‘Believe the Unbelievable!’
In Search of Dracula – original title Vem Var Dracula? – is a 1975 documentary film produced and directed by Calvin Floyd (The Sleep of Death; Terror of Frankenstein) based on a script written by Yvonne Floyd. Much of the footage came from a 1971 documentary – made for Swedish TV – that predates the best-selling 1972 book of the same name by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu. The longer 81-minute version was released to cinemas on 16 June 1975.
The film is narrated by Tor Isedal and Christopher Lee who appears as himself, historical Wallachian ruler Vlad Tepes and Count Dracula.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few high-profile books lingered long on the international bestseller list, doing much to shape the world of horror across media platforms. Of course, we all know the demonological legacy of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby… But who remembers the nonfiction titles?
Of course, Chariots of the Gods? and similar ancient-astronaut dubious-to-outright-sham archaeology would find its way into film mythos (particularly Indiana Jones), but on the more defensible end was In Search of Dracula (1972), by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, enlightening readers to the truth of novelist Bram Stoker’s renown vampire. Since Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist became hugely successful theatrical releases, noblesse (and money) oblige the same fate befall In Search of Dracula (and, for that matter Chariots of the Gods? but we’ll save that one for another time).
The McNally/Florescu book’s path to the silver screen was a bit of a circumbendibus one. It started out as a Swedish-made TV special from a few years earlier, augmented in the final version with some clumsily-inserted film clips by the American releasing entity, the grindhouse specialists Independent International, home of, among other things, the notorious Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). This connection meant a narrative divergence into origins of the Frankenstein story, cueing placement of film clips from Dracula vs. Frankenstein, naturally. As for Bela Lugosi, because Universal Pictures wanted payment for clips of the actor in his canonical Dracula role, In Search of Dracula‘s miserly creators latched on to public-domain footage of a suave Bela from the obscure silent movie The Midnight Girl (1925) and used those at length.
All of which makes In Search of Dracula sound like a veritable dog’s breakfast but it’s actually quite watchable (and about as top-quality as Independent International was likely to get). It separates facts from fiction regarding the literary vampire of Stoker, vampire lore, abnormal psychology, vampire movies and the dark reputation of real-life Romanian ruler Vlad `Dracula’ Tepes. Highlights are appearances by top-billed English horror icon Christopher Lee, in custom-filmed fresh footage as a nonspeaking Tepes (Lee narrates), and in clips from his Hammer heyday as the bloodsucking count – Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Scars of Dracula – although, he notes in baritone tones, that in traditional folklore the undead were peasants, not nobles.
When the feature isn’t leaning on the crutch of old film clips, there are fun veins of nosferatu folklore the moving-picture folk have yet to tap. Biological children of vampires are born without bones; vampires can be warded off by a big black dog with extra eyes painted on; vampires have their own patron saint (at least in olden Romania they do).
Lee’s recitations of toe-curling tales of Vlad the Impaler’s cruelty are worth a visit alone. It’s like hearing grim fairy tales told by a wonderful, scary uncle. It semi-humanises Vlad as, yes, nobody whose land you would want to be stranded in but nonetheless a Romanian national hero with a twisted sense of justice and ethics (and a real penchant for putting long spikes through agonised living humans).
The DVD release of In Search of Dracula is worth seeking out. It includes a collection of trailers from a seemingly-random set of obscurities, including putative director Calvin Floyd’s own Victor Frankenstein (1977), one of the few features to actually follow Mary Shelley’s text scrupulously.
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
“This patchwork ode to vampirism may not be good cinema, but horror fans should find plenty of amusement here. Obviously anything with Lee for an hour and a half is worth watching, and the mixture of historical tidbits and far-flung analysis makes for compellingly odd viewing at times.” Mondo Digital
“The most captivating sections are those where the documentary explores vampire mythology – something that is often quite different from the ways it has been depicted on the screen – and shows us a host of the superstitions and the way they have been treated through the years.” Moria
On May 26th 2020, Kino Lorber is releasing In Search of Dracula on Blu-ray. Buy Amazon.com
New Audio Commentary by Film Historians Lee Gambin and John Harrison
Optional English Subtitles
Dual-Layered BD50 Disc
Shorter TV version: