By far the coolest mythical menace, the Vampire is a staple of any decent Halloween celebration or scary movie night. In my opinion, the vamp is quite possibly the world's most perfect villain! Undoubtedly evil, blood-thirsty, undead night stalkers with the ability to seduce their victims? That is pimp, y'all! They have the option of converting their prey into one of their peers or just snacking on the poor bastard, plus their immortality and the ability to fly? It don't get much better than this when it comes to mythological monsters. If I were to be any mythological being (other than the Phoenix of X-Men comic fame, of course), I'd be a vampire because they are sexy, deadly, powerful, and completely unremorseful. The perfect villain - he will swoop on your girl, suck her blood, take her as his immortal bride, kick your ass, and then clown you for crying about it 'cause he don't give a fuck, all before sun up. In a suit. Looking like a pimp.
The vampire exists in the folklore of nearly every culture to date; from the Babylonian demon Lilitu to the Dearg-due of Ireland, there's the infamous Slavic and Romanian bloodsuckers and the lesser-known Jiang Shi of Chinese tales, Central America has the chupacabra, and even colonial North America has it's own version, the loogaroo, to spook it's citizenry. Vampires even have origins in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Lilith, a winged vampire of Jewish mythology, was the original woman, Adam's first wife, who refused to take a subservient role in her marriage and eventually became feared as a child-killing demoness (see illustration below).
It is believed that the vampire mythology was used by pre-industrial societies to explain the process of death and decomposition. Swollen corpses oozing blood from the nose and mouth, recognized in modern times as decomposing as they should, were not as easily explained earlier eras. Tuberculosis and bubonic plague sometimes produced symptoms, like blood appearing on the lips of the dead, that added to the folklore surrounding vampires. Like any other myth, vampire tales also served the psychological needs of a society. Death, being one of life's greatest mysteries and one of humanity's greatest preoccupations, was personified by vampire creatures and it's tangible form helped individuals deal with their loss by giving it an explanation, by laying blame on something real. Vamps are also a clear personification of humanity's dark & evil side. Instead of providing for & protecting loved ones like a good live human should, the vampire feeds on them & causes them pain (like a bad or shitty relative will do).
The vampire of modern pop culture derives most of it's attributes from tales popularized in Eastern Europe during the 18th century, when a wave of hysteria swept through the region and into Western Europe. The widespread belief in vampires during this period prompted stakings, public executions of suspected vampires, government sponsored vamp hunts, and international speculation about the existence of undead bloodsuckers. Scores of books, reports, and treatises were published on the subject and, in addition to the accounts preserved in local folklore, passed the Slavic/Romanian vampire legend on to future generations as the predominant Vamp mythology throughout the European continent.
This villainous vampire of popular lore was described as a dark-toned ruddy-complected menace, dressed in it's linen burial shroud, with somewhat longer hair, teeth, and nails than the vamp was buried with. Some were reported to change into dogs, bats, moths, wolves, spiders, or rats. Various cultures pictured their vamps differently. Transylvanian vampires were pale in color & had exceptionally long finger nails. Moravian vamps only attacked in the nude. The bloodsuckers in Albania wore high heeled shoes and Bulgarian ones had only one nostril.
Since nobody wanted a post-burial visit from their undead loved ones, people developed many superstitious practices to avoid such a situation. Burying the corpse upside down was a common deterrent to revival of the corpse, as was the practice of leaving scythes or sickles at the grave site. Tendons were cut at the knees to prevent locomotion should the dead wake. Romanians shot a bullet through the corpse in coffin as a precaution against reanimation and Gypsy's drove stakes through the legs of the deceased to ensure it's fixed position. Poppy seeds & millet were scattered at grave sites because folks believed vampires would be preoccupied with collecting the small seeds all night, instead of feasting on the living. If these preventative measures didn't deter the rise of undead bloodsuckers, folks fell back on tons of other methods of protection. Obviously symbols of the Church were useful (the rosary, the cross, holy water, a crucifix). Garlic, wild rose, and mustard seed were commonly used to secure one's residence from vamp intrusion. Above all, staking a vamp was considered the best means of elimination; most often through the heart, although Russians & Germans targeted the mouth, while Serbians staked the stomach. If all else failed, the bodies of suspected vamps in Europe would be dismembered & the funerals would be repeated, sort of like Dead Do-Overs.
Vampire mythology received a major make-over in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre, by John Polidori. This short story portrayed it's vamp as a high-society, suave, tormented ladies-man praying on the elite. In 1897, Bram Stroker's Dracula was published & it has defined "vampire" ever since. It was in these two works that the Vampire received some it's most identifiable characteristics: the fangs, the vulnerability to sun light, the high collared cloak, it's lack of reflection in mirrors, and eternal life.
If your looking for a little Vampire content this Halloween season, let me offer the following cinematic suggestions: The Lost Boys (The Coreys? Keifer Sutherland? As good as it gets circa 1987), From Dusk Till Dawn (written by Q.Tarantino), Underworld (but NOT it's shitty sequel), Blade (not it's shitty sequels either), Bram Stoker's Dracula (Winona Ryder & Gary Oldman should gross me out, but it doesn't somehow), Once Bitten (early, back-in-the-day, before Ace Ventura Jim Carrey), and, of course, everyone's favorite Valley Girl slayer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Starring Kristy Swanson). HBO's new show, True Blood, ain't too bad either & is worth looking into. Avoid John Carpenter's Vampires because it sucked (the fat Baldwin is in it). Trust me!