The scare did not begin in a vacuum. Vampires did not enter the folklore fully formed and dangerous, at the beginning of the 18th century. Belief in them had persisted for centuries.
Ancient legends from Asia attest to vampiric figures, like Lamia and Kali. Skeletons have been unearthed from 6th century Southwell, in England, showing how they had been buried with iron spikes pinning down the ankles, pelvis, wrists, chest and throat. From 13th century Bulgaria and Poland, archaeologists have uncovered yet more bodies interred with sickles securing skeletal necks, while rods protruded from the chest.
During the Black Death in Venice, suspected vampires were buried with bricks in their mouths, to stop them eating through their shrouds. The same has been found in Ireland, in graves dating from the 8th century.
They all provide evidence that humanity has feared the vampire, across the world, for a very long time. But what happened in the 18th century lifted this from the vague realms of folklore into the very real and present news headlines. There were stories.
Nor were they necessarily confined to the 1700s alone. Back in 16th century Hungary, an aristocrat named Countess Bathory was imprisoned in solitary confinement after murdering over 600 peasant women. She had bathed in their blood, in a bid to render herself young and beautiful. Though very much a living woman, it had underscored the notion of blood containing the elixir of life.
Then, in 1672, a terrifying report emerged from the Croatian village of Khring. A man named Guire Grando had attacked his neighbors in the street, and drunk their blood. He had also made strong sexual advances towards his terrified wife. The man in question had been dead for over twenty years.
Upon opening his grave, the villagers discovered that Grando's body had not decomposed. His torso was subsequently pinned to the ground with an iron stake. His body was decapitated and his head burned. His vampiric self was seen no more.
Tales like this were mere fodder for parlor room morbid titillation, while they were isolated instances which happened far away. But the 18th century witnessed a veritable onslaught of such stories, until it seemed that no-one was safe from the vampiric menace sweeping across the world.