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Vampires have existed in folklore for a very long time.
Gather 'round the campfire
Icon folklore.svg
Urban legends
You see, Doctor, there are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey.
Captain Kronos – Vampire HunterWikipedia

Vampires (or Vampyres, if you're old or pretentious) are mythical beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures. In folklore, vampires could be either undead or a living person.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Many people find the undead variant of vampires incredibly hawt. Some will go so far as to dress and almost act like them. Others (though apparently not everyone[9]) find the penetration aspect disconcerting. Very few vampires have been known to be whiny teenagers who sparkle in the sun.

Contrary to popular belief, garlic may attract vampires.[10] No, really — check the study.

Origins and history[edit]

As you study vampire legend throughout history, it goes back to almost every culture. South Africa, Indonesia, crazy places have that legend and that idea of immortality.
Catherine Hardwicke,Wikipedia director of the film adaptation of Twilight[11]

The concept of a being that had to feed on the blood of the living goes all the way back to ancient times. The Lilitu of ancient Mesopotamia is perhaps the oldest of these, and there is some debate whether this has any relation to Lilith who supposedly drained the blood of children (who in the Latin Vulgate Book of Isaiah 34:14 is translated "lamia"). Such beings need not be undead, as shown by the Astral (everywhere), ghul (Arabia), loogaroo (Haiti), and penanggalen (Malay Peninsula) who were living sorcerers or witches. In the majority of cases, the vampire of folklore was horrific even if they weren't a walking corpse. For example, the penanggalen at night was a flying head with its entrails dangling below. In Indonesia, a city was named for the pontianak, a "vampiric female ghost".

Illustration in Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu'sWikipedia vampire story (1872)

The modern concept of the cool undead vampire that women would actually want to have bite them (or men, in the case of Kate B.Wikipedia in a tight black latex outfit) probably stems originally from 19th century pulp novelsWikipedia like John William Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), the anonymous Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood (1845-47), and Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1871-72), the last being best known now for putting a lesbian twist on the genre.

Published in 1897, Bram Stoker's novel Dracula added more modern elements to vampire literature, incorporating then-new ideas and contemporary advances in medical science. For example, vampirism is transmitted from person to person through bites, referencing the then-novel conception of infectious diseases. The victims are cured via blood transfusions, a new technique at the time, and the way Van Helsing and his crew purify Dracula's boxes of soil with Communion wafers can be read as a sterilization, also a recently-invented practice.[12]

The book also embodies various contemporary prejudices and pseudoscience. Dracula is said to come from Eastern Europe, the homeland of many immigrants in London, and he's described as a "whirlpool" of races, referencing similar contemporary descriptions of London's East End, a hub for Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. These aspects, combined with his association with diseases, reflect anti-immigrant rhetoric of that time, which associated the arrival of immigrants with both medical and moral illnesses.[12] The book also references Max Nordau and Cesare Lombroso, who were obsessed with the idea that modern society had become degenerate. Nordau equated artists with bomb-throwing anarchists and pioneered the concept of so-called "degenerate art", and Lombroso believed that the shape of the skull predicted future criminal deeds, which he considered a form of de-evolution.[13]

Dracula is the one most remembered nowadays, partly because of a highly successful stage adaptation and, later, Universal Pictures' famous 1931 film with Bela Lugosi.[note 1][note 2] Since the novel is in the public domain,[note 3] it has since had numerous adaptations in film and television, ranging from the classy to the lurid to the comedic. The Castlevania video game series also has Dracula as the antagonist of several games.[15] It was also filmed without permission by FW Murnau as Nosferatu (1921), subject of a successful legal action by Stoker's heirs, but today regarded as one of the greatest versions of the story — it's also the source of vampires burning in sunlight. Yes, that's actually a fairly modern invention.[16]

A good number of modern adaptations tend to draw inspiration from two real-life figures that the character was allegedly based on: Vlad III the Impaler, a 15th century Wallachian duke who was famed for his campaigns against the Ottomans and his trademark execution method (both of which have made him something of a Romanian folk hero), and the "Blood Countess" Elizabeth Báthory, one of the most prolific serial killers in history, a Hungarian countess who allegedly murdered hundreds of girls and young women and bathed in their blood to maintain her youth and beauty; the actual number is suspected to be "only" around 30-40, but still.[note 4][17]

I vaant to saack your blaad!'

