Sunday, January 4, 2015

In Search of Dracula (1975)

          Not to be confused with the Leonard Nimoy-hosted TV series In Search of . . . (which spotlighted Dracula in one episode), this flimsy European documentary explores the real-life roots of vampire mythology while also including dramatic scenes featuring Hammer Films icon Christopher Lee as both the fictional character Dracula and the 15th-century historical figure Vlad Tepes, whose bloody reign in Transylvania helped inspire Irish novelist Bram Stoker to pen his enduring 1897 novel Dracula. Additionally, Lee narrates the piece in his usual stentorian style. In Search of Dracula is an odd hybrid. During many passages, it’s like a bland educational film; scenes of modern-day Transylvanians dancing around a town square are particularly unexciting. Yet whenever Lee appears onscreen as Dracula, he preys upon nubile women who seem to spend most of their time dressing and undressing. That said, while the makers of In Search of Dracula succumbed to the lure of sensational gimmicks, they didn’t have the nerve to present full-on Grand Guignol excess.
          At the time of the picture’s release, some of the information that director/coproducer/cowriter Calvin Floyd presents was relatively fresh, such as the connection between Stoker’s creation and Tepes (better known as “Vlad the Impaler”). The movie also does an adequate job of tracing bloodsucker iconography from ancient Egypt to post-medieval Hungary, where notorious murderess Elizabeth Báthory bathed in the blood of her victims, and beyond. There’s even some cringe-inducing laboratory footage of a real vampire bat in action, as well as interesting sequences explaining how Stoker wrote about a region he’d never visited. Floyd shows restraint in terms of describing Dracula’s prominence in films, although clips from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and other silent films unspool at excessive length, presumably because the public-domain content was available for Floyd’s use free of charge.
          By far the weirdest sequence in the movie is an extended vignette about a modern-day European named “Bill,” who is shown practicing vampirism on himself—he nicks his throat with a razor and drinks the blood that flows from his wound. The “Bill” images, however, feel as fabricated as the shots of Lee playing Tepes while wearing a silly wig and a series of even sillier headdresses. Still, even though subsequent documentaries and TV specials have undoubtedly improved on the scholarship of this low-budget enterprise, the grungy ’70s vibe and Lee’s participation lend In Search of Dracula a measure of kitschy appeal.

In Search of Dracula: FUNKY

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