Ever since it was published in 1897, Bram Stoker's novel Dracula has seized the imaginations of the world, and after selling millions of copies has also become responsible for the most successful series of films to be based on a fictional character. But Stoker's ideas did not arrive fully-formed, as he was inspired by the folklore and superstitions of Eastern Europe, specifically that of the region of Transylvania, which was not, as many believed, an invented land, but a real part of Romania which even now is steeped in tradition. But there is far more to the vampire lore than that, as this documentary will explain...
Although Christopher Lee had announced himself done with the character of Count Dracula as envisaged by Hammer films, in 1975, while his old adversary Van Helsing as played by Peter Cushing was starring in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and a lesser known actor was essaying the Count, there was released this effort where he played the vampire once again. But only briefly, as there were a few specially-filmed yet rather anaemic scenes where he menaced an unidentified actress in almost complete darkness, though more interestingly, in addition he appeared in full period costume as Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler as he was better known.
This was drawn from the book by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu which had made explicit the supposition that Stoker had based his most famous character on the historical Romanian hero/tyrant, an idea that caught on despite it being by no means a given, and aside from the setting, the connections were not as strong as it may appear since the publication of that scholarly tome. Certainly there were parallels in the macabre lore of the area, but the Dracula on the page did not behave as Vlad did in real life, and Stoker was more obviously drawing from the research he did in the British library on the subject of vampires than he was Romanian history.
Of course, the fact that Vlad was known as Vlad Dracul was a point in the authors' favour, but this documentary demonstrated how attractive this notion had become, and indeed after this Dracula movies tended to reference it overtly as if it was factual. Back at this film, though there were occasional clips of Scars of Dracula by way of illustration - Lee's final historical-based outing in Hammer's franchise – there were a hell of a lot more paintings and photographs which the rostrum camera panned over, showing off some dedicated research if nothing else. Transylvania was represented by shots of modern day (for the seventies) locals going about their business in a fashion that suggested life was unchanged there for centuries - and hinted there might be truth to the vampire myth.
Lee delivered the narration in his sonorous tones, every so often appearing on the screen, but mostly out of vision, as reconstructions passed by the screen, diversions including a mentally ill young man who drank his own blood to illustrate how vampires could have been real people with a disorder (but also seeming to look forward to George A. Romero's Martin). The last part was filled out with movie footage, only not the movies you would expect, sure, there was a big extract of Nosferatu, but to depict Dracula with Bela Lugosi they showed a silent film he had been in because they didn't have the rights; Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr was similarly shown in a couple of stills, and Lee's other Dracula efforts for Hammer were mentioned only in passing. In Search of Dracula began life as a 1971 Swedish television documentary that was expanded for theatrical release, and those small screen origins did show, but as a primer of the legend, and partly as a literary run through, it was fair, had a neat, sombre mood, but for seasoned fans would not tell you anything you didn't know. Floyd did the music, too.