Expert Opinion: ‘Dark Shadows’ vs. Real-Life Vampire

John Reason is a real life vampire and the founder of

As told to

When I went to see Dark Shadows, I thought it was really funny that everyone had come to see a crazy vampire, but they didn’t know there was one in the middle of the theater. It’s awesome that Johnny Depp was playing a vampire. I’m a big fan of him—in all of his roles, he brings this charisma to it, and the vampire archetype is often defined by their charisma and sex appeal. I wouldn’t say that all vampires in the real world have charisma, but that’s what people want to see when they watch a vampire movie.

In the real vampire community, there are two types of vampire movie watchers. There’s the ones who really enjoy seeing the vampire archetype—whether or not they can identify with it themselves—and then there are those who just want to go pick a movie apart and complain about how it’s not like the real world.

Movie vampires are very distant from real vampires. A lot of people think real vampires believe that we can fly and live forever, but really, a real vampire is a person who craves blood or energy from other folks, and has a lot of symptoms that go with it including an aversion to sunlight and a general nocturnal nature. But when you come up with the idea of someone who doesn’t like the sun, wants to stay up all night because of their natural circadian rhythm and craves blood, there’s no better term than vampire. Some of us get excited to see True Blood and Twilight and Dark Shadows, but they’re are all very different from the real world.

My feelings toward vampire movies are really bittersweet. It’s a double-edged sword. The vampire craze as we know it now started with Anne Rice’s book Interview With a Vampire. Before that, although vampires had this magical charisma, they were also gross and disgusting. They weren’t the cute little tween heart-stoppers that we see today. Since then, we’ve been getting more likeable vampires who feel bad for themselves and seek betterment. It’s good that the real vampire community gets more attention, but it can be hard because then the crazies come out of the woodwork. What I care about most is that there are a lot of young folks out there who don’t know what they’re feeling, don’t know what’s going on with their bodies and their minds and get real scared, and these vampire movies bring forth articles about real vampires, which give these kids help.

But it’s unfortunate that these movies aren’t accurate. They have all these strange ideas that come straight out of fiction. I get comments on my website all the time from young people who are frightened of their strong cravings, and when they see these movies, they think they’re going to live forever. Or they want to be turned into vampires, which is total myth. In Dark Shadows, three people get “turned” into vampires, which just isn’t true in real world.



Here are other things Dark Shadows got wrong. Real vampires die when they jump off cliffs. We don’t cry blood. If a coffin is chained, you probably shouldn’t open it. Real vampires can’t mesmerize or hypnotize people beyond Vegas party tricks. I’ve heard of some vampires who sleep in coffins, but I have a very comfortable queen-size bed that I love. Dark Shadows and True Blood portray vampire sex as this crazy, jump-off-the-walls thing. It can be very exciting, but it’s not like that. Barnabus has bad breath, but I brush and even mouthwash most nights. We don’t burn from touching silver. And while the sun can hurt, it’s not like we burst into flames. In fact, it’s very similar to my wife: though she’s not a vampire, she’s got very pale skin and sunburns easily. It’s good to keep some sunscreen around. And we only have sharp, creepy fingernails if that’s the way we want them-and some people do. At one point, I thought it would be cool to have sharp, creepy fingernails so I tried growing them out, but I found out that just wasn’t my style.

Oh, and real vampires can and do eat real food in addition to blood. I try to keep a pretty healthy diet: cereal in the morning, something good for dinner. Most sanguine vampires like me don’t need a large amount of blood, and we don’t need it very often. When I’m not so busy, my wife and I sit down once a week and go through our little deal where I feed. Safety is of paramount importance. There’s no biting necks—not even getting near necks at all. We’ve had blood tests done on both of us to check for STDs and other diseases, and I got some training from a phlebotomist to make sure I was doing everything safely.

Unlike what happens in Dark Shadows, my wife wasn’t horrified when she found out I was a vampire. I was expecting her to scorn me, want to break up—we were high school sweethearts, so this was way back when—but instead, she said, “That’s cool,” and that was it. She wasn’t disgusted or scared at all. I couldn’t ask for a better wife. I couldn’t ask for a better donor. She often reminds me that I need to feed instead of the other way around. She doesn’t like needles, and that can be hilarious. But other than that, it’s just worked out great between us.

In the movie, Barnabus had to kill people. In the real world, only the crazies kill people. The worst crime I’ve ever committed was going five miles over the speed limit. But you’re still feeding on their blood or your energy, and there’s a distinct connection that you make with that person. It’s indelible and unexplainable. It’s heartfelt. And you don’t want to share that with just anyone. If you share your secret with just anyone, it can destroy your life. There were times when I was afraid that an angry mob was going to beat me up. I could lose my job. If my wife and I were to divorce, she could easily say that I’m crazy and we could lose our future child, when we get around to having one. But I still like to surround myself with people who just see me as me, even though I drink blood.

In the ’70s, when Dark Shadows was set, it would have been a lot harder for someone like Barnabus to be a vampire. There just wasn’t as much information. Today, the media has shown us all sorts of outlandish people and lifestyles, so we’ve gotten used to things. Right now, I could walk into any high school and impress the hell out of teenage girls by saying I’m a vampire. Back then, because the mental image was still Dracula, if they actually thought Barnabus was a vampire, they’d be reaching for stakes and trying to hunt him down. Me, I can complain that I might lose my job, but that’s a far cry from what Barnabus had to deal with.

I can see the future of the vampire community following the gay community and pagan community in the strides they’ve taken and the acceptance they’ve gained. While both are still looked down on in some parts of the country, there’s also more openness. Now, every Barnes and Noble in the country has its own New Age section, and you can find people who are openly gay in any town in America. It make take 5, 10, 20 years, but I can see our community becoming more accepted. And films like Dark Shadows get people more accepting of the idea of vampires, and I think it does a great good in opening a channel between the media and folks from the real vampire community who can show their real perspective. We’re taking baby steps.

I really like how deep in the heart of Dark Shadows, it was a love story. Just like anyone else, vampires are looking for love. And I really liked the transformation that Barnabus went through from an innocent family man to a darker soul, but he still kept those desires to have a wife and a family and take care of his own. That had a profound resonance with me. Those are characteristics that you’ll find in the average vampire you run into. And his reaction to a lot of things—how he didn’t want to be a vampire, how he fought it—many vampires can relate to that. It’s often unwanted, but later appreciated. If you’re stuck with something, you may as well get something out of it.


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