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Vampires have a heart, but are they losing their bite?

Karen Kohoutek misses the good old days. As organizer of the Fargo Public Library's annual October ghost stories for grown-ups program and author of the horror movie blog "Haunted Vinyl" on http://areavoices.com/, she knows her horror history and...

Stewart and Pattinson star in 'New Moon'
Kristen Stewart, left, and Robert Pattinson star in the sequel in the Twilight series, "New Moon." allmoviephoto.com

Karen Kohoutek misses the good old days.

As organizer of the Fargo Public Library's annual October ghost stories for grown-ups program and author of the horror movie blog "Haunted Vinyl" on http://areavoices.com/ , she knows her horror history and misses the traditional depictions of vampires as suave but scary blood suckers.

But with kids today more interested in gloomy mortal Bella locking lips with the moody and misunderstood vampire Edward in the "Twilight" books and movies, vampires are no longer slumbering in coffins. Today, they're big business, starring in scores of new books, movies, TV shows and even inspiring fashions - all marketed toward adolescents. And the hottest trend is the forbidden, but always tempting, love between humans and the eternally desirable demons. Vamp-purists, however, feel this fictional new blood-thirsty brood is, well, a little anemic.

"It's strange to see them come back in this new form," says Kohoutek. "Now it's all about teenage girls lusting after vampires."

Sitting in her office cubicle, decorated with reproductions of vintage monster movies, Kohoutek acknowledges she's three decades past the targeted teen crowd.

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"It's kind of like 'Lost Boys' without the blood," Kohoutek says.

"It feels to me what's attracting people is more the romance. It feels like vampire-lite to me, somewhat," says Jamieson Ridenhour, chairman of the Division of Humanities at the University of Mary in Bismarck, and scholar of gothic fiction. " 'Twilight' in particular takes the danger and edge off of it."

Or, as Kohoutek explains, "it doesn't focus on the unpleasant aspects" of being a vampire.

True, Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" franchise focuses on the balance between Edward's emotional feelings and his primal urges.

Edward is chivalrous and protective of Bella even though he's tempted to taste more than her lips. Likewise, his entire Cullen clan is on a strict no-human diet, preferring animal blood instead. Even the bad vampires seem gentlemanly by sucking blood from the wrist instead of going for the throat.

Meyer's walk on the dark side has left her rolling in the green. Since the first book was published just four years ago Monday, the four-part series has sold more than 70 million copies and the movie has grossed more that $380 million worldwide. The second screen installment, "New Moon," hits theaters on Nov. 20.

Her success has spawned or inspired a virtual vampire boom.

The CW network just adapted "The Vampire Diaries" from the early 1990s young adult series that followed a high school girl choosing between not one but two vampire brothers.

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Earlier this summer, HBO aired the second season of the steamy "True Blood."

Set in Louisiana's bayou country, the show uses vampire themes as a metaphor to reflect hot topics such as racism, homosexuality and drug abuse.

"I think it's much more interesting when (the vampire story) tells us something about ourselves," says Ridenhour, who has developed a taste for the show.

On Oct. 23 the PG-13 "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" gets reborn as a movie after a successful young adult book series.

"It seems like everyone and anyone is publishing a teen vampire series," says Bree Schmidt, teen librarian at the Fargo Public Library.

While she's not a fan of the vampire oeuvre, she appreciates the fact that the "Twilight" books have "gotten a lot of reluctant people to pick up a book."

She recalls the original "Twilight" never moving from the shelves when it first came out. But it wasn't long before something clicked with readers, and seeing that success, something clicked in publishing houses.

Tish Schnase, bookseller at Barnes & Noble, points out popular teen series such as the Vladimir Tod books, "Eighth Grade Bites" through "Eleventh Grade Burns," Richelle Mead's "Vampire Academy" and the mother-daughter writing team of P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast and their "House of Night" series.

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Such books have gained a following not only with teens, but adults as well.

"Stephenie Meyer certainly introduced lots of adults (to) the teen area," Schnase says.

But Ridenhour doesn't see "Twilight" as anything new.

He points out that everything comes in cycles and about 20 to 25 years ago, Anne Rice's "The Vampire Lestat" was influencing readers and the movie "The Lost Boys" was a hit with teens.

"It seems like it's all in our face now, but it's really not anything new," he says. "If you go back to 'Dracula' in the late 1890s, Bram Stoker recycled all the stuff he did from earlier vampire fiction, too. There's only so much you can do with it."

And it doesn't look like the "Twilight" phenomenon will be fading any time soon. Meyer is rewriting the first book from the viewpoint of Edward. Even the author can't let the past lie.

"It's teen angst living forever," Kohoutek says. "Wouldn't that be horrible?"

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

Stewart and Pattinson star in 'New Moon'
From left, Kristin Bauer, Alexander Skarsgard and Patrick Gallagher play vampires in a scene from the second season of the HBO original series "True Blood." HBO / Associated Press

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For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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