Vampires are legendary creatures said to subsist by feeding on the life essence of living creatures, generally by drinking their blood. Although typically described as undead, some minor traditions believed in vampires that were living people.
In folkloric tales, vampires often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighbourhoods they inhabited when they were alive. They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance. This is markedly different from modern fictional portrayals of gaunt, pale vampires beginning in the early 19th century. Although vampiric entities have been recorded in many cultures, the term vampire was not popularised until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, although local variants were also known by different names, such as vampir (вампир) in Serbia and Bulgaria, vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism.
In modern times, the vampire is generally held to be a fictitious entity, although belief in related creatures such as the chupacabra still persists in some cultures. Early folkloric belief in vampires has been ascribed to ignorance about the process of decomposition after death among pre-industrial societies. Porphyria was also linked with legends of vampirism in the 20th century and received much media exposure, but this link has since been largely discredited.
The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori. The story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. However, it is Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula that is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and which provided the basis of modern vampire fiction. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, video games, and television shows. The vampire is a dominant figure in the horror genre.