One of the tricky things about archetypes is their omnipresence leads people to think their knowledge of these familiar figures is stronger than it actually is. The character of Count Dracula is a good example. The collective knowledge of his origins and attributes has mutated over time, with rumors transforming into facts, elements of the original Bram Stoker conception falling by the wayside and elements he never included being dreamt up in later adaptations.
The aforementioned puzzle is a big one to untangle but The Trail Of Dracula provides an informative and concise primer on this topic. It divides its time between historical and literary scholars on one side and genre scholars like Kim Newman, Jonathan Rigby and David Del Valle on the other to create an oral history of Count Dracula.
It starts off with where Romanian history does and doesn’t dovetail with the Dracula character (Vlad The Impaler wasn’t as big an influence as you think), vampiric mythology around the world and the vampire tales that preceded Bram Stoker’s creation. From there you get an interesting history of the Dracula novel, the subject of Nosferatu and how a successful stage adaptation of Dracula set the stage for the countless films we’ve come to know and love. Fans are likely to love the second half, which gets deep into the original Universal Films cycle as well as Hammer Films’ treatment of the character and Christopher Lee’s love/hate relationship with it.
Along the way, the collection of scholars separate fact from misconception and reveal how the character’s mythos was added to and subtracted from over the decades. Even if you’re fairly knowledgeable, there are new facts, interesting footage and interesting opinions worth checking out: highlights include how Lord Byron was an influence on the character, some cool later-years footage of Bela Lugosi ruminating on Dracula and an appreciation of the last Hammer Dracula film, The Satanic Rites Of Dracula. Directors David Mitchell and Jamie Lockhart keep the outpouring of info interesting by giving it a tight pace and supplementing the talking heads footage with plenty of film clips and interesting photos.
Simply put, The Trail Of Dracula serves as a quality intro for Dracula novices and an engaging refresher for enthusiasts. Either way, you’re likely to pick up new facts or straighten out old misconceptions while watching it.
DVD Notes: Severin just issued this on DVD via their InterVision Pictures Corp. sublabel. It offers a solid anamorphic transfer that mixes HD video, SD video and films clips of varying visual quality into a good presentation. The 2.0 stereo mix is a subtle affair that keeps everything skillfully blended together.
Since The Trail Of Dracula is short-ish (around 63 minutes), InterVision has added a generous helping of supplements to flesh the disc out. There are two quick audio interviews: one with Christopher Lee (2:25) has him affirming his love for the Stoker novel and the need to feel conviction for material to act in it while a quick snippet with Francis Lederer (1:25) reveals he was tricked into being in Return Of Dracula by being promised it was a spoof.
There are also a couple of slightly longer video interviews. The first is with Werner Herzog (9:49) that is devoted primarily to his remake of Nosferatu. He talks about being from a generation of cinematic orphans in Germany and using the remake as a chance to reconnect with his country’s film history via reintepreting Murnau’s original film. He also praises Klaus Kinski while admitting he’s difficult and gets into his take on the Stoker novel and vampire stories in general. The other video interview features Udo Kier (7:36) talking about his work in Blood For Dracula. He reveals he was last-minute casting for Dracula, discusses starving himself for the role and reveals what elements Andy Warhol added to the film’s storyline.
However, the biggest and best extra is a jumbo-size reel of Dracula film trailers (1:34:09). It offers 43 trailers that cover everything from the sublime to the ridiculous: there are Universal Dracula trailers and Hammer Dracula trailers as well as efforts from Paul Naschy, Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin.
These are programmed in a “mixtape” style that avoids chronology in favor of a mix-and-match style that jumps between continents and decades. In doing so, it gives the viewer a nice feel for how the malleable nature of the Dracula concept allowed it to have a long life all over the world. FYI, Schlockmania’s favorites among the trailers: the screaming, blood-drenched, flesh-baring madness of Alucarda and the charmingly wack parody Old Dracula, with a funky theme song you won’t believe.