Perhaps the earliest villain was the vampire, whether it was the balding Nosferatu style vamp that terrorised audiences in the earliest horror films or the infamous Count Dracula, vampires caught the public imagination like nothing else and many horror films being made today still feature blood sucking creatures of the night. The thing is vampires are so well known by audiences that their ability to scare has seriously plummeted. The original Count Dracula came from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel entitled Dracula and drew heavily on Vlad the Impaler, a notorious Romanian prince who drank the blood of his victims and was well known for his love of imaginative torture.
Legend and folklore in various cultures across the globe throughout history make reference to vampires but it used to be a term associated with demons and blood drinking in general rather than a specific creature. Our modern conception of a vampire is very different and can be traced to the 19th century. In fiction the vampire first appeared in the 1819 short story by John William Polidori entitled The Vampyre which told the tale of a blood sucking aristocrat who preyed on high society. The upswing in interest for tales of gothic horror precipitated a slew of vampire tales and made the vampire a leading figure in the horror genre.
The superstition of earlier ages and confusion over the process of body decomposition led to a wave of hysteria throughout Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Many corpses were dug up and staked and various signs were taken as proof of vampirism, signs which could more plausibly be explained by premature burial, disease or decomposition. The swelling of corpses and darkening of skin were sometimes interpreted as a sign that the dead had been feeding. In the days of limited medical knowledge it was also fairly common for people to be accidentally buried alive. Reports of sounds emanating from inside coffins led to graves being dug up, and superstitious villagers discovering scratch marks on the inside of the coffin or blood around the nose or mouth of the corpse sometimes took it as evidence of vampirism. This localised craze led to various myths which seem to have forever linked vampires with Eastern Europe.
Vampire mythology has grown and been adapted over the years but the practice of blood drinking has long been associated with vampires even although it is not their sole preserve. From the 16th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in the blood of her virginal victims in an attempt to keep her youth, to Peter Kurten the early 20th century German serial killer dubbed the Vampire of Dusseldorf who drank the blood of his victims; society has been quick to identify killers who engage in the drinking of blood as vampiric.
Vampires underwent a revival spurred by the works of authors like Anne Rice and television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Many modern works identify vampires as romantic, sexy and even heroic characters.
Vampires have also become synonymous with a certain branch of gothic fashion. There is now a sub-culture of people who adhere to the vampire lifestyle, drawing on elements from Goth and S&M sub-cultures. They dress in gothic clothing, wear fake fangs and even engage in blood drinking so they can indulge their vampire fantasies. In extreme cases people have had their teeth filed down or fake fangs permanently fitted. While the majority engage in this scene for a bit of fun there are demented people who actually seem to believe they are vampires and insist that they crave and need to drink human blood to survive. There is no medical evidence to support their claims and since vampires clearly don't exist we can disregard them as mentally ill. They actually make you wish that vampires did exist since they would no doubt hunt these people down for embarassing them.
With centuries of history behind them vampires are as popular as ever in human fiction and they show no sign of vanishing any time soon. They are uniquely appealing as horror movie monsters and continue to impact on modern culture. They will surely continue to scare horror fans for years to come.
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