Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Dracula Business – review

Director: unknown

Release date: 1974

Contains spoilers

This was a BBC documentary, which I came across as Anthony Hogg mentioned it to me. At the time of review available via BBC iPlayer the documentary was an archive piece and featured Daniel Farson investigating what made Dracula so enduringly popular.

a view of Whitby
Farson was, apparently, qualified to ask such a question as Bram was his grand-uncle. Starting at Whitby, the documentary plotted an eclectic course through Transylvania, Highgate and Stoke-on-Trent. Obviously not all the locations mentioned are directly linked to Stoker's novel, but Farson's investigation included our obsession with vampires generally and touched on evil and the occult. It was also very British documentary of a certain age and that almost made the documentary as interesting as the subject matter did.

interviewing Tinka
Interesting moments within the documentary included attending a Romanian peasant funeral, and meeting Tinka, one of the funeral singers. Via a translator she suggested that when her father died, his body did not display the expected rigor mortis. Because of this the corpse was staked before burial. Farson believed her father must still have been alive, which was a bit of a leap but tied the case into the idea of premature burial. Of course we don't know the circumstances of the gentleman's death, and Paul Barber does explain the bodies can lose rigor mortis depending on circumstances in his seminal book Vampires, Burial and Death. Whilst in Transylvania Farson touches on vampire tourism and Vlad Țepeș, and rightly points out that the historical Dracula had nothing to do with Bram's creation.

Daniel Farson
The documentary, having passed through a London bookshop where a woman said that she was interested in the idea of vampires because her husband had left her and she fancied killing him rather nastily in her fantasies, looked at contemporary UK cases including the vampire of the Villas and the Highgate vampire. In an interview with a wonderfully down-to-earth Highgate groundskeeper, we hear about the hundreds of vampire hunters searching for something that the groundskeeper knows doesn't exist. He ties the event to David Farrant's original claims, mentioning none of the other participants by name, but suggests vandalism and desecration of corpses including staking of bodies took place.

I was struck by the on-set visit to the filming of Vampyres, which is of course a classic piece of sexploitation cinema. Farson finishes off by speaking to some earnest clergymen about the presence of real satanic evil, even though he admits, at the end, that he doesn't really believe in that sort of stuff. From a secular point of view it was a bit hokey. The documentary was of a time, but that was half the joy. All in all 6 out of 10.

At the time of review I could find no corresponding page on IMDb.

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