Judge Alice Nelson never trusted her weird cousin with the pasty skin and pointy teeth.
I never thought Dracula could be so boring.
I had hoped a film chronicling the legacy of a fictional blood sucker, and a real life prince who impaled his enemies on giant stakes and left them to rot like a macabre human forest, would be a most riveting experience. However, Dracula: The Vampire and The Voivode, although very informative, is a documentary sorely lacking a soul. The intent was to clear the confusion between the fictional Dracula and the 15th century tyrant named Vlad 'The Impaler' Tepes (aka Vlad Dracula), but it comes across with the dry feel of a classroom lecture. That may be fine for the halls of academia, but it left me struggling to stay awake, much like my college literature class. Sorry, professor.
Facts of the Case
Since its first publication in 1897, Abraham 'Bram' Stoker's Dracula has never been out of print in the English language, but didn't reach its lofty status as one of the best selling books of all-time, until the motion picture industry took an interest and made countless movies about the Vampire from Transylvania. Many people, myself included, believed Vlad was the inspiration for Stoker's gothic novel, but the only things the two had in common were a penchant for bloodshed and the name Dracula. Dracula: The Vampire and The Voivode, takes a close look at the origins of Stoker's life and the events that influenced his most famous work. With the aid of the author's own notes and a half dozen experts on his life and the life of Vlad Tepes, the film attempts to separate fact from fiction, hoping to finally put an end to the Vlad/Drac controversy.
In an interview I read with writer/director Michael Bayley Hughes, the filmmaker found the life of Bram Stoker compelling—"He was far more fascinating than either the Count or Vlad."—a fact that was rather obvious since a good three quarters of the film immerses itself in the life of the Dublin born author. The documentary is at its best when focusing on Stoker and the factors that led to the development of Dracula. The man who coined the term "The Undead" began his life as a sickly child who didn't walk until the age of seven. Dennis MacIntyre, President of The Stoker Dracula Organisation, told of how Stoker's mother was his constant companion through an illness that is still a mystery to this day. During this time, Charlotte Stoker told her son about the 1832 cholera epidemic that swept through her childhood home of Sligo, Ireland. The disease took many lives and the locals were so afraid to become infected, they would use long wooden poles to shove people into deeply dug graves. Unfortunately, a few of these people were still alive and (as the legend goes) some may have come back to seek revenge on those who saw fit to bury them. MacIntyre surmises this story may have been the genesis for Bram's famous novel.
I know, I know it sounds like fascinating stuff, so what am I whining about? Despite the interesting and sometimes anecdotal stories told by MacIntyre, I had to fight to stay awake. The problem with Dracula: The Vampire and The Voivode is the lack of artistry employed in making the film. The details of Stoker's eclectic and fascinating life are delivered with little passion, which is surprising considering all of the experts used in the film are Stoker aficionados. The dull cold manner in which they speak just doesn't do him justice. I kept getting this woozy feeling of being in a lecture hall taking copious notes for the final exam. MacIntyre is the most enjoyable, though his thick Irish brogue makes it difficult to decipher some stories.
Once the focus shifts to the life of Vlad Tepes, the film wanders aimlessly, like a vegetarian in a slaughter house desperately searching for a way out. Tepes ruled for only six years and what little was discussed of his life was reduced to torture and murder. I still know very little about Vlad. Since he's the "Voivode" in the film's title, I expected to learn so much more. So the film isn't as much about either the vampire or the voivode, but all about Bram Stoker.
Dracula: The Vampire and The Voivode was shot in standard definition 1.33:3 full frame and with basic Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Nothing spectacular about the visual or audio quality. In fact, it has the feel of those old reel-to-reel projector movies they used to show in school. The only bonus feature, if you can call it that, is a slideshow of images used in the film.
Dracula: The Vampire and The Voivode isn't a terrible documentary, by any means. We learn Stoker's life was genuinely extraordinary, and the experts have an obvious love for the man and his novel. Yet, it has the uncanny ability to induce drowsiness with its dull, plodding, presentational style. If anything, this film could even be a great resource, when you decide to try out for Jeopardy. Just make sure you got your No Doze on hand and a bucket of ice water to plunge your face into.
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