Having been released several years ago by Image Entertainment, Wellspring has now re-released this "documentary" on vampires and the Dracula legend, narrated and starring Christopher Lee. No other actor has been associated with the Dracula character onscreen as many times as Lee, and this effort adds yet another credit to his vampiric résumé.
Based on a best selling book by Romanian scholars Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, andoriginally intended as a television special (in which a shorter public TV variant did exist), this Swedish/American co-production was directed by Calvin Floyd (TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, SLEEP OF DEATH) and released by Sam Sherman's Independent International, one of the drive-in giants of the 70s. What IN SEARCH OF DRACULA attempts to do is take the book and digest it into a feature film. It consists of sporadically placed dialog--gracefully articulated by Lee--that traces the roots of Dracula back to "Vlad the Impaler" up until the present of the mid 70s. The film illustrates psychological and historical aspects of the vampire myth, as well as its popular place in literature and film.
But what we get on the screen is homely Romanian villagers in their natural habitat, dreadful reenactments involving such concepts as a black cat disguised as a vampire and a naked girl on a horse, and archival footage of a vampire bat biting the cheek of a defenseless guinea pig. Christopher Lee appears as himself (briefly), as Vlad (a nice resemblance to the famous illustrations) and as Stoker's Count, looking a lot like he did in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA (but also a bit like a graying Tony Orlando). Much of these scenes are awkward and void of any dialog, but Lee looks great as Vlad roaming around the original remains of Castle Dracula. For no apparent reason (other than the fact that they were bought cheaply from EMI), scenes from SCARS OF DRACULA pop up from time to time.
The films looses a lot of credibility with its hodgepodge structure and its silly cinematic renderings of historic events. One of theseincludes a bit about "Bill," a real-life American vampire who was studied in 1964. He may have been American and documented in '64, but what we see is some bloke roaming around 70s Europe who looks like he should be playing sax for Roxy Music. Oddly enough, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein are also discussed (as filler I guess). An actress playing Shelley is shown dreaming up her famous literary creation one stormy night. The only thing is that she's dreaming about scenes from DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (apparently, the director thought that he was making a film about Mary Shelley turning in her grave!).
Padding is also provided by silent "public domain" footage of Theda Bara (whose extremely loose Dracula connection is being known as "the original vamp"), the 1922 NOSFERATU, and a 1920s Bela Lugosi performance that's pawned off as being similar to his 1931 breakthrough role. Because of Lee's broad presence here, horror fans will get a kick out of this sometimes laughable excursion, but like Dracula's hypnotic trance, most will be mesmerized into a deep, sound sleep.
Wellspring's DVD of IN SEARCH OF DRACULA looks as though it was the transferred with the same master that Image previously used. It presents an adequate, full frame presentation of a cheap film that was patched together from different film sources and stock footage. The color is a bit dull (the scenes from SCARS OF DRACULA look horrid compared to the pristine Anchor Bay DVD), there is a lot of grain and audio noise, but the presentation is acceptable, taking into consideration that this was shot on 16mm and later blown up to 35mm.
Wellspring's disc also features some supplements that were not on the Image release. There's the rare trailer for the film ("Yes Virginia, there is a Dracula), as well as trailers for TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN), TERROR IS A MAN, THE BARBARIANS, THE QUEEN OF SHEBA, MISSION TO DEATH, SUBMARINE ATTACK (TORPEDO ZONE), RAIDERS OF LEYTE GULF and THE FIGHTING RATS OF TOBRUCK. There is also a brief still gallery that includes such prize stills as IN SEARCH OF DRACULA's 42nd Street fanfare (when it played with BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR) that had a sexy woman dressed as a vampiress outside a theater. A booklet has informative notes by Jim Arena that includes quotes from Sherman and tells us more about this particular film in a single shot than anything ever printed before. Yes, there could have been an "In Search of Frankenstein" and "In Search of the Werewolf" from Independent International! One can only dream. (George R. Reis)
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