Vampires are tops in horror for ECU english professor

They live in big houses, sleep all day, revel and roam freely at night, and have a knack for romance. They never worry about serious illness. And therefore it is no surprise that vampires are “the most popular characters in horror books and films,” says James Holte, an English professor at East Carolina University.

Dr. Holte, who teaches courses about literature and the movies, is an authority on these blood-sucking fiends – especially the top-rated vampire of them all: Count Dracula.

His latest book, “Dracula in the Dark,” published this year by Greenwood Press, traces the evolution of film and literature that stems from Bram Stoker’s famous book “Dracula.” The release of the Holte’s book commemorates the 100th anniversary of Stoker’s 1897 novel.

He said “Dracula,” is second only to Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” as the most popular and translated novel in English.

Widespread interest in vampires exploded at the start of the 1970s. Today, dozens of new books are printed every two to three months. Large bookstores have special vampire sections. At Halloween, vampires sell everything from candy to beer in grocery stores. And even “Sesame Street” has its Count Von Count vampire to teach math to kids.

Why is the public’s fascination so strong?

“I would say vampires are the most interesting of all the monsters,” said Holte, “because they combine immortality and eroticism.”

Frankenstein’s monster, for example, comes back from death. The mummy does too. And only a silver bullet can take down a werewolf. All of them are pretty scary creatures, but not one of them is likely to attract dates.

But the vampire is popular, Holte said, because the character combines sex and death, which are subjects that have always lured readers and viewers. Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracular in the 1930s reportedly caused some women to swoon in theaters. More recent vampires have been played in the movies by popular and sexy screen stars including Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in the film adaptation of a best-selling Anne Rice novel.

Today’s vampire, according to Holte, is a metaphor for a lot of things especially the questions and fears that people have about sex and death in association with AIDS.

Holte’s interests in vampires began in the 1950s. As a child, he said, he enjoyed the old Universal Studio’s black and white films about vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster.

About a dozen years ago, one of his English department colleagues asked if he was willing to write a book chapter on the vampire for a volume about mythological creatures. Holte accepted the offer and soon discovered that the history and quantity of vampire literature and popular interest in vampires were much greater than he had thought.

After completing the chapter, he continued to study vampire portrayals, reporting on his research in articles and at literary and popular culture conferences. He even attended a conference a couple of years ago in the Romanian province of Transylvania, the setting for Stoker’s original story.

As Halloween approaches, Holte anticipates playing the vampire character with relish. His black cape is cleaned and pressed. His fangs are polished. There are lectures to give and public presentations to offer. He will give a talk soon at a local bookstore.

Even his office is suitable shelter for a vampire. There is a single lamp on the bookcase behind his desk, no mirrors can be seen and a fake bat hangs from the ceiling.