Someone said to me the other day, “It’s too bad ghost story (Winter Tales) season is over.” It’s always great to hear that someone enjoys what I post! So here’s another story (and a mini film review). Arjan, this post is for you.
In case any other readers are feeling ghost story withdrawal, here’s where I remind you that all my Dark Tales Sleuth posts also link to a copy of the (usually supernatural) story/stories that I’m discussing, either at the Internet Archive or to a PDF I’ve transcribed myself. And most of my posts to Ephemera are ghost stories, too. Whenever I post to one of those blogs, I eventually post about it here, too, so if you follow Multo, you’ll be up to date on all my blogs.
Anyway, today’s post involves vampires, of sorts. First, the vetala, a ghoul-like Indian revenant that haunts cemeteries and can possess dead bodies. And secondly the jiangshi, or Chinese hopping vampire, which consumes the qi, or life force of their victims, rather than their blood.
The Story of Kritákrita
My vetala story comes from the short story cycle A Digit of the Moon (1898) by Francis William Bain. Bain claimed that A Digit of the Moon was a translation from Sanskrit; but this was in doubt even in his lifetime, and it’s generally accepted that the tales are products of Bain’s own mind, no doubt influenced by his time as a professor in Pune.
A Digit of the Moon tells the story of the king Súryakánta, who is wooing the princess Anangarágá. But Anangarágá will only marry someone who can ask her a question she can’t answer. So for twenty days Súryakánta (with the help of a friend) tells the princess a story, with a riddle attached for the princess to answer. I won’t tell you what happens.
“The Story of Kritákrita” is from day nineteen. It involves vetala, reanimated corpses, and magic dice. It’s short and punchy, and would make a great spooky story to tell around the fire. I’ve removed all the elements of the framing story from my transcription.
The “princess and the riddle” trope is Aarne-Thompson type 851. The best known European version is probably the one from the Brothers Grimm. The Peregrinaggio (an Italian story cycle) has an inverted version of this tale, where the Queen of India asks the riddles to her suitors.
You can find magic dice in another fairly well known German story (which probably also derives from a folktale): “Die Glückswürfel” (1814), by Friedrich Laun. Thomas de Quincey translated the story in 1823 (as “The Dice”), and it eventually wound up in Evening Tales for the Winter. I wrote about it, on Dark Tales Sleuth, here.
Encounters of the Spooky Kind
My jiangshi don’t come from a short story, but from a movie: the 1980 Hong Kong film Gui da Gui (literally, something like “Ghost vs. Ghost”), known in English as Encounters of the Spooky Kind, or sometimes in the US as Spooky Encounters (although that title also refers to the 1989 sequel, Gui yao Gui. I know, confusing).
The wife of “Courageous” Chung, the self-proclaimed bravest man in the village, is having an affair with a local government official Tam. Tam hires a wizard (an evil Taoist priest) to kill Chung with witchcraft. Another priest decides to help Chung; wackiness ensues.
This kung-fu/horror/comedy film was written, directed, and stars the Hong Kong martial arts star Sammo Hung, and is considered the movie that began the jiangshi film genre. I am not an expert on either martial arts films or Hong Kong cinema, so I’ll just link you to a review from someone who knows what they are talking about.
I found the film delightfully goofy. The acrobatics and martial arts are impressive, though they seemed to my (admittedly non-expert) eye rather more stylized, slower than the blindingly fast fights one would see in, say, a Bruce Lee film, let alone a more modern martial arts movie. To me they looked more theatrical, almost like dances of fights rather than actual combat. Perhaps the kind of “combat” one would see in a Chinese opera? Like many martial art film luminaries, Sammo Hung trained at a Peking Opera school. At any rate, the stylized fights fit well with the overall movie, which is a supernatural costume flick, and hardly realistic. Good fun.
If you enjoy more lighthearted horror like the Amicus anthology films, Creepshow, or Tales from the Darkside, you’ll probably like Encounters of the Spooky Kind. There’s a bit of (simulated, I hope) animal sacrifice, and the very end is a bit cringy. While I can’t endorse that part, it’s fair to argue it was motivated. Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a good popcorn movie, you might want to hunt this down and give it a try.
Illustrations by Ernest Griset for Vikram and the Vampire by Richard F. Burton, 1893 edition. Source: Internet Archive.