By Jenna Purcell
Squealing teenage girls and darkly clad
individuals swarmed the corner of Pacific and Locust, baring costume fangs and a brazen enthusiasm for Dracula’s newest competitor, Edward Cullen. With the recent “Twilight” movie premiere, vampirism has stepped into the light of our pop culture, bringing with it a new generation of cult enthusiasts. While its newest face appears to be Cullen’s immaculate mug, vampirism has morphed throughout history and continues to show off its versatility, sinking its teeth into both the casual aficionado and the truly bloodthirsty.
Geoff Sweeney has watched every episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” With slicked white-blond hair, a black leather trench coat and a regal stride, his uncanny likeness to the show’s character Spike challenges anyone to question it. Still, he is not what one would call an extremist. While fond of vampires, Sweeney does not identify with or study them to any extent.
“It tends to be that the women I date are more into vampires than I am,” Sweeney said with a mysterious smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”
This desire to connect with fictional characters of vampire lore is widespread. At the ripe age of 15, “Twilight” fan Faye Alvin is in love.
“I have a huge crush on Edward Cullen,” said Alvin, after two hours of standing in line for the “Twilight” premiere with friends Haley Sovulewski and Stephanie Cooper. The three girls wore homemade T-shirts reading “Cullen” in colorful, puff-painted styles reminiscent of homecoming season, a homage to their newfound hero.
The movie, based on the first book of Stephanie Meyers’ series, depicts a love story between an average high school girl, Bella Swan, and Edward Cullen, a gorgeous immortal vampire.
“The series made me look at vampires in a completely different way,” Sovulewski said. “They’re not your stereotypical creepy vampires, so it gives you a whole new outlook.”
Other fans represent a less commercialized demographic. Noah Vasseur, also present for the “Twilight” premiere, expressed a more general interest in the supernatural.
“I mostly like fantasy characters in general, so, of course, vampires are totally awesome,” Vasseur said. “I had read some Anne Rice and watched ‘Lost Boys’ before the ‘Twilight’ series came out. Vampires, superheroes and the like have always really appealed to me.”
The character of the vampire has held this appeal for centuries, captivating audiences with a guilty pleasure we struggle to identify.
“Vampires are sexy,” said H. Marshall Leicester, a UCSC literature professor. “They have that displaced sense of intimacy and close physical contact with their victims.”
Leicester, who teaches a horror film class at UCSC, said that malleability is also a characteristic of vampires.
“The idea of the vampire is a rich, protean thing,” Leicester said. “Many of my students who watch vampire films are very concerned with rules. They want to know that all vampires must have fangs or be affected by mirrors. Truth is, vampires are so broad, you can do whatever you want with this character.”
Professor Caetlin Benson-Allot, of the UCSC film department, said that the transformative nature of vampires is related to gender roles.
“The idea of the masculine male vampire is a modern one,” Benson-Allot said. “We’re used to seeing vampires as elegant and European. So when someone like Kiefer Sutherland [of ‘Lost Boys’], a mainstream American sex symbol, comes along and plays that role, it’s a huge change.”
Benson-Allot, who specializes in the study of gender and sexuality in horror films, said this change was encouraged by the racy aspects of Western society.
“We as a culture are titillated by the combination of sex and violence,” she said. “Vampire films play with gender roles and seduction, with the penetration of the neck — a seduction that’s also a murder.”
Armed only with a set of dice and a killer imagination, players of vampire-themed roleplaying games tend to be more concerned with the games’ plots than universally accepted vampire lore.
“We really don’t try to adhere to all the different myths about vampires,” explained Brandon Haas, creator of local gamer Web site SantaCruzGamers.com. “The games aren’t necessarily historical or based on reality, it more depends on what the storyteller [or game facilitator] sets up for the players.”
These games are referred to as roleplaying games, or live action games, in which participants create vampiric characters to play out scenarios. The most popular of these games, “Vampire: The Masquerade,” can either be played in real time, where participants play out the scenario in public, or in a private, sit-down setting with dice, much like the ever notorious “Dungeons and Dragons.” Most seasoned gamers said that the addition of the vampire archetype makes “Vampire” different from other fantasy roleplaying games (RPGs) in many fundamental ways.
“Vampire-themed games are very introverted, the character’s worst enemy is him/herself,” gamer Brandon Higley said. “Vampires are constantly battling their instinctual or predatory side, which threatens the vampire’s humanity. Rather than battling monsters or fighting secret societies like in other RPGs, ‘Vampire’ focuses on trying to maintain a ‘wolf-among-sheep’ lifestyle.”
Haas shared a similar view, suggesting that the presence of struggle lends an appealing, almost human aspect.
