National Geographic // 2006 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // July 3rd, 2010
National Geographic explores centuries of vampire lore and legend.
From the Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series to The CW's Vampire Diaries, the vampire craze has swung back into the limelight, as a quick stroll through the teen fiction of any bookstore will tell you. But while the 1970s and '80s gave us bloodsuckers who were more monster than man, contemporary vampires are sadly more boy band than bloodsucker. They sparkle and swagger their way into our homes, wanting to pine and date their way into acceptable society. Fortunately, National Geographic's Is It Real? Vampires is here to add some creep back into these creatures of the night.
Airing on the National Geographic Channel between 2005 and 2007, treading similar ground as the History Channel series MysteryQuest, Is It Real? sheds new light on some old familiar things that go bump in the night. Is It Real? Vampires features scholars and scientists of all stripes, adding insight and expertise to the centuries-old myth of the vampire. While the production initially sets the stage for proving the existence of vampires, most viewers will quickly realize this is more of a quest to uncover the fiction rather than confirm any facts. For example, fans of vampire fiction will likely be disappointed to discover that author Bram Stoker's legendary Count Dracula was modeled after ruthless Transylvanian ruler Vlad Tepes; sadistic and cruel, he was nothing at all like the vampires we imagine. In fact, the Transylvanian people didn't become aware their country had such an infamous native son until Dracula was translated into their native language circa 1990.
One of the most interesting revelations is how the visible effects of the natural decomposition process might have made it appear the body was actually alive. For example, as the internal organs break down, the pressure and fluid that builds up usually drains from the nose and mouth, appearing as though fresh blood had been consumed by the corpse. As the gasses build, the resulting pressure could make the body look as if it were moving. The effects of tuberculosis also gave its victims a rather vampiric appearance as it overcame the host, but not before infecting others. With the limited medical and scientific knowledge available at the time, it's little wonder people resorted to somewhat outlandish explanations to shed light on symptoms completely outside their realm of understanding.
Visually, the content varies widely from interviews and reenactments to contemporary location footage, but never presents a significant problem for the viewer. The audio mix is suitably atmospheric and enveloping, with actor Ian Gregory's (Chuck) strong narration keeping the feature rolling with enough humor and drama to sustain our interest. This release also includes the National Geographic Explorer episode "Vampire Forensics" which looks at 16th Century archaeological evidence that supports scientific explanations behind the vampire superstition.
While the conclusion may prove the vampire legend to be more fiction than fact, there's a lot of interesting content and new information to be found in Is It Real? Vampires to entertain aficionados. Special notw: there is enough disturbing content that parents should be strongly cautioned to screen it before allowing pre-teen children to tune in.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: National Geographic
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
* NatGeo: Is It Real?