It’s hard to tell for sure, but I believe when Christopher Lee narrated In Search of Dracula (1975) he took a rather droll tone. We know he has a sense of humor or he would not have played Spike, the biker gang leader in the hilarious ’80s cable hit Serial. Something about hearing his posh delivery of lines such as the explanation that some people think vampires meet in a graveyard “every St. Andrew’s Eve to discuss their program for the year: who would be killed, and by whom” really tickles me. Also, the way that Lee intones the line “the seventh son of a seventh son is doomed,” almost as if the listener already knows, is funny. He knows he has made his living off of people’s fear of vampires, but he knows what he is reading aloud is ridiculous, so he goes for such a serious voice (presumably to avoid undermining his own work) that I imagine a raised eyebrow.
It’s not that the film is uninformative, and it certainly is fascinating. I did not know prior to watching this film that vampire lore included the idea that the Church convinced peasants that excommunicated people become vampires, or that vampires could turn into cats and dogs as well as bats. You may kill one with a metal stake, by cutting off the head and burning the body, with sunlight, or with a stake made from a rosebush, and you may slow one down by throwing tons of rose thorns on a path. Vampires are obsessive-compulsive, you see, and would have to count each thorn before attacking anyone down the path. This explains a lot about the Count on Sesame Street. And you thought he just loved to count things!
The Count Von Count is seemingly the only historical vampire not referenced in In Search of Dracula. Other subjects include Bram Stoker’s count as well as Elizabeth Bathory and a strange man called Bill, a 20th century vampire who drank his own blood. But good information alone will not make me watch a film over and over. No, it takes finding a lot of humor while not knowing whether it is intentional to make a film reach cult status in my household. Which brings me to the section which covers Vlad the Impaler.
The Vlad the Impaler portion of the film plays like an SNL parody of a Monty Python sketch to me because of the number of times Lee repeats the word “impale.” No matter what, Vlad would impale you. He just loved impaling folks, even his friends. If you complained about the stench of rotting impaled corpses during one of his outdoor dinner parties, he would impale you on a higher pole. If you didn’t take off your hat, he would nail it to your head and then impale you. Accidentally claim one coin that wasn’t yours after having your stolen purse returned? That’s an impaling. The only reason he stayed in power as long as he did must have been because his subjects thought he actually was a vampire, much like the way in which the U.S. “re-elected” Bush in ’04 because he is a giant lizard. I have to point out that it is ironic to me that Vlad the Impaler was supposed to be a vampire who impaled people, and yet vampires can be killed by being impaled. Impale.
The film also features clips from Hammer vampire movies and slides of medieval artists’ depictions of vampires. I understand it is adapted from a book, which I haven’t read and really don’t need to. All you need to know is that whatever you do in the Carpathian mountains, you will become a vampire. Fortunately there are as many methods to kill a vampire as there are to become one. Whatever horror story you are enjoying about any form of undead individual comes from the myth of the vampire. And according to Jung, the vampire is an archetype deep in everyone’s subconscious which may surface at any time. Vampires: how the fuck do they work?