Sink your teeth into Bram Stoker’s vampire saga in “The Trail of Dracula: From Folklore to Screen”

By on October 14, 2019

David Mitchell and Jamie Lockhart’s 2006 documentary The Trail of Dracula: From Folklore to Screen (2016) is a brief but in-depth look at unquestionably the most popular of all the horror movie characters and iconic figures of folklore, Count Dracula, giving us a peek at how he’s been portrayed in books, movies, TV and video games since 1897, the year that Irish novelist Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was first published.

You’ll find plenty to sink your teeth into in The Trail of Dracula — it’s chock-full of archival materials like historical drawings and photographs, as well as film clips and interviews with Bela Lugosi, John Carradine and Christopher Lee, among many others — now streaming in our “Horror Month: Vampires and Psycho Killers” section on Night Flight Plus.

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As Severin Films tells us, “Vampires have been an icon of evil in folklore and popular culture for more than three centuries, yet only one name still personifies the ultimate aristocrat of bloodlust,” Count Dracula, who “has been a looming figure in countless books, films and television series, but his twisted path from literary protagonist to pop culture mainstay is still largely unknown to many.”

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Stoker set his famous Gothic tale of horror in Transylvania, a real region of the world located in the country Romania.

Transylvania can still be found in a shadow-filled valley plateau in northwestern central part of that country, bordered on its eastern and southern borders by the Carpathian Mountains, and on its western side by the Apuseni Mountains.

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It’s interesting to note right from the start, however, that the people who live in this particular region of Romania had a very seriously negative reaction to Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula.

The book was unofficially banned in Transylvania until just recently, the mid-1990s, one hundred years later (Bram Stoker died penniless, by the way).

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This was due, no doubt, to the fact that Stoker’s fictional character of “Count Dracula” was based in part on an infamously real Transylvanian person, Vlad III, or Vlad Tepes, or Vlad Dracul, the Prince of Wallachia, who is probably better known by his nasty nickname, “Vlad the Impaler.”

A Romanian folk hero, Vlad III is nevertheless someone, simply by being a real person, who deserves to have his own story told, even if there are parts to his story which involved the deaths of others.

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It turns out that the two Draculas — Vlad III and Count Dracula — have very little in common with each other.

Vlad III — born in 1431 in Târgovişte, the royal seat of the principality of Wallachia — never owned any property in Transylvania, for instance, although the spooky old Bran Castle in modern-day Transylvania is today a tourist attraction where visitors are told is similar to the castle where the fictional Count lived at one time.

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Vlad III’s father, Vlad II — who was a “voivode,” or ruler of the region — did own a residence in Sighişoara, Transylvania, a city on the Târnava Mare River about one hundred fifty miles to the north of Vlad III’s birthplace (more than a day’s journey by horse-driven coach in the late 1800s).

Today the old walled-in, well-preserved town is listed UNESCO as a World Heritage Site due to it’s infamous fictional resident.

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Read more about The Trail of Dracula: From Folklore to Screen below.

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David Mitchell and Jamie Lockhart’s documentary — which feels too short at 63-minutes long, it could have easily been twice that length, in fact, and still leave out so much — explores the myth and legend of Dracula, from his literary roots to his larger than life film history.

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The film is largely chronological, so we learn a little bit about Dracula’s Romanian background and indeed about Stoker’s story of an undead count who feasts upon the blood of the living — a story told via folkloric stories in Middle Europe for centuries — before we’re moving into the saga of modern-age vampires.

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We learn that the novel was the launching-off point for what followed which we really know more about in the modern-era due to the popularity of the movies based on the novel, beginning with F.W. Murnau’s silent film Nosferatu, starring Max Shreck as the mysterious “Count Orlok.”

Next, of course, was Tod Browning’s 1931 film Dracula, the Universal horror classic starring Romanian-born actor Bela Lugosi.

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Their documentary film relies on “the world’s foremost experts” on Dracula — including academics, authors, horror historians, film critics and other enthusiasts — to tell us how the legend of Count Dracula developed over the rest of the 20th Century to become the iconic character we know and love today.

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We also hear from people like actor Christopher Lee, who agreed to appear in the Hammer Films sequels to Terence Fisher’s The Horror of Dracula (1958) simply because he knew it could become a franchise that would keep everyone involved in the films, including himself, employed.

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Mentioned here are also films like Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula, Return of the Vampire, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula — both with the great John Carradine as the Count — The Return of Dracula (starring Francis Lederer), Old Dracula (starring David Niven), Andy Warhol‘s Blood for Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Vampire Lovers (with lovely Ingrid Pitt), Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, Al Adamson‘s Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, Blacula, Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, Lady Dracula, Jess Franco‘s Vampyros Lesbos, and many, many more.

Watch The Trail of Dracula: From Folklore to Screen on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.