“[The world of the vampire] is, in many ways, similar to the place we all live in, but darker, more sinister, and fatalistic,” Haas said. “Central to the theme of ‘Vampire’ is the idea that a vampire’s struggle for humanity can’t be won, you’re not just playing the victorious hero like in some RPGs.”
While both Haas and Higley had vast knowledge and experience in the gaming world of vampires, neither expressed much outside interest in them beyond your average horror movie buff. In fact, Haas felt that recent interpretations have transformed his edge-of-the-seat excitement to a blasé slouch.
“Most of the new popular vampire ideas are pretty lame, in terms of horror,” Haas said. “I mean, why should I be afraid of some teenage kid who runs around shunning society?”
Higley, while a fan of vampire fiction, was irked by the presence of those who identify with vampires and carry out their practices.
“[Modern vampirism] scares and offends me,” Higley said. “It offends me because it makes me embarrassed to openly admit I play vampire games. People immediately think of gothic coteries engaging in debauchery and sadomasochism when someone says, ‘We pretend we’re vampires.’ Really, it’s just a bunch of nerds with too much Mountain Dew and free time, throwing a bunch of dice around.”
The Real Thing
While a simple nuisance to gamers like Higley, modern vampirism serves as a darkly esoteric reality for others. Commonly seen as fiction or folklore, drinking blood and hiding from the daylight are daily rituals for secretive individuals across the globe. Mostly communicating through anonymous international forums, vampires share their deepest thoughts and fears. The forum community lacks the idea of the prowling, bloodthirsty vampire, but instead has found a steady balance in modern society. While being interviewed through the worldwide online Vampire Forum, members asked to only be identified by their forum names.
“A vampire is not a reanimated corpse, or some bloodsucking fiend wanting nothing more than to drain your body of blood,” Shandee said to City on a Hill Press through a message on Vampire Forum. “A vampire is a human being lacking in energy.”
This energy is what many films, books, and other popular interpretations refer to as a person’s life force, or in this case, blood.
A fellow forum member who calls himself Phoenix Nightengale [sic] explained the necessity of this energy.
“Vampires, for some reason or another, do not produce enough energy to sustain their health from eating foods like most people. This results in a hunger that cannot be satisfied by food or drink,” Nightengale wrote in an e-mail. “If this need is not met our health begins to decline along with our emotional state, leading to depression or anger.”
For every vampire, the way in which he or she fills this void is different. It is in these distinctions that the subgroups of vampirism are determined.
“There are two types of feeding that a vampire can choose to utilize,” Nightengale continued. “Psychic feeding and sanguine feeding.”
In simple terms, sanguine vampires get their energy from blood, while psychic vampires are able to obtain a person’s energy without making physical contact.
Although not a blood drinker himself, Nightengale noted that the consumption of blood is commonplace in the community. As with any subculture, there is a definite divide when it comes to this subject. Nightengale expressed his personal thoughts on blood drawing.
“To try to mold yourself into the image of being [what] has been romanticized by the entertainment industry is a rather tempting concept,” Nightengale wrote. “In reality, [sanguine vampires] do not need to drink blood. It is a choice they make.”
Tobias, a member of the Vampire Forum who identifies as a sanguine vampire, disagrees.
“Sanguine vampires need the deep, concentrated life essence that exists within the blood of others,” Tobias wrote to City on a Hill Press. “Some of us also require something extra from the blood that satisfies a feral and almost animalistic aspect of our nature.”
While the idea of drinking human blood may be unnerving, most sanguine vampires made it clear that their practice was self-monitored with the strict use of “feeders,” or people who willingly donate their blood to vampires.
“I don’t go out and seek ‘victims’ for blood, I only accept blood from willing donors who are consenting adults,” Tobias clarified. “But as with any community, there are those who think they can stand outside the rules, those who would feed from others without their consent. They are very rare, but they ruin the reputation of the entire subculture.”
Still Max Rygiol, a local self-learned vampire virtuoso and diligent blogger, remains wary of vampires among us.
“Finding vampires in Santa Cruz had been easy up until recently, which is why I’m a little suspicious,” he said.
Rygiol uses his Web sites and blogs to inform unsuspecting bystanders of vampiric activities. In the past, Rygiol often performed in-depth research or even recon missions, like staking out little-known vampire havens, to faithfully report back to his readers.
“They had a taste for the theatrics,” Rygiol said. “They’d meet at Lulu Carpenter’s, leave a red rose on the table so members would know where to meet. Their leader was this tall, thin, pale guy.”
Rygiol said the group had been growing rapidly around the time of its demise, arousing uncertainty.
“The group was just kind of gone all of a sudden,” he said. “It kind of makes me think they might be up to something.”
Rygiol continues to write blogs for Analog Medium, warning locals of particularly bloody spots and roaming the streets “with a pickup truck full of stakes and a canteen full of holy water. Just in case.”