The Twilight books have once more reinvigorated the vampire myth, but for some Australians blood sucking isn't a fantasy, it's a way of life.
Drew Sinton was an advertising executive earning a six-figure salary when he decided to live the life of a blood-sucking vampire.
The one-time associate creative director at Young & Rubicam Mattingly advertising agency - he worked on Myer, then the biggest retail advertising account in Australia - always had a curiosity about the paranormal.
In 1996 he threw in his career and flew to Transylvania, the Romanian home of the legend of Dracula.
There, Sinton - a member of Melbourne's Vampire Legion - attended the Transylvanian Society of Dracula's annual general meeting at a medieval castle, and his knowledge of vampire lore earned him an invitation to dinner with the society's members.
'I travelled there alone,' says Sinton, 46. 'I sat next to the president and he said, 'It's no accident you are with us tonight.'
'I was thinking, 'Sacrifice'. They were just trying to scare the hell out of me, I suppose.'
These days it is Sinton who is doing the blood curling. He is one of hundreds of Australians who celebrate the legend of the undead vampire and drink human blood.
While there are no figures on how many pledge allegiance to 'vampirism' in Australia, Sinton says in Melbourne alone there have been 300 followers.
They are separate from "fanpires,' who indulge in Dracula-esque diversions such TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie Interview with the Vampire and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight novels, which have a fan base to rival the Harry Potter franchise. (The movie Twilight now in cinemas, is based on the first book in Meyer's four-volume series.)
For devotees such as Sinton, now the Australian ambassador to the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, who frowns on the commercialisation of the cult, vampirism "becomes like an obsession or religion because it gives a group of outsiders an identity.'
Like religion, vampirism's followers adhere to rituals.
Some try to live sans sunlight (the mythological vampire slumbered in a coffin during the day), meet in parks at night and drink blood (usually straight from the human source).
The legend says that vampires who drank blood were forever young and could be killed only via a stake through the ticker.
Sinton has drunk blood but does not "honestly believe it's going to extend my life ... much,' he says, laughing.
And he has drunk the blood only of 'ladies,' he says. "They tend to get turned on by it. I'm not interested in drinking the blood of men.'
His favourite part of the body to sink his teeth into?
'The neck, but I have to be careful because it leaves marks."
For better access to veins, says Sinton, who owns and manages Melbourne's Haunted Bookshop, some vampire followers have engaged professional help.
"There was a dentist here in Melbourne who would modify people's teeth to look like vampire fangs,' he says.
"He stopped doing it because it was frowned on in the dental [community].'
And the head of a vampire group in NSW's Riverina district tells WHO his members also bite non-vampire "blood donors.'
The willing victims are tested by a doctor for diseases before the biting begins.
The practice, however, is not recommended by Dr David Mountain, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association.
"You are actually creating an access point for hepatitis or HIV or other blood-borne viruses," he says.
"Human bites are one of the most infectious bites because all the bugs in the mouth are adaptive to live on humans."
It doesn't bother Melbourne hair and makeup artist Kriss Pepdjonovic, who runs the Madame Gothic Glamour salon in Thornbury.
"I will bite until they bleed and drink what I can," says Pepdjonovic, who goes by the name Lady Vampira.
It feels, she says, as if "I've taken a bit of their souls and they can feel me in their veins."
Melburnians might be pleased to know the love bites don't come unsolicited. "It was always within a long-term relationship," says Pepdjonovic, 29.
"I would never just bite anyone."
Comforting as that may be, Pepdjonovic's appearance can still rattle mortals.
Born in Serbia, she has knife-like canine teeth on the upper jaw and has a fang-bite tattoo on her wrist.
Her mother was "into witchcraft" and her grandfather was "into vampires" and, she claims, "measured coffins for people."
Pepdjonovic also belongs to a fledgling group called the Hellborn Vampires, which she hopes will become like a "coven where we just go out and have a good time."
Naturally, she prefers the night: "It's when I feel free and I have this energy."
It's all about the dark for Qantas storeman Ian Marshall, too. "I would call myself a nocturnal creature," says Marshall, who was the partner of Pepdjonovic (they wed in a cemetery in 2007 and have remained friends since their separation).
Lack of sunlight was more a life choice than a consequence of working as a Safeway nightfill manager, but "in the past I didn't see daylight for 11 years," he says.
The Melburnian, who says his vampire traits include being "more frisky when the moon is out," has also drunk blood, uses a 1.8m coffin for a coffee table and dresses as "black as the ace of spades" in platform boots, PVC pants, studded belts and vintage three'quarter-length jackets-even in summer.
"A lot of people will see me, and it will be 30 degrees and there's this guy walking down the street in a full Victorian outfit," says Marshall, 32, who also models nude for novelty hen's-night art classes and aspires to become Melbourne's only gothic male stripper.
"I just have this one stare and people are scared of that. At work I don't have that look because I wouldn't have a job."
Indeed, like avoiding sunlight, finding a balance between private and working lives can be tricky, although Melbourne gothic vamp "Melissa Miseries Malice" (she declines to divulge her real name) has got it sorted.
The 32-year-old's fascination with the macabre comes in handy while working as an assistant funeral director.
"I found I had a knack for it," says Malice, who plans to study to become a mortician. She dresses in gothic garb but does not drink blood (though she says she has fantasised about it).
"Who I am at work is someone very professional," she says, "and I can set aside this whole gothic persona."
Despite their outlandish lifestyles and undead appearance, at the end of the day (or night), these four followers of everything vampire and gothic have their platform boots firmly on the ground.
"I don't think I'm immortal," says Pepdjonovic, "but I know I was put here to do something different in the world."
Says Marshall: "A lot of my older friends don't quite understand me. [But] I'm not one for following crowds."
And funeral worker Malice sees her way of life as the best use for her unique talents.
"Some people are born accountants and are really great with numbers," she says. "I'm really good with dealing with grief and the dead."