For decades, Dracula was pretty much the vampire story. Even as late as the 1970s, the more "modern" vampire movies by the British studio Hammer Films were themselves new adaptations of the Count featuring many of Stoker's characters (or their descendants). There did exist alternative takes on vampire mythology, such as Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (which also served as a precursor to the zombie story) and Hammer's 1974 Captain Kronos – Vampire HunterWikipedia, the first of a planned series that was to deal with "as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey" and dealt with a vampire that drained youth and was active in daylight. However, most vampire stories looked chiefly to the 1931 Universal picture for inspiration (in Stoker's actual novel, Dracula is active in daylight). If somebody was talking about vampires, they were probably thinking of the 1931 Dracula movie.

That changed with the publication of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series, starting with Interview with the Vampire in 1976. While vampires had had sex appeal well before then, Rice's books turned it up to erotic levels, while also answering the question of what happens when you put multiple bloodthirsty apex predators in the same room. The answer: a whole new genre known as "urban fantasy", in which vampires had entire societies separate from humanity, scheming against one another while treating humans like cattle. Love 'em or hate 'em, Rice's books sparked a new interest in vampire fiction in the '80s and '90s that reached across film, television, literature, and gaming.

Some might mention the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer here. To those who would dare do such a thing: shut your yapper. Though to be fair, the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1845–47) is likely worse, as the writer was paid by the line, resulting in an 876 double-columned page monstrosity divided into 220 chapters when somebody thought turning the weekly series into a book in 1847 was a good idea. This rambling nightmare went on for 207 weeks, with Varney getting repeatedly killed and raised by moonlight and several other means until the author had Varney chuck himself into Mount Vesuvius.[18]

Before Dracula, European vampires were something more akin to werewolves or zombies: the mythical undead danger in the forest. Some (like the Vrykolakas from the Balkans) could pass themselves off as humans and even father children (one of the possible sources for the half-human half-vampire Dhampir concept), though for the most part they were clearly animated corpses.

The Chinese Ch'ing Shich from Siberia and China is so similar to many European vampires that it is nearly frightening.[19] As with the large range of European types, they could be peasant or noble, and in many cases was a corpse animated by a demon. They, like their European counterparts, could vary from beautiful to horrific. There is a very close variant called the jiangshiWikipedia or hopping corpse.[8]:44,75 The main difference is that the jiangshi is always the result of a soul that cannot find rest and comes largely from the story The Corpse Who Traveled a Thousand Miles.[20][8]:75 The jiangshi are always dressed in Qing Dynasty burial robes (think Fu Manchu here); they hop around with their arms stretched out like the Frankenstein monster. Somebody tried to make a movie involving the jiangshi,[21] and yes, the result was what has to be the most ridiculous vampire ever put on film.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

Every vampire fiction reinvents vampires to its own needs. You take what you want.
Joss Whedon,Wikipedia creator of Buffy the Vampire SlayerWikipedia[23]
Yes, we have Nosferatu! We have Nosferatu today!

In pop culture, from films such as Blade, Night Watch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Hotel Transylvania to TV shows such as Being Human, Count Duckula, Castlevania, and Adventure Time or visual novels such as Tsukihime and its spin-offs, Blood, and Hellsing, vampires being nice and not drinking blood is a common theme. Some will just feast on animal blood, some will "go on the wagon" (plus many other references to alcoholism), some will just eat shades of red, some will use an alternative. However, even a vegetarian vampire can't get blood from a turnip.


Vampires also tend to fight with other mythical creatures across various works of fiction. Almost without exception, the vampires are the cool ones at the top of the food chain, while werewolves are usually the butt of their jokes. Not even Discworld is able to escape this stereotype.

