Saturday, October 16, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: IN SEARCH OF DRACULA (1975). This is a little bit of a change of pace. Instead of an actual horror movie, this film is a documentary. Or in reality a docudrama. As you might surmise from the title, the film is based on the famous book by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu which single-handedly brought the existence of "real-life Dracula" Vlad the Impaler into general knowledge. The actual title of the film is VEM VAR DRACULA? which makes sense when you consider it was made by Swedish director Calvin Floyd; also an accomplished musician and jazz singer. You will find no jazz singing in this film, however; only Slavic folk music which sets a really nice tone. The film was written from McNally & Florescu's book by Yvonne Floyd: the wife of the director. So this is indeed really the filming of the book. And as if the 1970s vogue for horror and the occult wasn't enough of a draw, the film scores the major coup of having Christopher Lee not only narrate but also star as the historic Vlad Tepes himself. The film is shot on location in Transylvania and visits many of the sites associated with the 15th century prince including 21st century tourist trap Castle Bran, Snagov, etc. A great deal of time is also spent examining the folklore and legends regarding vampires in general. The vampire on film is also touched upon: from the silent era through Bela Lugosi's star-making turn on stage and screen all the way up to the (then) present-day Christopher Lee Hammer Horrors. And of course, the Bram Stoker novel is examined as well. For anyone with even the slightest interest in the horror genre, IN SEARCH OF DRACULA is a super overview into the subject of vampire lore and Vlad the Impaler's life. Christopher Lee narrates as himself on camera quite a bit but the real treat is seeing him decked out in the historical garb of Vlad Tepes while walking around actual Transylvanian sites.

Sporting that big bushy moustache, Lee actually looks quite a bit like the statues and paintings of Vlad. It's only a pity someone never made an historical film based on Vlad's life starring Christopher Lee at the time. IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, then, is the closest we'll ever get to it. And now a personal aside: I first saw this film as a teenager way back in the early 1980's. This was the dawn of cable television and I believe it was shown on the USA Network one rainy, windy, stormy afternoon -- probably in the summer or on the weekend in the fall. All I can remember is that the weather outside was spectacularly apropos. At the time, my father worked the night shift so he slept during the day (shades of vampirism) while my mother worked during the day. This meant that, for all intents and purposes, I had the house to myself. It was actually a pretty good afternoon's viewing since, before showing IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, the channel had aired HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. So I was livin' it. And I was also video-tapin' it. Yep, cutting out the commercials and everything on my top-loader VCR. That afternoon had been the first time I had seen the theatrical HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS movie and now I was seeing a previously unknown to me movie on Dracula and Vlad the Impaler. Time to don the cape, light some candles, maybe make a pot of Soup Starter soup or a tuna sandwich with Tuna Twist -- or even that box of Betty Crocker (I think it was Betty Crocker) wagon wheel pasta with cheddar cheese and bacon sauce -- and settle down for a fangtastic stormy afternoon's viewing. This is what the horror genre is all about. This is what Halloween is all about. A cozy, comfortable crypt and some wonderful old scary movies. IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, though not a horror movie per se, still fulfills those criteria. There is a nicely spooky atmosphere about the film which probably stems from the time period in which it was made. Romania, you recall, was still under the Communist shadow and totalitarian ghosts seem to flit about just outside the camera's field of view. In the 70s, the local people and places still look like they could possibly be in the 15th century. In fact, that eerie feeling and atmosphere I got from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (which is also set back in Communist days) is the same feeling I get while watching IN SEARCH OF DRACULA. It's a really chewy film; so dense and moody one can really sink one's fangs into it. Thankfully, sometime in the last decade, the film was released on DVD. Not so thankfully, it's probably out of print now. But more thankfully again, you can watch the entire film -- that's right, I said the ENTIRE FILM -- on youtube if you search for "In Search Of Dracula Full Movie" (or else on imdb on the IN SEARCH OF DRACULA page). Happy viewing. I hope it's nicely windy and rainy when you watch it!

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