Director: H.G. Stark
Cast: Leonard Nimoy
Monsters and the supernatural have always fascinated me since my childhood. I always wanted to learn more about all these strange things and often frequented the libraries and video stores in my area. The Dracula legend was always of special interest to me and was made especially fascinating to my young self, when I discovered that there had been a real historical Dracula! The documentary, Dracula: The Great Undead got the ball rolling for me on this point, as did an indispensable tome entitled, In Search of Dracula by Radu Florescu, which detailed the story of Prince Vlad Tepes. I always was checking that out of the library, along with it's companion piece on Frankenstein. When I was younger, television was alot more diverse than it is now. In the early 90s, it was still possible to find old tv shows and classic movies on regular networks. One day while I was staying at my grandparent's home, a marathon of an old 70s show entitled, In Search Of, was being broadcast in a marathon. The first episode was about Bigfoot, so immediately my young mind was hooked. The next episode left an even more indelible impression, because it was about Dracula.
At the time, I assumed it was connected to the book that I often rented from the library, but later discovered that it was actually a cash-in of sorts and that there had actually been a feature length theatrical release of that book that was released concurrently, in 1977. That film I didn't discover until years later on DVD and I enjoyed that as well, and most likely will review it someday on here. This version ran a little under a half an hour and had that gritty, creepy feeling to it that only older films and television can have. It traces the legends of vampires in Romania, without touching on much of the film versions. In fact, this is the only documentary on vampires that I ever saw that dosen't include a shot of Bela Lugosi, though he is mentioned once. Instead, several pictures of Christopher Lee are shown in the beginning and one of Lon Chaney Jr.(!) as well as some clips from Nosferatu(1922) which are used to illustrate scenes from Bram Stoker's novel. This technique would be used time and time again in several other documentaries over the years, because of the similarities between book and film, which are quite striking.
The rest of the documentary explains the history of Vlad Tepes and his rise and fall from power. Dracula's castle is visited, as is Dracula's final resting place at the monastery at Snagov. At the time, Romanian archaelologists were excavating large portions of the city of Buccarest, where Dracula's underground dungeons and meeting quarters were revealed. Leonard Nimoy hosts the entire program, dressed in black and looking much like Christopher Lee did in the Calvin Floyd film that was released the same year. It always creeped me out when they showed that scene of Nosferatu fading into the sunlight and Nimoy remarking that many felt that he was still lurking in the mountains of Transylvania! That made my young mind go wild! If Dracula was real, and he was, could that mean that maybe Nosferatu was real, too? Ah, impressionable youth.
This is a good documentary for the horror fan and is especially great fun for kids who are still trying to learn about all the creatures of the night. It's not as in depth as either Dracula: The Great Undead or the Calvin Floyd's In Search of Dracula, but it's still a worthy and creepy piece of nostalgic fluff. Better books and documentaries exist on the subject, but the importance that this show made on young mind has proven immeasureable. Unfortunately, the television show is not available on DVD, but happily, thanks to Youtube, it can be viewed in it's entirety. Watch it below and share it with your favorite little monsters.