In elementary school, Brynn Frazier often found herself surrounded by mean girls who were out for blood. • "I was a tomboy," she said. "I had developed early, and other girls made fun of me for it." • Solace came in the form of a '90s horror flick, Interview With the Vampire, with Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst. "I liked that they were kind of dark and solitary, kind of like how I felt as a kid," she said. • In real life, Frazier's foes formed cliques rather than covens, and her interest in vampire lore continually grew. She's not one of those people who believes she is a vampire; she just likes talking about them and dressing the part — like every Halloween. • Her interest may have led her to a most unexpected fate. These days, vampires can be found everywhere — from the bookstore to Busch Gardens to the TV sets in mortals' living rooms. The look has become so widespread that local costume retailers are restocking their supplies of vampire fangs.
Finally, it seems, the 19-year-old University of South Florida student is part of the in crowd.
Béla Lugosi look is so yesterday
Book-turned-movie series Twilight and HBO's True Blood have led vampires to the mainstream again, with stores and online retailers selling everything from "I drive like a Cullen" bumper stickers to synthetic blood drinks.
This Halloween season, the vampire look is second only to witch outfits, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Foundation. That's up from third place last year.
But don't expect to see swarms of black and red capes.
The 21st century vampire can be relaxed in a pair of jeans, T-shirt and a wild hairstyle, said J.B. Mason, assistant general manager for Features Costumes and Bead Barn in South Tampa.
The only must-have is the fangs.
Features has had to restock its shelves with fangs twice since the beginning of October. "They're going out the door this year," Mason said.
Light powders in theatrical makeup have also been big sellers, Mason figures, because customers want that pallid look.
At the Halloween Express in Carrollwood, managers Shirley and Gene Kundick saw an early uptick in sales of fangs, which usually don't move until just before Halloween — because "it's a good last-minute costume," Shirley said.
Men, specifically, have been more apt to buy vampire accessories, the Kundicks' employees said. It may have something to do with the influx of books and TV shows with immortal male leads.
"A vampire is the ultimate bad boy," said Lucy Watkins, 26, of St. Petersburg, where vampire fever has also spread. "He's the guy you can't have, and that story of forbidden love is something that I think people get into."
Watkins is a manager at Push Ultra Lounge, where she and other workers are hooked on True Blood. They have hosted watch parties together and threw a Vampire Ball at the club this month.
"I don't think vampires are synonymous with Gothic anymore," Watkins said.
The creatures of the night have also taken over Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream, including "Ms. Vayne," a fashionista with a bite as fierce as her strut down the catwalk. She appears in commercials for the annual event and hosts a scare-filled fashion show at the park's entrance.
"Vampires have really been around forever … and their popularity has ebbed and flowed," creative director Scott Swenson said. "They're compelling, exciting, a little bit sensual and a little bit dangerous."
The theme has generated exceptional buzz on Twitter and Facebook, Swenson said.
Florida Blood Services is capitalizing on the trend, too. Officials planned promotions for blood donations with Ms. Vayne at Busch Gardens this week. Additionally, the agency will offer Twilight-themed T-shirts during high school blood drives to coincide with the next film in the series, New Moon, which hits theaters Nov. 20.
"We play off of vampires every year, but this year, we got to do something extra," said Dan Eberts, corporate communications manager for Florida Blood Services.
Even a vampire must change it up
As for Brynn Frazier, the USF student, she plans to dress for the holiday as a True Blood character of her own creation: a blood-sucking waiter who works at the bar Merlotte's, a primary setting on the show.
"I try to change it up every year," said Frazier, who has a female vampire tattooed on her shoulder blade.
One year, she was a punk vampire. Another year, she pinned up the bottom of her black cloak, creating a bustle skirt for a more Victorian look.
She knows that plenty of other vampires will be on the prowl this Halloween but figures most of them will be fair-weather fiends.
"The hype will probably last as long as the Twilight movies come out, or as long as people love True Blood," Frazier said. "If I had it my way, it'd last forever."
Candace Braun can be reached at email@example.com.