Color, 1975, 81 mins.

Directed by Calvin Floyd

Starring Christopher Lee / Written by Yvonne Floyd / Cinematography by Tony Forsberg / Music by Gerard Victory

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.99)

Back in the late '60s and early '70s, literary studies experienced an explosion of interest that popularized such concepts as psychological and historical criticism. Basically what these approaches do is treat the characters in books like real people and use shreds of historical fact and established psychological theories to gain more insight into fictitious people. Sound flaky? It usually is. While a handful of good works came out of this (Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea being the most obvious example), most of the time the results were just downright silly. In one of the most famous examples, Romanian scholars Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally stumbled onto a cash cow with In Search of Dracula, their novelized explanation of how author Bram Stoker derived his legendary Dracula from the real-life bloodthirsty exploits of Vlad Tepes, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler. While this connection has been assumed as historical fact over the years (even forming the basis for Francis Ford Coppola's wildly off the rails adaptation), the constant assertions that Dracula was "a real person" seem pretty implausible now (check out Video Watchdog #19 for a fascinating debunking of the entire Drac/Vlad myth).

So where does this film come in? While Florescu and McNally were working on their book, they also served as consultants on this Swedish-financed film, originally intended for television, which features Christopher Lee's narration attempting to tie the film's numerous trains of thought together into a coherent whole. The film veers madly from travelogue footage of Transylvanian peasants to staged bits with Lee in a bad wig playing Vlad himself. Along the way we also get a lot of clips from Scars of Dracula and Jess Franco's Count Dracula, both of which also feature Lee, as well as bizarre scientific footage of a vampire bat feeding from a guinea pig. Half an hour in, the film really becomes crazed by introducing a real life vampire, basically a poor pathetic Swedish schmuck who, in staged scenes, cuts himself open and drinks his own blood, mopes around in the park, and dreams of feeding on little kids. But wait! We also get coverage of the Bloody Countess herself, Elizabeth Bathory, some incongruous footage of a naked girl on horseback, and a look at the Vampire of Dusseldorf and an unrelated bit on lycanthropy. Then Lee expounds at great length on the history of Mary Shelley's famous stay at the Villa Deodati which inspired Frankenstein (barely connected by virtue of the fact that Polidori's The Vampire may have been inspired during the same stay). The quasi-documentary then comes to a close with movie vampires, including some clips of the "vamp" Theda Bara (talk about stretching your point!) and brief mentions of Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi (shown in clips from another unrelated film), and the Hammer classics.

This patchwork ode to vampirism may not be good cinema, but horror fans should find plenty of amusement here. Obviously anything with Lee for an hour and a half is worth watching, and the mixture of historical tidbits and far-flung analysis makes for compellingly odd viewing at times. Randomly scrapped together from a number of sources (mostly 16mm, apparently), the source quality obviously must shift every few minutes between clean new footage and old archival material. That said, the DVD looks as good as could be expected, with stable colors and a surprisingly low amount of grain considering that '70s Swedish films weren't exactly shot on the finest film stock and under the greatest conditions. A fascinating artifact, this unlikely title proves once again why DVD is becoming the obscure horror fan's best friend.

Color, 1977, 91 mins.

Directed by Calvin Floyd

Starring Leon Vitali, Per Oscarsoon, Nicholas Clay, Stacy Dorning, Jan Ohlsson / Written by Calvin and Yvonne Floyd / Cinematography by Tony Forsberg / Music by Gerard Victory

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.99)

Following the success of his Dracula documentary, Calvin Floyd decided to take a stab at Mary Shelley's horror classic, Frankenstein. Since he already exhausted the story's meager historical precedents in his previous film, Floyd decided to simply present a straight adaptation of the tale itself. Not a bad move, really, considering nobody had ever tackled a faithful version; as great as the Boris Karloff and Hammer versions are, they wander very far afield from the source. While Floyd's adaptation (originally shown as Victor Frankenstein) may not be the best, it certainly is the closest. Interestingly, the only other English-language film version to depict the Arctic opening and closing sequences was Kenneth Branagh's film twenty years later, which unfortunately succumbed to story tampering despite its alleged fidelity to the novel.

Everybody knows the story by now, but here goes anyway. An Arctic expedition finds a man struggling in the middle of the icy wilderness. They take him aboard their ship, where he relates the strange story of how he, Victor Frankenstein, became a scientist fascinated with bringing life to dead biological matter. After many experiments, and unbeknownst to his fiancee, Elizabeth, Victor reanimates a stitched-together corpse which then escapes and embarks on a strange, violent journey through the countryside, eventually leading the moster back to Victor where tragedy befalls everyone involved.

In contrast to standard monster fare, this "European slow" treatment focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of the narrative, which is also pretty much how Shelley's novel actually reads. Unfortunately, what can be provocative and compelling on the page doesn't translate quite as kinetically to the big screen. As a result, some passages of the film are too static and talky for their own good, but it's nice to see a film that tries to tell the story without the standard thunder and lightning effects. The fact that most of the actors remain completely unknown actually helps the film, though Brit film fans may recognize Victor's pal, Henry Clerval, played by Nicholas Clay (The Night Digger, Excalibur, Evil under the Sun, Lady Chatterley's Lover). Better suited for the small screen thanks to its intimate approach and static setting, this isn't a half bad movie, really, and should provide some interesting food for thought. The Image DVD far surpasses the cruddy 16mm transfers floating around late night TV for years, with the exterior scenes looking especially healthy, sharp and colorful.

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