quickly shift, and how trust be be so easily compromised, it has few equals in the comics field.
Finley-Day is best known as Tharg’s future war specialist, creating both Rogue Trooper and The VC’s. But FOTEF’s roots can be traced to his work with Battle and Action in the mid-70s. He was already known for creating sympathetic German heroes, and his work had a sharply political and cinematic edge. Rat Pack, an earlier collaboration with Ezquerra, is a neat take on The Dirty Dozen, and I can’t help but be reminded of Peckinpah’s Cross Of Iron when reading Hermann Of Hammer Force. Not least because Ezquerra’s heroes look a bit like James Coburn…
Fiends Of The Eastern Front was revamped (sorry) for modern audiences in the early norties by David Bishop, and those stories, dropping Constanta and his bloodsucking crew into real life battles, are a lot of fun. But the original is the best, and Gerry Finley-Day deserves recognition for a solidly original work of horror fiction. War, with Constanta at your heels, can indeed be hell.
Revolution Books have a nice new edition of Fiends Of The Eastern Front for your viewing pleasure, which include the original tale and David Bishop and Colin MacNeil’s reboot. Highly recommended.
*As expected, I has UPDATES from X&HTeam-mates. Ben Woodiwiss issues a Uwe Boll warning, and reminds me of Bloodrayne 3, which features more vampNazis than you can shake a stake at! Trailer here. Caution: not safe for anyone.
Meanwhile, Leading Man Clive has pointed me at this:
Looks like you have to go to the Germans for your Nazi Vampires…