Tuesday, October 29, 2013

#1,170. The Search for Dracula (1996)

Directed By: Joe Wiecha

Starring: Eli Wallach

Tag line: "The Legend is Real..."

Trivia: This documentary originally aired on the Discovery Channel

While perusing my DVD collection, looking for something appropriate to watch for the Halloween season, I came across this documentary, which I’d purchased (used) for $1.78 at my local FYE store (I found the receipt inside the DVD case). According to its front cover, The Search for Dracula originally aired on the Discovery Channel, but when I tried looking it up on the Internet Movie Database, I came up empty (at 50 minutes long, it was obviously an episode of a larger program, yet I’ve no idea which one).

Anyway, The Search for Dracula is exactly that, a documentary in which scientists and scholars delve into the origins of the Dracula mythos, visiting cemeteries and ancient locales as they pursue the truth behind the legend. Presenting stories of alleged real-life vampires in both the U.S. and abroad, The Search for Dracula tries to separate fact from fiction, proving that, sometimes, reality is more gruesome than anything writers or filmmakers could possibly dream up.

The Search for Dracula contains dozens of film clips, featuring such famous cinematic vampires as Nosferatu and Bela Lugosi (though Lugosi’s sequences are lifted from White Zombie, not 1931’s Dracula), but, for the most part, the movie presents "factual material" pertaining to what it claims are real-life cases of vampirism. One such story stretches back to the days of the U.S. Revolution; using reenactments, The Search for Dracula relates the shocking tale of a Rhode Island farmer (and father of 14) whose children suddenly and inexplicably started dying. In all, seven perished, the first being his 19-year-old daughter, Sarah. Oddly enough, the last three to die claimed Sarah visited them in the night, pressing her hands against their chests. Fearing their daughter was one of the cursed undead, the farmer and his wife traveled to the cemetery and dug up each of their children’s bodies, all of whom had started to decompose, with the exception of Sarah. To end the curse, they cut out Sarah’s heart and burned it.

Not all of the stories in The Search for Dracula deal with the New World; there’s mention of a 1730 religious ceremony that took place in Serbia, where the body of a man believed to be a vampire was exhumed and a stake driven through his heart (according to witnesses, the body let out a groan when the stake was pounded into it). Rounding out the movie is an entire segment dedicated to Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century Romanian Duke who served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Using professional testimony (as well as clips from a ‘70s Romanian film), The Search for Dracula paints a more subdued picture of Vlad, revealing a leader who, while undoubtedly bloodthirsty, always had his country’s best interests in mind.

In the end, I enjoyed The Search for Dracula, and while I’m sure a more in-depth documentary on the subject exists somewhere, this particular take on vampires is both informative and entertaining.

NOTE: The below trailer is for two movies, the first of which is called "Boneyard". The second trailer is for The Search for Dracula

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