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Dracula: The Vampire and the Voivode (DVD Review)

1 Oct, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 10/4/11
$19.99 DVD
Not rated.

Often overlooked in the midst of the recent vampire craze is the big guy who really started it all, Count Dracula. People have enjoyed a fascination with vampire fiction really ever since Bram Stoker first published his gothic novel Dracula in 1897, but the true origins of the character are often muddled by folklore and speculation. This fascinating documentary goes a long way to clean up some of those misconceptions.

We learn a lot about Stoker’s early years in Ireland. A sickly child who didn’t walk until he was 7, Stoker was hugely influenced by stories his mother would tell him of a cholera epidemic from her youth, when the condemned would be buried alive (giving rise to the idea of the “undead”).

About half the film deals with Stoker. The other half focuses on the title’s “Voivode” — a Slavic word for “prince” or “count.” That would be Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, a ruthless Romanian prince who ruled in the 1400s from whom Stoker borrowed the name of his famous vampire. But in recent years, the identities of the fictional and historical Draculas have been conflated.

The connection between Stoker’s character and Vlad the Impaler is one which the film argues is mostly invalid and stems from a 1972 book called In Search of Dracula.

Stoker himself never visited the real-life Transylvania, using it as a setting because he read about it in travel books and liked the name. But tourists hoping to find the strange, otherworldly place described in the book were often disappointed by the relatively bland countryside they encountered (the influx of tourism at least led to the construction in 1983 of the Hotel Castle Dracula, where a statue of Stoker was built as an ironic tribute).

Such confusion prompted the Romanian government to ban the book for a while as a matter of national pride, and it wasn’t translated into Romanian until 1990, after the communist dictatorship collapsed.

The film sets itself up almost like a response to In Search of Dracula, and the closing credits confirm that it was produced in association with the Transylvania Society of Dracula, a group formed to offer symposiums to educate people about the truth of their country.

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