The vampire has been an enduring part of horror history since horror became a genre, but its traditions are mostly attributed to one sole character: Dracula. Bram Stoker’s titular icon has inspired countless vampire stories, but his work was not without inspiration itself; in fact, there are a number of sources from which Stoker drew, and the legacy of the vampire is a bit more complicated than giving Stoker all the credit. The Trail of Dracula, an hour-long documentary presented by Intervision Picture Corp., attempts to trace the lineage of the vampire back to its beginnings, then working its way through time as Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee stepped into the infamous vampire’s cape.
Over the course of the hour, The Trail of Dracula assembles a number of prominent critics, writers, and historians; these interviewees take the viewer through a history of the vampire itself, not just those that relate to Dracula. The documentary begins with the origins of the vampire, which, in its folkloric past, was more akin to a zombie than the vampire that we know and love today. One of the most interesting portions of the film discusses Stoker’s inspiration to make Dracula’s home Transylvania in the Carpathian mountains, a decision that most likely hinged on the intriguing name rather than anything else, since vampire myths were popular not only in Romania (some say those superstitions still linger) but also in Germanic culture and much of Europe at the time.
The Trail of Dracula moves on from those beginnings, though, to focus on Bram Stoker’s edition of Dracula, who helped to cement the myth as we know it. He certainly borrowed from many previous works including Lord Byron’s The Vampyre and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, but the inspiring narrative from Stoker’s work is difficult to dismiss. The documentary explores Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula and, eventually, his inability to separate himself from the part, and then it moves into the Hammer era of the late ’50s through the ’80s, giving particular focus to Christopher Lee.
The documentary is truly an entertaining look at vampire history, hitting a lot of important territory; however, its truncated length at just one hour means that The Trail of Dracula is forced to leave out some less significant releases and everything past the ’80s. It’s an interesting choice, because the more current era of vampire films certainly has a lot to add to the Dracula lineage.
Despite that lack of contemporary film history, The Trail of Dracula is an educational documentary with a lot of knowledgeable experts. Kim Newman, author of Anno Dracula, is particularly enjoyable to watch simply because of his enthusiasm for the topic. Besides the documentary itself, though, Intervision has provided some great extras for this disc to make it worthwhile to collectors – the coolest being a 90-minute series of Dracula film trailers! There are also various interviews with actors and directors including an audio interview with Christopher Lee and a video interview with Werner Herzog. This is certainly a fascinating watch for vampire film buffs, and also for those looking to learn more about the history of Dracula.