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Vampires became increasingly popular in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, particularly because, in modern books, movies and television shows, they've become sexy. That was not the picture of the original vampire, however.

Traditional vampires were humanoids with pale skin, generally seen with the blood of their victimes on their face.

Vampires are immortal, and can be killed only when a wooden stake is plunged into their heart, by exposure to sunlight, or by garlic.

Dracula may have been the first infamous vampire, but the legend preceeded him. Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, who got his name from his habit of impaling his victims in long lines of wooden stakes, and was hardly the stuff that romance is made of.

Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula, has contributed greatly to the modern understanding of vampires, although more recent movies, such as the Twilight series, Lost Boys, and Interview with the Vampire have introduced a more attractive view of vampires. Also interesting, although not as well known, are Let Me In and Let the Right One In, which are a retelling of the same story of a young boy who befriends a young female vampire.

The original vampires weren't sexy, and they weren't loved. They were dangerous sadists, who were often believed to be demons. They weren't pretty, either. If you were to picture a ghoul or a zombie, you'd have an idea of what the original vampires looked like.

While Dracula may have been the introduction to vampires for most people, there is a much longer history of vampirism. An earlier name for vampires was revenants, or people who returned from the dead. There are ancient Greek and Egyptian legends of a large contingent of creatures who inhabit the dark underworld. Although they don't use the word, these creatures are described in much the same way as vampires.

The incubus and the succubus of ancient folklore might be linked to early European vampires.

Early legends that are now cited as vampires or vampiric in nature described the creatures as human and animal hybrids, as being zombie-like, or as demons.

While Bela Lugosi portrays Dracula in the 1931 film as aristocratic and sophisticated, by definition a vampire is a reanimated corpse that rises from the grave to drink the blood and eat the flesh of the living, making use of elongated canine teeth. The vampires from early folklore were portrayed more as hideous corpses, much like the zombies of today's movies.

Your conception of a vampire will depend on what you've read or seen, but a common characteristic of vampires today is that of fangs, which are usually evident only when the vampire is in the midst of bloodlust. However, in folklore and ancient legends, they are pictured as using their tongues for exsanguinations.

The modern attractive and even romantic portrayal of vampires has spawned a cult of people who believe they are vampires. In doing so, they will sometimes wear fangs, file their teeth to emulate fangs, or even undergo dental procedures to have implants replicating fangs.

Most portrayals of vampires are strongly based on vampires as nocturnal creatures, retiring to a dark place, often a coffin or a mausoleum, during the day, which is when they are most vulnerable. Usually, vampires are said to be hypersensitive to sunlight, and they are often shown as spontaneously combusting when exposed to sunlight.

Commonly, vampires are portrayed as possessing unusually strong powers of vision and smell, and are sometimes shown as having the ability to shapeshift into a bat, often flying away through a window.

By most accounts, there is a hierarchy of vampires, with those who were born vampires at the top, followed by those who were turned by another vampire.

Although there are believers, most people today don't believe that vampires truly exist, and this is probably true even for those who like to portray themselves as vampires. Still, the legends long preceded the movies and books of today, and legends generally come from somewhere.

One theory has to do with a disease known as porphyria, which stems from an unpredictable production of heme, which is a chemical in the blood. When people have this disease, it adds toxins to the skin that act like an acid when exposed to sunlight, and they may also have an intolerance for foods like garlic, with a high sulphur content.

Another is tuberculosis. We know now that TB is a lung disease, but people with TB tend to have a pale appearance and are prone to coughing up blood. As TB is highly contagious, people may have assumed that the TB sufferer was a vampire who was turning others into vampires.

Catalepsy may have also played into it. Catalepsy attacks the central nervous system, slowing the sufferers heart and respiratory rate, making them appear temporarily dead.



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