Wednesday , February 21 2024
Dracula: fact and fiction.

DVD Review: Dracula: The Vampire and the Voivode

With the popularity of all things vampire in recent years, it should come as no surprise that the icon of all vampires, Dracula, would be once more resurrected to garner his share of the attention. Dracula: The Vampire and the Voivode, a documentary produced in association with the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, is just the latest to jump on the vampire bandwagon. The film is not concerned with modern manifestations of the genre like True Blood and Twilight. What it is concerned with is Bram Stoker, his 1897 novel, and its relation to Transylvania and to a 15th century Wallachian prince sometimes held up as Stoker’s model for the undead Count. Essentially the documentary aims to separate the facts about the vampire, Count Dracula, and the Voivode (Prince) Vlad the Impaler from the fictions.

Using the typical talking heads—everyone from scholars to tour guides—the film visits sites from the author’s life, places actually mentioned in the novel and places that may have been the actual sources for scenes in places that Stoker had never seen. It is well known that Stoker had never been to what he called Transylvania, what we call Romania. His descriptions of the countryside at the beginning and end of his novel came right out of travel books he may have been reading and his vivid imagination. There is, as the documentary makes clear, no castle near the Borgo Pass. There is in fact no Castle Dracula. The Castle Bran now often touted as the original of the Count’s ruined edifice has nothing to do with Stoker or even Vlad. As some scholars suggest, it is more likely that Stoker based his description on castles he was familiar with in Ireland and Scotland.

Whitby, on the other hand, the seacoast town in England where the ship carrying the Dracula coffins comes aground, was in fact the place where Stoker wrote a good deal of the novel. Its landmarks—the harbor, the 199 church steps and the graveyard at St. Mary’s Church—are places the novelist would have actually known. The same is true for most of the British settings. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these settings, both those that he knew and those that he didn’t, is the local attempt to capitalize on the association with Dracula. Whether it’s the walking tour of Dracula sites in Whitby or the erection of a faux Castle Dracula in Romania, if you can see your way to making a buck, fact or fiction, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.

In some sense the same is true for the association of the fictional Dracula with the historical Vlad. In Search of Dracula, the pop scholarly study from the ’70s by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, sought to set up the vicious Romanian price as the prototype of the Stoker’s vampire Count. They point out that his father was known as Dracul (devil or dragon). The addition of the ‘a’ to the end of the name was indicative of the diminutive. Vlad would have been known as Dracula, little devil or son of the devil. While all this may be conceded, and it also may be conceded that Vlad was a cruel and inhuman tyrant, there is absolutely no evidence, either in McNally and Florescu’s book or anywhere else for that matter, that Vlad had anything at all to do with vampirism—not in fact and not in fiction. This is a point that the documentary makes repeatedly as its central thesis. Stoker may or may not have gotten the name Dracula from references he read, but if he did that seems to be all he got.

The documentary pays some attention to Dracula in the cinema. There are shots of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. There is some classic footage from Nosferatu. There is some attention to Stoker’s precursors in fiction: Polidori’s The Vampyre, the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire, and Sheridan Lefanu’s Carmilla. But the documentary is less concerned with the history of the literary genre and its modern cinematic adaptations than it is with Stoker and the myths surrounding his novel. There is a great deal more time spent on the life of the author than there is on these other vampire stories.

Dracula: The Vampire and the Voivode presents a fund of interesting information, but nothing that seems particularly new. Fans of vampire lore and the horror genre in general will have come across most of what this film talks about already. They may not know the details of Stoker’s life—his inability to walk as a child, his years as a civil servant in Ireland, his career as a theatrical manager in London—but then they may not care all that much. On the other hand, if they do, this documentary has all they could want to know and more, not to mention some nice shots of Irish and Romanian scenery.

About Jack Goodstein

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