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Monday, October 31, 2016

THE TRAIL OF DRACULA -- DVD Review by Porfle

You know love want to know all about him.  And when we follow THE TRAIL OF DRACULA--a 2013 documentary now available on a brand-new DVD release from Intervision--we pretty much get the whole story, and more, about our favorite bloodsucking Transylvanian count, who just happens to be one of the most famous fictional characters of all time.

Writer-director David Mitchell has put together a history of the D-Man that's chock full of historical drawings, photographs, and film clips.  To augment the visual aspect of the story, we hear it told in exhaustive detail by a number of authors, historians, film critics, and other people who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the subject.  

The story begins at the beginning, with the birth of vampire folklore in Middle Europe and tales of vile undead creatures who stalked the night feasting upon the blood of the living.  Then we trace the evolution and refinement of the vampire character into a more suave and sophisticated figure, thanks mainly to writer Bram Stoker and his novel "Dracula."

It's Stoker, we find, who is responsible for devising many of the modern variations of the ancient folklore as well as giving the character his birthplace (Transylvania would forever become known as Vampire Central).  The documentary also touches upon the influence upon the character of a certain Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes, or Vlad Dracul, a Romanian folk hero whose countrymen regarded his association with the evil Count to be rather less than flattering.

While the first half of THE TRAIL OF DRACULA is definitely interesting, it's a bit dry and "History Channel"-like compared to the second half when we finally delve into Dracula's many film incarnations.  That's where this documentary really comes to life for me, with a wealth of clips from early adaptations such as Murnau's incredible silent epic NOSFERATU starring Max Shreck, and of course arguably the greatest version of all, 1931's DRACULA with Bela Lugosi.

Many of the sequels and offshoots from the 30s to the 70s are covered, of which there are literally hundreds ranging from drama to Gothic horror to low comedy to, finally, pornography (DRACULA SUCKS, SEXCULA).  

Scenes from the original trailers are used whenever possible, giving us tantalizing glimpses of such films as DRACULA'S DAUGHTER with Gloria Holden, SON OF DRACULA with Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi's Columbia outing RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, Universal monster rallies HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA with John Carradine as the Count, and Francis Lederer's excellent turn in the role in THE RETURN OF DRACULA. 

Lesser and sometimes obscure examples of the sub-genre include David Niven as OLD DRACULA, Andy Warhol's BLOOD FOR DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS with Ingrid Pitt, ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA, Al Adamson's abominable (but fun) DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, drive-in favorite BLACULA, 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA, LADY DRACULA, Jess Franco's VAMPYROS LESBOS, and several more.

Special attention is paid, of course, to Hammer Studios' game-changing Dracula series starring Christopher Lee in what many feel rivals Lugosi's immortal interpretation of the character. 

Hammer's heavily atmospheric and relatively lavish 1958 adaptation of Stoker's novel, DRACULA (known in the U.S. as "Horror of Dracula") sparked a phenomenon that made a reluctant horror superstar out of Lee (as well as his frequent co-star Peter Cushing, already known as the new Dr. Frankenstein) and led to a lucrative, highly popular series.

Sequels would include BRIDES OF DRACULA (without Lee, but excellent nonetheless), DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, SCARS OF DRACULA, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, and DRACULA A.D. 1972.  The films would gradually decline in quality with each installment until finally the cycle had played itself out. 

The DVD from Intervision is in widescreen with 2.0 sound. No subtitles.  Extras include audio interviews with Christopher Lee and Francis Lederer and video interviews with director Werner Herzog talking about his NOSFERATU remake with Klaus Kinski and BLOOD FOR DRACULA's ever-charming Udo Kier. 

My favorite bonus feature is a collection of all those wonderful trailers referred to in the documentary.  There are dozens of them--a full 94 minutes worth--ranging from DRACULA '31 and on into the 1970s.  Not just a bonus, this collection is equal to a full-length companion feature.

The uninitiated--those poor, mundane souls--may not get much out of THE TRAIL OF DRACULA.  But those of us who are devoted lifelong fans of the Count, no matter which incarnation of him may be our own personal favorite, will find plenty here to sink our fangs into.    

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