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A Question

Hot topic of debate around the house yesterday -- can you kill a vampire by cutting off its head? My position was that nobody would bother with the laborious oak stake process if this would work. It's got to be easier to swing a sword at someone's neck than to pierce their heart with a shard of wood. Since we're always hearing about the stake, it stands to reason that there isn't some easy quick-and-dirty head-chopping alternative.

May 12, 2005 | Permalink


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I say this as a dedicated fan of the CRPG Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, one of the best CRPG's I have ever played. And I have found that the best way to kill a vampire is to use the Mass Hallucination discipline to weaken him or her, then a few... [Read More]

Tracked on May 13, 2005 4:14:44 PM


I think the stake through the heart is the only approved method. Immortals like "The Highlander" are dispatched by decapitation.

BTW, werewolf extermination requires the use of a silver bullet.

Posted by: eric | May 12, 2005 12:28:07 PM

No. Chopping off the head won't do the trick.

Neither Stoker nor D&D at hand to cite chapter and verse, but look deep into my eyes and just trust me.

Posted by: Doug | May 12, 2005 12:29:12 PM

No. Chopping off the head won't do the trick.

Neither Stoker nor D&D at hand to cite chapter and verse, but look deep into my eyes and just trust me.

Posted by: Doug | May 12, 2005 12:29:12 PM

Of course not, I tried. She just turns into a bunch of bats, fly away and then come back meaner than ever.

Posted by: abb1 | May 12, 2005 12:32:11 PM

I think Cecil Adams covered this fairly comprehensively.

Posted by: Dan Craig | May 12, 2005 12:32:41 PM

Well, in the book, Dracula is killed not by a stake but by Harker and his buddy stabbing the Count through the heart and cutting off his head simultaneously with bowie knives.

I vote yea for decapitation.

Posted by: ihateemo | May 12, 2005 12:32:45 PM

Um...how ignorant are you, really? Are you telling us you have never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the brilliant TV show, not the appalling mess of a movie that Fran Kuzui made, ruining Joss Whedon's script)?

For the record: yes, cutting off a vampire's head will kill it. So will sunlight, either instantly or much, much more slowly, depending on what the plot demands at that point.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | May 12, 2005 12:34:32 PM

In some forms of vampire lore, you must stake it, cut off its head, and then burn the head and body in separate fires.

I think there are also some forms of lore where you can just decapitate one to kill one.

Posted by: Electoral Math | May 12, 2005 12:35:00 PM

And by the way, have you ever tried to cut off someone's head? It's not nearly as easy as it looks. Um, that's what I hear, anyway.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | May 12, 2005 12:36:00 PM

What in God's name were you doing? Having some kinda 80s retro D&D-fest? I'm trying to figure out how such a geeky topic comes up in a household of pundits in the the making. (Or maybe it's a Buffy thing? Or is Buffy retro already?)

You might also want to ask other important questions, such as who would win if General Patton and Josef Stalin were re-animated as attack zombies... but I digress.

I think you're right that it would not kill the vampire, but it seems that the body would lack the vampire's signature attack. Dracula, as I recall from Stoker, did have superhuman strength, so the body is not to be dismissed lightly. But you could fight it without fear of getting turned into a vampire yourself. So I think if you kept the severed head in a box, you'd be much safer.

Or maybe you just can't cut through the neck.

How about vaporizing a vampire at ground zero of a nuke? Does the vampire fail to vaporize? Do the molecules reassemble like Terminator II, or does that work as well as a wooden stake?

Posted by: PaulC | May 12, 2005 12:36:39 PM

Bram Stoker: I think that stake or decapitation works. I haven't read it in a long time, though.

Vampire: The Masquerade: stakes don't kill: they only immobilize. Vampires can be killed with things that inflict "aggravated damage," which are sunlight, fire, and some kinds of magical stuff like werewolves' claws and the claws of a Gangrel vampire using protean claw powers, I think. Truly massive lethal damage can also cause Final Death (White Wolf annoyingly capitalizes certain catch terms). Cutting someone's head off might count.

