The Vampire (Vampyre)
The Vampire, also known as Nosferatu, the Undead, and other titles, has pervaded the mythology of all countries (no, not just Romania!) since ancient times. Associating blood with lifeforce, the ancients laid awke in their beds at night, wide-eyed, fearing the dead who would return to take the blood from the living to sustain their own unnatural existence.
The modern vampire is based upon a legendary warrior king known as Vlad Tepes, or "Vlad the Impaler", dubbed as such for his unpleasant habit of impaling his enemies on stakes. Vlad, who fought and ruled a region in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, was known for almost singehandedly turning back the Turkish invaders. The history has it that Vlad's wife, mistakenly hearing that he had been slain in battle, threw herself from the battelements.
The modern vampire shuns the light, sleeps in coffins, can transform himself/herself into a bat or a misty vapor, is harmed by crosses, can't see themselves in mirrors, cannot enter a home unless invited by the host, some can't cross water, some can fly (without transforming into a bat), is turned off by garlic, is burned by holy water, possess unnatural physical strength, drinks blood from animals and humans to sustain their unnatural state of being undead, and as a modern invention, may even have a social conscience.
Bram Stoker's Dracula is the most famous early piece of literature involving this creature, but the power of this archetype on the human psyche has been demonstrated in numerous treatments in film, music, and literature since. Anne Rice reinvented the vampire with her vampire trilogy (Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned), adding depth to the vampire prototype by giving them very human emotions, such as lust, regret, sorrow, and love.
Bram Stoker's Dracula became very popular in Victorian times because of its exploration of the taboo; namely, sex. The body of work surrounding this dark, solitary creature has built up the vampire's sensual nature (see the short story "Carmilla" or any one of Anne Rice's treatments) to the point where it is difficult to think of this creature or the "taking" of its victims outside of an erotic context. While many have pointed out the rape overtones of the "taking" of the vampire's victims (traditionally young virgins, but this changing, particularly as we see more female vampires), a deeper exploration into this body of work seems to indicate that the victim longs for this forbidden trist as much as the vampire themselves. In Francis Ford Coppola's treatment of Bram Stoker's Dracula, the scene between Mina and the Count where they begin to have intimate contact is more reminiscent of a love scene than any rape (of course, there are even those people who, inspired by the vampire, ritually drink blood from their mates during/before sex).
Everyone has their own opinion of the vampire. Many people view them as romantic, solitary, and graceful. Others view them as efficient and repulsive predators. Whatever your view, be aware that they have a long, complex history -- one that continues to evolve as these durable creatures continually re-appear in fiction, music, and film.