The earliest fictional vampires such as Varney the Vampire and even Stoker's Dracula were not destroyed by sunlight. That feature was introduced in F. W. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu (an unauthorized German adaptation of Dracula that's still regarded as one of the best). From that point on (with the occasional exception such as the vampire in Hammer's Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter and the vampires in Master of Mosquiton and Hellsing manga and anime), exposure to sunlight was one of the go-tos for dispatching a vampire. Now, thanks to ingenuity, an occasional trip back to the original folklore, and Stephenie Meyer,[note 5] all a vampire needs to keep from turning into ash is some bleached hair, sunscreen, and bad plot devices.

More recent books starring vampires include the likes of Twilight by the aforementioned Stephenie Meyer, The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, and The Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka True Blood) by a Mississippian named Charlaine Harris (the last of which is set in the last place you would expect to find a vampire: the South). All three have become successful live-action movies or TV shows, and in the case of the third a critical hit (well, that is, until the latter seasons of the show).

Of course, the destruction of a vampire can be played for laughs, as is the case with Alucard von Mosquiton, who gets killed via stake and brought back with blood in nearly every episode of the six part Master of Mosquiton OVA.

What will drive a vampire away varies on how the various elements are used.

For example, in The Fearless Vampire Killers, a crucifix has no effect on a Jewish vampire.

In Marvel Comics, a vampire is driven away by belief. For example, in Uncanny X-Men #159, Kitty Pryde (who is Jewish) tries to drive Dracula away with a cross, which has no effect, but the Star of David on her necklace does affect him. Later, Wolverine makes a cross with his claws and Dracula laughs in his face, as Wolverine does not believe. Nightcrawler (who is a devout Catholic) makes a cross from some wood and drives Dracula away. Additionally, there are also vampire characters in the Marvel Universe such as the aforementioned Blade (who is a dhampir vampire hunter with his blood-sucking lineage coming from his father) and Morbius the Living Vampire (an archenemy of Spider-Man/antihero, who, while not a true vampire per se, does have aspects of them).

The comedy Love at First Bite has Dr. Rosenberg pull out a Star of David, to which Dracula comments that Rosenberg should go find a nice Jewish girl.

Religious interpretations[edit]

I am a former newspaper reporter turned church secretary turned vampire novelist. I wrote my first complete novel, Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs, at night while I was working as the receptionist for a Baptist church. That was an interesting conversation with the pastor.
Molly HarperWikipedia[24]

Early, as well as modern, interpretations of European vampire lore suggest an allegory or parody of Christianity. If a character drinks the blood of a vampire, they will die but live forever after death. Sound familiar?

However, not all folklore vampires were based in Christianity. The Gaki of Japan, for instance, was related to Shintoism.

Despite (or possibly because of) this, many priests have denounced the stories of Dracula and, more recently, Edward Cullen, akinning vampire-fandom to idolatry. It is expected that many of those who speak out against such novels for this reason haven't read the books, otherwise they would praise the conservative message of the Twilight saga and criticize it for its horrible writing. Although some claim it's full of Mormon references, so they might not like that if they're not Mormons themselves.

How to kill a vampire[edit]

Vampire teeth really aren't very efficient, are they? It looks very messy. I'm not sure it's the best way to get a pint off anyone.
Saoirse RonanWikipedia[25]
Vampire killing kit on display in the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum in San Francisco, California.

Undead vampires are almost immortal, but they need to drain the lifeforce of the living in order to survive, usually in the form of blood.

The traditional sunlight, decapitation, being burned to ashes, or an oak stake driven through the heart is based on a mishmash of the Slavic variant (Vampiir), Nosferatu (1922), and Dracula (1931)[note 6] movie. Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter's claim of there being "as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey" is not that far from the actual folklore.

R.P. Smith 1979 "Varieties of Vampires" Dragon Magazine #25, GURPS Blood Types, and Theresa Bane's 2010 Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology[8] outline some of the methods of killing folklore vampires that for the most part are outside the standard methods above.

