MELBOURNE vampire Kriss Poison drinks her husband's blood as an expression of love.
''It is a loving power. It is all about love. When you love a person you can take from them, and they can take from me,'' she says.
According to Poison, 31, she is not alone in her penchant for bloodsucking. The so-called vampire believes as many as 300 Australians share her unusual - some would say gruesome - habit.
''It's a very personal thing. I've always lived on the dark side and I will continue to live on the dark side,'' she says.
As the vampire phenomenon has infiltrated pop culture via teen hits such as the Twilight films and The Vampire Diaries, TV series True Blood and, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in reality a darker strain of the breed seems to be on the rise, which has caught the eye of academics.
Researchers say the internet has enabled disparate individuals around the world to meet and reinforce spiritual beliefs based on traditionally ''dark'' mythical forces such as vampires and
Adam Possamai, Sydney author of Sociology of Religion for Generations X and Y, has plotted the rise of hyperreal religions drawing on popular culture.
''People are becoming inspired by the characteristics of the vampire and see them as a source of fulfilling their potential and inner abilities,'' he says.
''The vampire is no longer a monster that needs to be exclusively destroyed; it is now a superman type of character that people aspire to become, to realise their full potential.
''Dracula has become a modern-day Gothic Buddha.''
Professor Possamai says vampires, popular figures since the 19th century, reflect the concerns and aspirations of the time.
For example, John Polidori's 1819 short story The Vampyre, the first vampire tale in English, embodied forbidden types of intimacy. ''Baudelaire's poems express the experience of loneliness with
the advent of industrialisation, and Bela Lugosi's Dracula shows the issues of being a social outcast during the American Depression,'' he says. ''But vampires went through a radical transformation in the 1970s, when they started to arouse a longing for personal transformation, and the success of Twilight has only further heightened their appeal as models for personal transformation.
''Vampires are no longer lonely creatures hiding in the underground of our cities; they live with us in the daylight in our towns and suburbs - and we had better get used to them.''
Sydney vampire Morpheus believes drinking blood will prepare him for a better afterlife.
''I don't believe my body is immortal but I believe my soul is. I believe that by drinking blood, I imprint my consciousness, so that in the next life I will remember who I am now.''
He first tasted blood when he was in primary school, after getting into a fight with another student. ''I bit someone in the fight, and when I tasted blood it almost tasted like I had done that before.'' He now drinks only the blood of females he is romantically involved with. ''My parents hate it. They are Christians,'' he says.
Yet despite the current fascination with vampires, he says it has not translated into an increase in his ranks. ''I'm not afraid to say that I am quite lonely. I used to have a circle of people but most of them moved to Melbourne. Sydney really doesn't have any vampires left,'' he says.
Drew Sinton, 48, a self-described vampire who owns the Haunted Bookshop on McKillop Street in the city, says he is not surprised vampires are moving to Melbourne. ''Melbourne is a much more
murky city,'' he says.
Mr Sinton worked in advertising before studying to be an Anglican priest. He renounced the church after a research trip to Nazareth left him disillusioned: ''I was always a bit of an outsider,
but then I swapped advertising - a bloodsucking career - for a bloodsucking lifestyle.'' A girlfriend with a fetish for being bitten was his first foray into vampirism.
Occasionally the phenomenon takes on more sinister associations. Queensland scholar David Keyworth has studied the criminal implications of vampiric behaviour.
In an article in Australasian Policing, he plotted contemporary examples of ''vampire'' crimes: a Welsh teenager who murdered an elderly woman and removed her heart; a 1989 Brisbane
riverbank throat-cutting involving the drinking of blood; and a Kentucky
teen-vampire clan who cut each other to drink blood.
Dr Keyworth said an unofficial psychiatric disorder, Renfield's syndrome, involved (usually males) drinking blood for sexual pleasure. The condition takes its name from Bram Stoker's Dracula, in which a character named Renfield is enslaved by the vampire.
''There is an increasing number of otherwise-normal youth who genuinely believe that they are vampires for real, and claim to have a congenital or metabolic need to consume the blood (self-styled
'sanguinarian' vampires) and/or bodily energy of the living
('psi-vamps'),'' he wrote.