Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Vampire Princess – review

Directors: Klaus Steindl & Andreas Sulzer

First aired: 2007

Contains spoilers

It was only when Everlost posted a link to David Blue’s article about this documentary that I realised that I hadn’t bothered reviewing the damn thing myself.

This really was an odd one; some very interesting discoveries were almost lost within some blatant speculation. The documentary was about Princess Eleonore Elisabeth Amalia Magdalena von Lobkowicz (Silvia Hladky) who was a member of the European nobility in the 18th century and Came from Cesky Crumlov.

The documentary begins by mentioning Dracula and then suggesting that Bram Stoker was aware of Vlad Ţepeş but all that Vlad actually leant to the book was his name and Transylvania. Nearly spot on… For, of course, Ţepeş was Wallachian not Transylvanian but closer than a lot of these documentaries get. They then go on to say that Stoker was more inspired by Princess Eleonore’s story. No…

I wait to be corrected but I have never seen anything connecting Stoker with Eleonore. The documentary then suggests that he wrote another vampire story with the character Lenore at the centre… Could they mean Lady of the Shroud, which I admit I haven’t read and is not a vampire story? No… Perhaps then Dracula’s Guest… in which case they are referring to the Countess Dolingen of Gratz in Styria (whom he listed as dying in 1801 rather than 1741, which is when Eleonore died). Indeed my first reaction was that they referred to Bürger’s Lenore – not a vampire piece but quoted within Dracula for the line “For the dead travel fast” and paraphrased on the tomb in Dracula’s Guest.

suspected vampire burial
In other words the Stoker connection is bunkum. Then came the most interesting bit. Archaeologists found a grave site near the town and there were three anomalous graves. Set North to South, the skeletons showed signs of tampering that included rocks on limbs, a skull between the legs with a rock on the mouth and damage to a sternum that might have been indicative of impalement into the heart. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

They then went into Eleonore’s life. She was a keen huntress but never killed wolves, these she captured. Why? Because she had the bitches milked and then drank said milk in order that she might bear a heir and son. Remarkably she did become pregnant eventually and give birth at the age of 41 – a miracle in itself in those days. The documentary then connected wolves and vampires in a way that seemed post-Stoker… better, I would have thought, to look at the close connection between the werewolf and vampire folklore, especially in Slavic traditions – even if it built into the speculation.

Silvia Hladky as Eleonore
After her husband died in a hunting accident, her 10 year old son was taken to the Emperor’s Court and she spent a fortune on all sorts of quackery medicine. Whilst this might seem important, given that she faded and died of cancer one can understand her desperation. Truthfully, one cannot deny that the wasting away she suffered from, due to her illness, might have looked suspect to the servants - especially as the region and timeframe place the incident at the heart of the vampire panics. However, there is nothing documented to support this.

a dying princess
It was when she died that things became odd. She was autopsied – not a common occurrence, especially for the aristocracy. The autopsy found no cause of death but listening to the findings, even I as a layman, could say she died of cancer. The documentary confirms this but stretches the section out indiscreetly as they discuss symptoms that sound like a vampire victim; simply to build the tension, one guesses.

Eleonore's Grave
She was not buried with her family but returned to Cesky Crumlov. This was as per her will but the documentary alleges that this will, written a few days before her death, was somehow suspect. But not how it was suspect… tabloid documentary making, I’m afraid – proffer your evidence. Was the signature compared to her normal signature? Did any record of the time question the will? She was buried and here things got interesting as they found her burial and showed that it was unusual for the time – especially the encasing the coffin within a structure built beneath the church. Was this due to suspected vampirism? An affirmative can only be speculative.

They then return to the three suspected vampire burials and speculate that the peasants went out with a black stallion (neglecting to mention that it and the rider should be virgin) and found three suspect vampires. Pure speculation that is followed by an almost apologetically communicated second theorem. There were three suicides during her time, one hung himself – which could have caused the beheading if he decomposed whilst hung, before being found. Could these have been the three? We don’t know but the idea that three suicides were selected for special treatment seems more likely. This might have been over a period of time, with no causal connection to the events surrounding Eleonore, or exhumed and dealt with due to a specific event - an epidemic or Eleonore's death may have been the cause - more digging into the records would be needed. All these seem more in keeping than the horse detection scenario.

The documentary could have been great and some speculation cannot be avoided – so long as it is labelled as such. Given that there has not been any rumour passed down through the centuries (and let’s face it, if there had they’ve had mentioned it) perhaps this is a new discovery of an old story. Suggestions such as a discovery that her portrait had the head removed and then re-stitched (only noticeable by x-ray) was a ritual beheading was speculation supporting their story. I suspect that Occam’s Razor would dictate that a more simple explanation, such as the canvas was somehow damaged or the lady herself wanted something about it changed (the castle ledgers might have simply mentioned painting rather than a specific detail), was more likely than a ritual that had no contemporary equivalent.

More attention should have been made regards the three suspected vampire burials – especially as they seem to date into the vampire epidemic – and all mention of Stoker should have been expunged as poppycock* (and poppycock which only served to weaken the rest of their hypothesis). 5 out of 10, for the interesting bits.

The imdb page is here.

*To steal a term from Elizabeth Miller, iro the Ţepeş/Stoker theorem.


RoseOfTransylvania said...

Sounds indeed like poppycock but poppycock with interesting bits.

Taliesin_ttlg said...