Think of it as your basic love story. Vampire meets girl. Vampire likes girl. Vampire sinks fangs into girl's neck.
OK, OK, so maybe it's not exactly like "Romeo and Juliet." It is, however, a lot like "Dark Shadows," the revamped cult favorite that has brought the 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins back from the dead.
But the show, which airs at 9 p.m. Fridays on WMAR-TV, is only the latest example of growing interest in the living dead, which some say exploded with the success of Anne Rice's vampire novels.
"The craze is definitely vampires right now," says Charlie Kimbrough, an assistant manager at Geppi's Comic World in Security Mall, where several kinds of vampire comic books have sold out recently. "Because things in the world aren't as rosy as we'd like, people associate the dark side with being more realistic."
For many others, though, sex and fear are what draw them to things that go chomp in the night.
"The whole thing is basically perverted sex," says Kathy Sands, co-owner of Tales from the White Hart, a science fiction, horror and fantasy bookstore in Waverly. "It's equating the bite of a vampire with orgasm. . . . Many people find lovers that are more than a little dangerous enticing. Well, you can't get much more dangerous than a vampire."
James McGee, director of psychology at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, says that sexual overtones often figure prominently in the vampire mystique. "There's something universal about the notion of the overpowering male seducing the helpless naive virgin," he says. "That theme gets acted out in the vampire myths."
But for Frank Linardi, a fondness for fear keeps him searching for a good vampire tale. Knowing his "Dark Shadows" trivia proved a boon to the Bel Air accountant, who won a trip to California in a WHFS-FM "Dark Shadows" contest to see a sneak preview of the new series.
"I was always a big fan of the show," says Mr. Linardi, 29, who still has collector's cards from the original soap. "I like to be scared. If you watch the 'Halloween' movies, there's no plot. It's just gross. . . . 'Dark Shadows' is more believable. Barnabas is not crazy. He just can't control himself."