Prevalent in European folklore for centuries, the personage of the vampire has unsurprisingly found a place in modern culture.
John William Polidori published the first vampire novel, The Vampyre, in 1819. Bram Stoker’s Dracula appeared in 1897, inspiring a plethora of vampire-as-villain novels, including Stephen King’s 1975 Salem’s Lot. A year later, Anne Rice brought us an early vampire-as-hero story with her Interview with the Vampire, the first of her iconic Vampire Chronicles. In David Talbot’s 1982 novel, The Delicate Dependency, ageless vampires guard the secrets of science and history, and the answers to the mysteries of life and death. More recently, James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell put a new spin on the old theme in their Blood Gospel.
The vampire made its appearance on the silver screen early in the 20th century, with director F. W. Murnau’s silent film Nosferatu (1922) being the most famous. More recent efforts include the most watched television movie to that time, The Night Stalker, starring Darren McGavin (1972); The Hunger, starring David Bowie (1983); and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder (1992). 21st century teens flocked to the movie theatre to see the Twilight films.
We are not immune in our homes, either, with vampire-themed television shows such as Dark Shadows (1966 – 1971); Angel (1999 – 2004); True Blood (2008 – 2014); and The Vampire Diaries (2009 – who knows?) earning huge ratings every week.
Most sane, educated people today do not believe in the 400-year-old vampire who sleeps in a coffin and bursts into flames in sunlight. There have been a number of flesh-and-blood vampire-type serial killers, however:
– Fritz Haarman, the “vampire of Hanover,” lured at least 20 men to his home in Germany, bit out their throats, and drank their blood. He was arrested and sentenced to death in 1925.
– London’s John George Haigh killed 8 people during the 1940’s, drinking a glass of their blood before disposing of their bodies in a tub of acid. He was caught, convicted and hanged.
– Richard Trenton Chase, the “vampire of Sacramento,” killed 8 people in California, drinking their blood and mutilating their bodies. He was arrested in 1979 and committed suicide in prison.
Luckily, most so-called modern vampires are anything but violent killers. Members of a particular Goth culture born of vampire legends and the romanticized modern image read vampire literature, dress in black or Gothic clothing, and meet with like-minded people online or in vampire social clubs, sometimes called havens. Blood may or may not be consumed – from informed and consenting adult donors, of course!
Extravagant events known as Endless Night Vampire Balls are held each year on or around Halloween in cities such as New Orleans, New York, and Berlin, Germany, for patrons in full dress costume. These balls are meant to be harmless and fun – perhaps more enjoyable than being a real vampire . . .
“Never since I was a human being had I felt such mental pain . . . And in my pain, I asked irrationally, like a child, could I not return? Could I not be human again?” – Louis, Interview with the Vampire