Terry Pratchett/Discworld: Vampires can't be killed ultimately. They always exist in potential, even if they're a pile of dust that has been dispersed through the oceans. A really thorough defeat (like the aforementioned "burn them to dust and dump them in the ocean") can leave them incapacitated for millions of years, though. Having one's head cut off isn't such a big deal, if you're a tough vampire (the vampire iconographer in The Truth just needed to have it put back on).

Posted by: Julian Elson | May 12, 2005 12:37:04 PM

I saw the Jeddha beheading on F9/11. Looks like you need a good arm, a pliant (see also: restrained) subject and a bloody sharp machete...

(or bloody, sharp machete?)

Posted by: ihateemo | May 12, 2005 12:37:28 PM

You think it is easy to cut off a head? Easier than staking> You been watching too much Zatoichi.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 12, 2005 12:37:49 PM

What have you done with Matthew?

Posted by: Mr. Bill | May 12, 2005 12:39:58 PM

I hope that, after getting all this advice, Matthew will report back to us to let us know what method he tried and whether it worked.

Posted by: Al | May 12, 2005 12:42:38 PM

If cutting off the head or stake in the heart worked we wouldn’t have all those blood suckers in Washington.

Posted by: scou29c | May 12, 2005 12:46:50 PM

Sunlight, staking, beheading, holy water, and immolation are all techniques with a proven vampire killing track record. So I think if a vampire were at ground zero of a nuclear attack, that would fall under the category of immolation.

Posted by: Greg | May 12, 2005 12:48:28 PM

I have always relied on this tried and true process:

1) stake through heart, then
2) decapitation, and then
3) burying the body under a moving body of water, i.e. a stream, and then
4) burning the head.

None have ever come back... yet.

Posted by: So-Called "Austin Mayor" | May 12, 2005 12:52:57 PM

Preacher: only sunlight.

The Lost Boys: stakes, holy water, decapitation (I think) and, of course, stereos. But remember to kill the head vampire.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | May 12, 2005 12:53:11 PM

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro always seemed to hold with the notion that completely severing a vampire's spine is what did the trick. This suggests that the purpose of "stake through the heart" was actually to hit the spine. This would lead to the conclusion that there are no quadripelegic vampires, though, which I think strains credibility.

Now, if it were a lich, and it had stupidly decided to keep its phylactery in its chest cavity...Okay, I'll stop now.

Posted by: mds | May 12, 2005 12:54:05 PM

Hot topic of debate around the house yesterday -- can you kill a vampire by cutting off its head?

Wow. And I thought I had roommate problems.

Posted by: alkali | May 12, 2005 12:54:50 PM

Paul C:


Posted by: Glenn Bridgman | May 12, 2005 1:02:31 PM

I seem to recall that after the vampire is staked, and while he is being consumed in flame, the peasants must stand ready with pitchforks to slay any small animals which might flee the pyre. Apparently the vamp's spirit can occupy (or become? not sure) various critters to escape from the ultimate destruction by fire. So, no.

Posted by: Finn | May 12, 2005 1:03:35 PM

1. Buffy killed at least one vamp by decapitating it (the vampire who attacked her sister in the morgue where their mother’s body ended up after the autopsy; I think she used an autopsy saw to do the job.)
2. Anne Rice’s vamps die when decapitated.
3. Don’t the Blade series vampires die from beheading? I seem to remember some vampire decapitating in one of the movies.
4. Someone mentioned Ms Yarbro’s vampires. I believe that D’Artagnan arranged to have his head severed at death so he wouldn’t rise as a vampire (having been infected years earlier with the vampire potential by Olivia, who had been killed herself some years back). In Ms Yarbro’s vampire world even embalming prevents vampirism as in one of her most recent works Gen. Sherman (infected by Madeleine during the March through Georgia) specifies that he is to be embalmed, much to Madeleine’s disappointement at the end of the book.

Posted by: JonF | May 12, 2005 1:03:39 PM

Wait, wasn't there that song, Roland the headless vampire of London...

Posted by: PaulC | May 12, 2005 1:06:17 PM

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