Ghost tours are standard fare in Charleston, but we don't seem to have the vampire lore of similarly historic cities like New Orleans and Savannah. City Paper discovered a handful of vampire-themed live action role-playing (LARP) groups and even a few locals offering to be "blood donors" on vamp forums, but they were reluctant to speak to us on the record. That would take away from the mystery of it all.
Taylors, S.C., resident Steve Brown explored the myth of Holy City bloodsuckers in The Charleston Vampire, published by his own Chick Springs Publishing in October 2009. His novel looks at the first vampire family established in the Americas, right here in Charleston in 1752.
At a signing in Columbia, he met his ultimate fan.
"I had a guy tell me he and his brother were descendents of Vlad the Impaler, and how my book, The Charleston Vampire, could have been the story of his family's journey to the New World," Brown says. "Before he left the signing table, the guy had me convinced that I had 'channeled' his family's story into my book. But I didn't promise him any percentage of my royalties. My credulity could only be strained so far!"
It's not uncommon to run into "vampires" around the state, Brown says, "But not in Charleston. Charleston is all about ghosts, and people come up to me all the time in Waldenbooks and tell me ghost stories."
Even so, vampires continue to appear in the local literary world. Charleston-based author G.L. Giles has self-published a handful of vampire novels, including three volumes of The Vampire Vignettes. Theatre /verv/'s J.C. Conway is developing a vampire webcomic/multimedia series called Holy City. And City Paper's own Nick Smith is working on a novel called The Last Vampire Story, which looks at what real people would do if they became vampires. For example, what would a chef do if he developed garlic allergies?
And the trend continues on the big screen. Eric Rodemann is a Charleston-based attorney who dabbles in making short films — he studied film production at Trident Tech and his company is called Cowboy Raygun. He recently shot a short vampire script called Sarah Doesn't Sleep Around, and he's working on another called Lincolnville with filmmaker William Stancil.
Rodemann's most recent project is the Charles Town Vampire Chronicles, a series of short films that will have the combined running time of a feature film. He hopes to start production in November.
"Not all of the stories will be about vampires, but they will include the supernatural in some way," Rodemann explains. "The idea is to produce the series in Charleston, with local actors, hence the name. Of course, producing short films with little or no budget is always a struggle, so the fate of the project is by no means certain.
"I know vampire material may seem overly popular at the moment with the True Blood series doing well on HBO and the Twilight series doing well at the box office," he adds. "However, vampire stories have been popular ever since Bram Stoker first published Dracula, and even before that."
And while he loves making vampire films, he doesn't count himself among the believers.
"I don't believe that vampires are real, nor have I met anyone that does," he says. "I think vampire films provide a filmmaker with the opportunity to explore emotions and situations ranging from horror and betrayal, to lust and sensuality, which is what makes them such interesting subject matter. Actors are probably drawn to roles playing vampires for the same reasons."
Rodemann can separate fantasy from reality, but others have taken the trend too far. Vampire-themed pop culture phenomenons have caused an increase in people who actually believe they're vampires. Charleston County deputy coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neal has dealt firsthand with the dangers of clinical vampirism.
In an article in Forensic Nurse magazine, she reports on a number of cases of vampirism. In one, a forensic psychiatrist at the Medical University of South Carolina treated a 28-year-old man who masturbated and took erotic satisfaction in seeing his own blood. He even taught himself to direct blood spurts into his mouth. In other cases, inmates in correctional institutions were caught trying to steal iron tablets for fear of developing anemia. It turns out another inmate had been trading sexual favors for the opportunity to suck their blood.
"Clinical vampirism groups some of the most shocking pathological behaviors observed," O'Neal writes in the article. "It is one of the few pathological manifestations that blends myth and reality in dramatic fashion and contains many possible elements including schizophrenia, psychopathic, and perverse features."
That said, we're fine with keeping Charleston a ghost town. The vamps can stay in New Orleans.