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Passion for vampires

Eight months and eight days ago, tonight's nuptial couple met at a party attended by professed vampires and vampire wanna-bes. It was the usual good time: One woman cut herself and drank a shot of her own blood.

The groom, Perry Alexander Montauredes, a man of 19th-century sartorial tastes who hates sunlight, will not say he is a vampire. And he takes a dim view of those who drink blood in public.

Is the bride, who goes by just the name January and adores rare steaks, a vampire? "I've displayed what people would call vampiric traits," she said. "But no."

Whatever, they surely love vampires, or at least sucking their livelihood from the perhaps mythical creatures who rise from the dead. The bride writes a vampire soap opera performed in theaters, while the groom has just written a vampire musical he is eager to promote. Together, they have written a screenplay, Vampires in New York, which they hope to see produced next year.

This is just a small part of the lively vampire scene that flourishes. So far this year, more than 40 vampire novels have been published, as well as an 852-page vampire encyclopedia, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead by Dr. J. Gordon Melton, an author who had written 24 books on the history of religion and figured it was time for something completely different.

Melton sees the vampire explosion as a manifestation of the same spiritual strivings that lead others to, say, the mysticism of the New Age movement. "The vampire movement deals with the darker side of our emotions," he said.

Vampires' ascendancy is part and parcel of the rise of Halloween. Melton says it is now the second most popular American holiday in terms of money spent, homes decorated and parties thrown.

But is all this vampire stuff a giant joke? If it is, Alexander Moore, a University of Southern California anthropologist, suggests it would be right in keeping with the spirit of the holiday. "American secular culture has taken an ancient agrarian ritual to honor the dead and turned it into a spoof of the dead," he said.

This year's biggest vampire story has indisputably been the commotion surrounding the movie Warner Brothers is making of Anne Rice's popular novel, Interview With the Vampire.

The vampire rage is also evident in a breed of rock called Gothic, which often features churning organ music. For the younger crowd, there is the Dracula-like Count on Sesame Street and the children's book hero, Bunnicula, a bunny vampire who drains vegetables of their precious fluids.

James Howe, the author of the 10-book Bunnicula series, says he was first trying to recreate his own youthful passion for vampires.

As an adult, Howe remembered how much children appreciate the occasional walk on the dark side, particularly if presented with humor. "At Christmas you have to be good," he said. "But Halloween gives you permission to be bad."