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Monday, June 27, 2011

Vincent Price's Dracula

Dracula: The Great Undead
Director: John Muller
Cast: Vincent Price



I remember when I was six years old finding this video tape in my local Jamesway department store. I was a young monster movie fan and still trying to learn all I could about the genre and this video had all these great looking monsters on it! There was Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Christopher Lee as the Count and Nosferatu! Plus, it was hosted by that guy, the man with the voice that instantly made me know that it was something spooky and fun!

What I discovered that fateful day in the bargain bin where so many horrors sprang forth over the years, was one of the great influences on my young life. I suppose that I always had the heart of an academic, willing to learn and yearning to explore. Documentaries and educational films always appealed to me and films like this helped me greatly on my journey to becoming a genre scholar.

The documentary has this great atmospheric opening with a carriage driving through a foggy evening towards, what appears to be, Bran castle in Transylvania. Chains fall from a gate and we notice this house is number 13 and are left to wander as the carriage drives away into the night. Our host is none other than Vincent Price, clad in a terrific smoking jacket, looking much like a horror movie Hugh Hefner, and he welcomes us in informing us that his servants our unavilable and than the title appears in bold, gothic letterinmg: "Vincent Price's Dracula"!

That's a great sounding title. Price asks the audience about our collective interest in Dracula and vampires and offers us red wine and goes over the story of the real Dracula, Vlad the impaler. This particular documentary is far removed from the near revisionist slant that today's filmmakers seem to take on this historical character. He is depicted exactly as he was, which was a bloodthirsty tyrant with a sadistic streak, highlighted by excellent clips from a Romanian epic on the ruler called Vlad Tepes(1978). These add greatly to the drama and punctuated with that creepy music score certainly makes them  particularly unsettling. That impaling scene never fails to make viewers grimace and squirm.

Price returns sporadically throughout the production to the "legend" of the Romanian prince and offers a nice mixture of respect and humor that helps keep the proceedings entertaining. He also reads, masterfully, a passage from the original novel, complete with perfectly inserted clips from Nosferatu(1922) and goes over the myths of vampires and ways to dispatch them, which are accompanied by grainy and creepy videos of burial practices in Transylvania.

The films are touched on, including clips from Nosferatu(1922), Vampyr(1932), Mark of the Vampire(1935,which is mistakenly reffered to as a Dracula sequel), Return of the Vampire(1943), The Vampire(1957) and Return of Dracula(1958). It's a curious choice of film clips, but whetted my appetite enough that I sought out each and every one of them immediately when I was young, grateful in particular, for the early exposure to such superior offerings as Nosferatu and Vampyr.

The final segment focuses on the last resting place of Vlad the Impaler at Snagov and i've never seen a more atmospheric and unsettling look at the island than in this film. Credit must go to the cinematographer for so many great spooky images that really add to the impact on the viewer. As predicted, these scenes really burned there way into my young, impressionable mind, spooking me, but keeping me fascinated. It should be of no surprise that segments from this documentary provided material for many campouts and sleepovers to follow.

Finally, it is dawn and it is time to go home, so Price bids us adieu and wouldn't you know it, he was a vampire! His laugh echoes throughout the land as his bat disappears into the blood red sunrise. Fade to black.

Dracula: The Great Undead is a great intro for the horror fan, especially the young ones who are eager to know more about Dracula and vampires and want to have a little fun being scared. The grainy quality is worlds away from the boring, quick cutting and flashing of recent documentaries, which fail to leave as much of an impression or feeling of dread the way these older ones do. Of course, it does have it's dated elements including an effective score that fluctuates to some lighter chords to punctuate Price's light heartedness. Price appears to be having a ball, too, looking regal and relaxed in the role of the host and really relishing the line readings and his trademark humor that lightens the mood and makes this so easily enjoyable.

This is certianly one of those films that I am greatly indebted to and one that I highly reccomend, even though this may be a rare case of nostalgia marring my judgement, it's difficult to imagine a classic horror buff not finding entertainment value in this. Unfortunately, it is currently out of print and has not yet had a DVD release. Bootlegs exist and it can also be viewed here: http://www.vincentprice.org/films/dracula/dracula.html




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