For example, the Astral (everywhere), Baital (India), and Gaki (Japan) vampires are spirits that animate corpses and can be active in daylight if they want. So you can "kill" the body they are using, but they will simply animate another one. At least one vampire, the Katakhana, has a destroy by date — if not destroyed 40 days after creation, it becomes indestructible.

The Vukodlak[note 7] out of Serbia has what has to be the most insane destruction criteria of any folklore vampire. Either it is 1) stab through the stomach with a stake made of hawthorn 2) cover its hair with tar 3) set it ablaze with a candle that was used during its wake. 4) Make sure the fire is hot enough and burns long enough to render the corpse to ash. or it is a) cut off its toes and thumbs, b) drive a spike into its neck, pierce its navel (not its heart) with a stake, c) burn it with a fire lit by holy candles (mess it up and you have one pissed off Vukodlak coming after you… once it regenerates).

One problem with vampire myths is that there are issues with translations and spelling variations making it hard to see if the myth is of one vampire or ones with very similar names. For example, the Jiang Shi, Ch’ing Shih, and Ch'iang Shich seem to be three different vampires, despite the similarity of pronouncing their names. Similarly, the terms Vampiir and Vampir sound identical but seem to refer to two different vampires.

Another problem is that words change. Vukolak means both vampire and werewolf and seems to be what the Wild Wild West episode "Night of the Wolf" was going for with "vrkalack". It is unclear if the "Wurdulak" vampire in the 1963 film Black Sabbath is a variation of this or something made up that sounds similar.

Stupidity and woo[edit]

There's a whole vampire community online — those are some crazy people.
Amy HeckerlingWikipedia[26]

"Real" vampires[edit]

I'm an energy vampire. I just suck off everybody's energy, but I give it back.
Dolly PartonWikipedia[27]

Some people actually think they're vampires, though what they define as a vampire varies, with one such laughable variation known as the "psychic vampire"[28] or "energy vampire".[29][30] The old joke is that "real vampires" are people who played too much Vampire: The Masquerade and read too much Anne Rice in the '90s.[31] One hypothesis linked vampirism to the skin disease porphyria (whose symptoms include photosensitivity); this has since been discredited, but it still comes up from time to time.[32]

A group called the Temple of the Vampire[33] currently assists people in "awakening to their vampire nature", offering not only a free introductory audio series, but also memberships for the low, low price of $20 a month (or $200 a year). As one of the perks of being a real vampire, you get a discount on the Vampire Bible, which contains all the tenets of vampire society (which seem to begin with "com[ing] to a predator's perspective toward human beings" — very comforting); as a member, you pay $40 for it instead of $60.[note 8]

William Schnoebelen claims to have been a practicing vampire until he was turned by a bank clerk in 1980, lost all his magical powers, and converted to Mormonism instead.[34] He has since denounced the Mormons, claiming that they're a front for Freemasonry and Satanism.

Vampire hunters[edit]

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is without a doubt the best film we are ever likely to see on the subject — unless there is a sequel, which is unlikely, because at the end, the Lincolns are on their way to the theater.
Roger EbertWikipedia[35][note 9]

Other people really think that they are vampire hunters. Inspired by the lurid accounts of "actual" vampire hunts of the 18th century (Arnold PaoleWikipedia being the most famous of these) and the Victorian vampire craze a few scholars stripped their gears and went vampire hunting though the majority of 19th century hunts were done by local "amateurs" or quacks.[36] Occasionally, vampire hunting kits from the late 19th century will turn up at antique stores and auctions, with some selling for as much as $12,000. The kits usually came in the form of ornate boxes containing a crucifix, wooden stakes, vials of "holy" water, and a small Derringer-style pistol with silver bullets. The kits were novelty items sold to fans of the macabre and the gullible (i.e. Victorian-Era mall ninjas).[37]

Even after vampires were dismissed as fiction, the occasional modern vampire hunter still turns up. Perhaps the best known of these modern vampire hunters are British weirdos Seán Manchester[38] and David Farrant, who claim to hunt and kill vampires for real. They are best known — in fact, solely known — for their involvement in the Highgate Vampire incident in the '70s, and subsequent rivalry over their competing accounts of the events. Indeed, a search for Manchester on Wikipedia gets a redirect to the Highgate Vampire article[39], while a search for Farrant will bring up an obscure New Zealand cricketer, with a note at the top saying "For other uses, see Highgate Vampire#Initial publicity."[40]

However, Manchester and Farrant are beaten in popularity by the fictional vampire hunters Abraham Van Helsing, one of the main characters of the aforementioned Dracula, and Buffy Summers, star of the cult TV series Buffy the Vampire SlayerWikipedia.

