June 19, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

In case you haven’t noticed, pop culture is sucking more than ever. This month alone, Anna Paquin reunited with her 173-year-old, bite-prone beau in season 2 of HBO’s True Blood. Director Guillermo del Toro scored a hit with his first novel, The Strain, in which bloodthirsty predators roam New York. Scream scribe Kevin Williamson is overseeing The Vampire Diaries, a CW series set to debut in the fall, based on L.J. Smith’s novels about high school vamps. Charlaine Harris released the ninth novel in her best-selling Sookie Stackhouse series, upon which True Blood is based. And movie execs announced plans for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot. (That’s all in the midst of the ubiquitous paparazzi shots from the set of Twilight sequel New Moon.)

”Vampires are the new rock stars,” says Diane Robina, president of the cable horror channel FEARnet. ”They’re the bad boys your parents don’t want you to date.” Or, as Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg puts it, vampires represent ”the ultimate unavailability. In some ways, yearning is more delicious than attaining.”

Of course, the dark appeal of vampires is nothing new. Just ask Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. But never before has any mythical creature had such a widespread surge in popularity across all media. To wit: 3.7 million people tuned in to True Blood‘s season premiere, making it the most watched HBO original program since the Sopranos finale two years ago. And there seems to be no cure for Twilight addiction, either. (Just ask Robert Pattinson [right].) Still, at this pace, Hollywood will inevitably drain the life out of the genre — perhaps giving way to a rival gang of monsters? ”A lot of people think zombies are going to be the next big thing,” says Harris. ”I just hope that when the tide washes out, I’m left standing.” — Additional reporting by Jean Bentley and Aly Semigran

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