Vampires are big business these days, their current popularity thanks in part to the Twilight series books and movies. Of course, vampires have never really been out of style. They were popularized in literature by Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, DRACULA, but stories of vampires go back many centuries before that.
Where did the concept of vampires come from? The answer to that question exists somewhere in the space separating science and superstition. Some sources claim the stories of vampires began with the Romanian prince Vlad Tepes who lived 1431-1476 and fought for independence against the Ottoman Empire. His methods of dealing with his enemies included slowly impaling them on stakes, drawing and quartering, and burning them alive. It all seems very brutal and sadistic by today's standards, but not all that uncommon for those times. The same methods were used by the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition and by other rulers and powerful leaders during the Middle Ages to torture and kill their enemies.
Bram Stoker is said to have patterned some of his Dracula character after Vlad Tepes as the birth of the modern fictional vampire. However, the roots of real vampires have very different origins. Stories of vampires are a worldwide phenomenon with localized versions of vampires coming from almost all cultures. Before science progressed to the point where it could explain weather patterns and germ theory, any bad event that did not have an obvious cause could be blamed on a vampire. The mythical creature was an easy answer to the age old question of why bad things happened to good people.
Superstitious villagers took their belief that something had cursed them and put it together with their fear of the dead and came to the conclusion that recently buried people who had risen from the dead to do evil deeds were responsible. They dug up graves and were surprised by the way the corpses looked. Not understanding the process of decomposition, they assumed bodies immediately turned to skeletons.
Even with the original vampires being long gone, the cultural phenomenon of vampires continue to fascinate the world. And it isn't just the macabre and horror stories that draw on the vampire character. We have several examples of vampires being used as objects of humor. Certainly Al Lewis' Grandpa character on the old MUNSTERS television series. We have comedy movies such as LOVE AT FIRST BITE and Mel Brooks' 1995 film DRACULA, DEAD AND LOVING IT.
Even children have been caught up in the commercialism of the vampire world. There's General Mills' Count Chocula breakfast cereal, marketed to children. And not even the long running award-winning children's television series SESAME STREET was able to ignore the vampire allure. One of their popular Muppet characters is The Count, complete with black Dracula style cape and fangs.
Vampire movies have been around since the days of silent films with the 1922 classic, NOSFERATU. What are your favorite vampire movies?
Next week (Sunday, February 24) I'm going to post Part 2 of Vampires And Other Immortals including a Top Ten list of immortals from myths, literature and movies.