"A Bunch of Silly People
Dressing up and Biting
Each Other on the Neck"

We are publishing this news item on Massimo Introvigne's activity as a vampire fan only because it provides a pleasant diversion from the issue of cult apology.

Even though his voice may have an "uncanny resemblance" to that of Bela Lugosi, we have already said that we do not believe that Massimo Introvigne is a vampire. Even if he were, it would be a far less harmful activity than working to obtain tax exemption for multinational totalitarian corporations. At least, since we know a lot more about "cults" than we do about vampires, we are not aware of any specially devious agenda behind Introvigne's interest in Dracula (except for a rather innocent form of apologetics - he holds that if vampires had joined the Catholic church, they would be happily in Heaven and not trying to get out of their graves).

Reverend James Gordon Melton claims that he, Introvigne and their friends are "a bunch of silly people dressing up and biting each other on the neck." 

Now, we think neither Gordon Melton or Introvigne are silly people. However, we do know that they dress up as vampires. This is why some people have asked us whether the third statement in the sentence is true - do they actually bite each other on the neck?

Now, we have repeatedly stated that we only deal with Dr Introvigne's public life - as a cult apologist, as a lawyer, as a political and religious extremist. So even if Gordon Melton and Introvigne like "biting each other on the neck", that is strictly their own private business, and we have no right or intention to look further into the matter.

Miguel Martínez

"Coffin Break To Vampires Everywhere, Fangs For The Memories"

The Los Angeles Daily News - 23.7.1997.

By Carol Bidwell.

«The majority of people coming are just like us - people who like vampire and horror movies. It's going to be fun - a bunch of silly people dressing up and biting each other on the neck.»

(Gordon J. Melton)

Vampires - or at least fear of them - have been around almost since the dawn of superstition, although interest in the sinister creatures of the night has waxed and waned through the years.

Then the Anne Rice's novels - "The Vampire Chronicles," "Interview With the Vampire," "The Vampire Lestat" - and the 1994 Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt film "Interview With the Vampire" triggered a resurgence in vampire-related books and movies.

Now "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a television series based on the movie of the same name, is a hit on the WB.

Suddenly, lots of people are into vampire books and movies, wearing vampire jewelry, painting their lips and fingertips with makeup the color of dried blood and hanging out at vampire-themed dance clubs with names such as Fang and Vampiricus.

"Vampires are getting to be so much in the mainstream now," said Karen Tate, owner and tour coordinator of A Special Journey Travel in Venice. One of her most popular tours is a weeklong visit to New Orleans sites supposedly haunted by vampires.

"People who are vampire fans are everywhere," she said. "They're standing behind you in the grocery line. They wait on you at Robinsons-May. They're the doctors in scrubs in the emergency room. You don't have to be dark and gloomy to be into vampires. I think somewhere, deep inside, we'd all like to be immortal, like they are."

Current interest in things occult, mystical or mysterious - as evidenced by the popularity of shows such as "The X Files" - can be attributed to people's confusion over religion, intrigue with the fight over good and evil, and uncertainty about the afterlife, said Massimo Introvigne, a teacher of sociology and religion at one of the 13 Vatican universities in Rome. It's during periods like this in history, he said, that the idea of vampires gains some credence.

"In our own times, people are confused about what happens after you die, and they're looking for answers," Introvigne said. "Young people, in particular, are quite confused, and in the confusion, they see vampires as a possibility."

At Dark Delicacies, a little shop of horrors in Burbank that specializes in vampire goods, there's an ongoing philosophical debate about the fascination with vampires.

"There's a certain attractiveness about Dracula - even the evil parts of him. He's about immortality," said customer Dennis Petersen, 31, of North Hollywood, an aspiring filmmaker who wandered in recently.

"I think it's about romance," said Sue Howison, who runs the Burbank store with husband Del. "I think Dracula appears to be a romantic character. Hollywood has made him that way. And that time in history was a very sensual time, with all the velvet, the laces and veils."

"Vampires are a rush, an evil thing," said return customer Warren Mansfield, 35, of Burbank. "For me, the scariest thing is the mood they create. It's better in books, too. You get so spooked by your ownimagination. It's fun to get scared."

That, Del Howison said, may be the key to the resurgence in the vampire culture.

"The nice thing about vampires - any horror stuff - is that it's a safe scare," Howison said with a laugh. "It's like going on a roller coaster. You can be scared to death, but you know you're going to come out all right on the other end. You can always close the book, shut off the movie."

Aficionados ready for bloody good time at Dracula '97

Wear black. Bring a cape. And leave that briefcase at home.

This isn't going to be any ordinary convention. We're talking fangs, vampire role-playing games and hearses hogging all the good parking spaces.

We're talking Dracula '97, the four-day gathering in celebration of the centennial of Bram Stoker's Gothic vampire novel, "Dracula."

The faint of heart might be wise to steer clear of the Westin Hotel, a block from Los Angeles International Airport, Aug. 14-17, when as many as 1,500 attendees are expecting to have a bloody good time paying homage to the author who melded centuries of superstition, folklore and history with fiction to give vampire fans a hero to worship.

Yes, some serious debates about the existence of the "undead" are scheduled. But the convention's Halloween atmosphere - complete with tastefully placed coffins, a bloodmobile where guests can part with a pint of plasma, and a bar offering Bloody Marys - is a dead giveaway that this will be more pleasure than business.