In 1954, the city of Glasgow, Scotland went vampire-crazy, with hundreds of schoolkids swarming the city's cemeteries in pursuit of the "Gorbals vampire". This figure was rumoured to be seven feet tall (2.13 metres) with iron teeth, and thought to have killed and eaten two children (although no missing children were reported).[41] Moral campaigners blamed American comic books for the hysteria, particularly one called The Vampire with the Iron Teeth[42][43] (although "there was no mention of a creature matching the description of the Gorbals Vampire in any of these comics", similarities to Daniel 7:7 of the Bible and a local myth could be found), and in 1955, the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) ActWikipedia was passed. There were no more vampire sightings in Glasgow.[44][45]

One reason vampires cannot exist[edit]

C.J. Efthimiou and S. Gandhi, in their paper Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality: Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies, state that vampires are clearly impossible; for if they fed at anywhere near the rate at which they do in films and folklore, the human race would have been wiped out quickly after the first vampire appeared.[46]

Suggested reading[edit]

  • Grate, Lance (1995) GURPS Blood Types ISBN: 1-55634-113 (uses the below as source material but serves as quick reference guide on how diverse vampires in actual mythology are)
  • Barber, Paul (1988) Vampires, Burial and Death (Yale University Press)
  • Bunson, Matthew (1993) The Vampire Encyclopedia (Crown Publications)
  • Frayling, Christopher (1991) Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (Faber and Faber, Ltd)
  • Haining, Peter (1977) The Dracula Scrapbook (Bramhall House)
  • McNally, Raymond T. and Florescu, Radu (1972) In Search of Dracula (N.Y. Graphic Society)
  • Melton, J. Gordon (1994) The Vampire Book (Visible Ink Press)
  • Summers, Montague (1928) The Vampire, His Kith and Kin (Routledge and Keegan Paul)
  • Summers, Montague (1929) The Vampire in Europe (Routledge and Keegan Paul)
  • Twitchell, James B, (1975) The Living Dead: The Vampire in Romantic Literature (Duke University Press)
  • Wolf, Leonard (ed.) (1995) The Essential Dracula (Plume)

Another suggested work is

  • Bane, Theresa (2010) Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology (McFarland)[8]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. That, and the lashings of alluring vampire women, with their ivory skin, heaving bosoms, tightly-bound corsets, and… excuse me, I need a cold shower…
  2. It should be mentioned that the Spanish version, shot on the same sets on the night shift, actually follows the original movie script closer and is generally regarded as the better film.
  3. Hell, you can read it right here.[14]
  4. And you thought modern alternative medicine practices could get messed-up.
  5. Who has a lot to answer for...
  6. If you don't mind subtitles, the Spanish version is better.
  7. Pronounced "voockodluck," if you're wondering.
  8. Or, you know, you can just read it for free on Internet Archive. You don't even need an account!
  9. In the novel, it is revealed that Lincoln became a vampire.


