In some form or another the Vampire has been a part of most the cultures in the world, but as most people would think, part of ancient legends and lore. The word Vampire itself is derived from the Russian word Vampir, pi being the verb to drink. Put most simply, a vampire is a dead person who returns in physical or spirit form and drinks blood of animals or humans to continue their existence. People said to most likely become vampires are magicians, people who are werewolves, the excommunicated, people who have committed suicide, murderers and those attacked by vampires, die and become vampires.
In Europe, the Vampire legends have been most strongly believed in (before Bram Stoker's book, Dracula) by the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, although there are cases of Vampirism in Medieval England and France. From 1730-35 Hungary, the Balkans, Poland, Bulgaria and Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) had a Vampire Epidemic, an accusation that was never proved (most possibly caused by an outbreak by Cholera, due to the fact many cholera victims were buried prematurely and tried to escape from their coffin, a sign of vampirism). The United States itself has had many outbreaks of Vampirism in New England as in 1854, 1888, and 1890, all again attributed to cholera.
The legendary vampire of Europe's most notable features are extreme paleness, finger marks around a seemingly freshly dug grave, an allergic reaction to sunlight (sunlight usually kills them), a swollen and gorged appearance if the vampire has just feed upon blood, no signs of the corruption of the body even years after the burial and the lack of rigor mortis. The vampire must attack and drink the blood of other people, usually biting their jugular vein in the neck and drinking much of their victim's blood. The victim of a vampire usually dies from the lack of blood and in turn becomes a vampire themselves, after death. Vampires are said to have eternal youth and life, the only cost being they must drink blood every night to sustain themselves, stay away from the sunlight, which kills a vampire instantly because they have no soul (not a common part of the folklore until about the mid 19th century, before then vampires were thought to be able to walk amongst "normal" people during the day).
The most common way of killing a vampire is to take the body out of its coffin, removing and burning its heart, beheading it and impaling the corpse with a wooden stake made of any wood except pine, which is a symbol is everlasting life due to the fact the pine never loses its leaves.
Vampires have been the stuff of pop culture since 1896, when Bram Stoker wrote the novel, Dracula. When vampires are thought of most people think of the actor Bela Lugosi and his portrayal of the Count Dracula for the film of 1932, and the basis of thousands of films, novels, TV shows, games and radio shows for years. Since the late 1970's a youth sub-culture has grown up around the vampire, called Goth, which idolizes the vampire in every possible way and has been unjustly blamed for several outbreaks of youth violence in the United States in the last several years.
Most people think that the Vampire is the stuff of horror movies, legends and stories, however, some living people exist that show certain traits of vampirism, called psychic vampires.