"There are 100 scholars coming to present papers on vampires, but it's really a party," said J. Gordon Melton, who is organizing the event with Massimo Introvigne. "The majority of people coming are just like us - people who like vampire and horror movies. It's going to be fun - a bunch of silly people dressing up and biting each other on the neck."

OK, so they're not real vampires.

While there are some people who believe in the existence of men and women who imbibe the blood of an ever-widening circle of victims to stay alive, the upcoming convention treats vampires as the product of legend, folklore, literature and Hollywood, say Melton and Introvigne.

If there's any doubt how sinister and scary these folks will be, the event's motto - "It's my party and I'll bite when I want to" - should dispel it.

Vampire movies in English, Spanish, Chinese and other languages will run continuously. Drac's Marketplace will offer vampire-related goods for sale. Fifteen vampire novelists - that is, people who write novels about vampires - will sign copies of their newest books.

There'll be a creative writing contest, Gothic rock music and theatrical performances that include a newly written episode of the 1960s Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows," whose most popular character was vampire Barnabus Collins.

And guests are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite vampire for a masquerade party.

It's enough to drive a vampire fan ... well, bats.

Out of character?

Melton and Introvigne aren't exactly the type of fellows anyone would guess would be involved with a subject some regard as silly, others as sinister.

Melton, 56, is a bearded Methodist minister who delivers occasional Sunday sermons at St. Mark's Church in Santa Barbara. He also works as a researcher in religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has written a dozen books on religion - plus two on vampires.

Introvigne, 42, an Italian with an accent uncannily like Bela Lugosi's in the 1931 movie "Dracula," is an attorney who also teaches sociology and religion at the University of the Apostles, one of the 13 universities at the Vatican in Rome. He's penned 20 books, with his 21st - his first on vampires - scheduled to be published later this year.

Just for the record, neither man believes vampires actually exist. ("Hardly any scholars believe in vampires," Introvigne said.)

But the two, who meet at religious conferences all over the world every couple of months and make time to share vampire lore, have studied the legendary creatures for years. The connection between the two subjects makes sense once you realize that theologists have been fascinated for centuries by the cosmic ongoing battle between good - represented by God and his angels - and evil - Satan and other dark forces, including maybe vampires.

Melton and Introvigne are among many followers of the fanged type. The Transylvanian Society of Dracula has an estimated 5,000 members.

But interest in vampires these days is fueled more by the fictional romanticism invented by Hollywood's movie studios than the religious superstitions that scholars believe spawned the earliest tales of scary bloodsuckers.

Drink up

The name "vampire" is rooted in a Slavic word meaning "to drink." Belief in the creatures that sucked blood to keep alive was rooted deep in superstition from centuries ago, when people latched on to the vampire as a kind of bogeyman to explain the unexplainable, such as unexpected deaths, suicides, deformed babies - even twins born on Saturday,
historians say.

Before the Middle Ages, burials were family matters with no coffins used (workmanship and lumber were too expensive) and graves were usually shallow (digging them took less work).

Vampire historians say people with serious illnesses who were near death or had slipped into comas were frequently thought to be dead, and unwittingly buried alive. So, when a hand or arm was found protruding from a grave, the superstitious assumed it was a vampire rising from the dead to complete some unfinished business or do some unspeakable mischief.

But in reality, the phenomenon may have been the result of marauding, hungry wolves or dogs - or a person coming out of a coma and frantically trying to claw his way to the surface.

The answer to keeping a vampire dead and buried seemed clear to people in those days: Make it impossible for him to leave the grave. Many corpses were reburied face-down (if the vampire tried to dig his way out, he'd only dig deeper), and a stake driven through the body to anchor it to the ground, Melton said.

Once undertakers began to handle burials, vampire legends began to die out.

Many of today's vampire beliefs - garlic and wolfsbane keeps them at bay, a cross will fend them off, they can't survive in daylight outside their coffin, their visage won't reflect in a mirror, they bite the necks of their victims with sharp fangs - are largely Hollywood

(Some people believed to be vampires did drink their victims' blood, but didn't pierce the skin to do it. "They just sucked it out through the skin," Melton said. "Kind of like giving somebody a giant hickey.")

Hollywood has cleaned up the vampire image. Bela Lugosi, with his pale skin, black evening clothes and black cape, created the vampire look. (It wasn't until the Christopher Lee films in the 1960s that vampires sprouted fangs.) In literature, there are evil vampires, confused vampires who want to reverse their vampire state, benevolent vampires.
All will be welcome at the convention.

"Vampires aren't necessarily evil," said Introvigne. "It's how they use their powers. They're more like Batman, who's scary in appearance but who uses his powers for good. The only people who are afraid of Batman are the bad guys. It's kind of like that with vampires."

The event: Dracula '97.

Where: Westin Hotel, 5400 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles.

When: Aug. 14-17.

Admission: Advance registration is $110 for the four-day event. Checks and money orders can be sent to the Transylvania Society of Dracula, P.O. Box 91611, Santa Barbara, Calif., 93190-1611.

Information: Call (805) 967-7721, fax (805) 683-4876, or e-mail jgordon@rain.org.

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