  1. (French) Levkievskaja, E.E. (1997). "La mythologie slave : problèmes de répartition dialectale (une étude de cas : le vampire)". Cahiers Slaves 1.
  2. Créméné, Mythologie du Vampire, p. 89.
  3. Bunson, Vampire Encyclopedia, p. 219.
  4. (Ukrainian) Словник символів, Потапенко О.І., Дмитренко М.К., Потапенко Г.І. та ін., 1997.
  5. Dundes, Alan (1998). The Vampire: A Casebook. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 13. ISBN 0299159248.
  6. "Vampire". Encyclopaedia Britannica 27. Encyclopaedia Britannica Company. 1911. p. 876.
  7. Dundes, Alan (ed) (1998) The Vampire: A Casebook University of Wisconsin Press ISBN-10: 0299159248 pg 13, 14 , 22, 52
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Theresa Bane, Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010. ISBN 9780786444526.
  9. It’s finally happened: A sparkling sex toy for Twilight fans by Vince Mancini (March 7, 2011) Uproxx: Filimdrunk.
  10. [Does Garlic Protect Against Vampires? An Experimental Study] by H. Sandvik & A. Baerheim (1994) Tidsskr. Nor. Laegeforen 114(30):3583-6.
  11. Catherine Hardwicke Quotes BrainyQuote.
  12. 12.0 12.1 On the Victorian Science and Prejudices Behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Vidya Krishnan (February 18, 2022) Lithub
  13. Dracula: vampires, perversity and Victorian anxieties by Greg Buzwell (May 15, 2014) British Library
  14. Dracula by Bram Stoker, Page by Page Books.
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Dracula in popular culture.. There's a fuller list of adaptations, if you're into that.
  16. Dracula vs. Nosferatu: A True Copyright Horror Story, Plagiarism Today, 17 Oct 2011
  17. Countess Dracula (1971) Hammer pictures
  18. Skal, David J. (1996) V is for Vampire pg 211-212
  19. Ching Shih. Archived from the original at
  20. Hopping Corpse. Archived from the original at
  21. Robo Vampire (1988)
  22. RIPOFF COP (The Big Picture)
  23. Joss Whedon Quotes BrainyQuote.
  24. Molly Harper Quotes BrainyQuote.
  25. Saoirse Ronan Quotes BrainyQuote.
  26. Amy Heckerling Quotes BrainyQuote.
  27. Dolly or Bust by Jesse Green (April 19, 2009) New York Magazine
  28. Hesse, Monica. "A Vampire's Life? It's Really Draining." The Washington Post, 24 November 2008.
  29. "Energy Vampires" by Dr. (Dentist) Bruce Goldberg.
  30. Real Vampires
  31. Browning, John Edgar. "Life Among the Vampires." The Atlantic, 31 October 2015 (recovered 18 July 2016).
  32. Lane, Nick. "Born to the Purple: The Story of Porphyria." Scientific American, 16 December 2002 (recovered 19 October 2014).
  33. The Temple of the Vampire
  34. William Schnoebelen (Bill Schnoebelen): EX - Satanic Priest, Catholic Priest, Witch, Satanist, Ninety Degree Freemason, Vampire and more! by Stephanie Relfe, Health, Wealth & Happiness (archived from March 1, 2012).
  35. Don't sneer. It's how we won the Civil War by Roger Ebert (June 20, 2012)
  36. Tucker, Abigail (2010) "The Great New England Vampire Panic", Smithsonian Magazine
  37. Mark Strauss (11/14/14) ​"The True Story Behind Those "Antique" Vampire Hunting Kits"
  38. Confirmed as weirdo in Ofcom broadcast bulletin 58, Apr 2006, pages 44-50
  39. Sean Manchester redirect to Highgate Vampire#Manchester.27s exorcism claims Wikipedia.
  40. See the Wikipedia article on David Farrant.
  41. April Snellings, When Hundreds of Vampire-Hunting Children Invaded a Scottish Cemetery—And Helped Spur a Comic Book Ban. Mental Floss, 28 September 2021.
  42. The Vampire With the Iron teeth. The Horrors of It All, 16 September 2009.
  43. Dark Mysteries 15. Master Comics, December 1953.
  44. The Gorbals Vampire and monster hunt that shook Glasgow, Claire Mckim, The Scotsman, 18 March 2016
  45. Child vampire hunters sparked comic crackdown, BBC, 22 March 2010
  46. C.J. Efthimiou and S. Gandhi, Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality: Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies, University of Central Florida and Cornell University, 27 August 2007, via arxiv archive.
  47. The Vatican Rag by Tom Lehrer