Reviewed by Tristan Sinns
Directed by N/A
Distributed by Smithsonian Networks
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, without a doubt, one of the most influential works of horror literature in the genre’s lifetime, and is rivaled perhaps in that regard only by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is a powerful story, well before its time, and being so controversial for its age of origin there has been a lot of discussion on the inspirations Stoker took in concocting this tale. The Smithsonian Channel’s new Vampire Princess seeks to explain the source of Stoker’s inspiration in the form of Eleonore von Schwarzenberg, a Czechoslovakian princess from the late 18th century.
The film starts with the uncovering of three skeletal remains near the castle of the late princess; bodies which had undergone posthumous mutilation. The film’s narration supposes strongly that these bodies had so endured this insult as part of local village superstition. By so beheading and otherwise brutalizing the corpses, the bodies would be so rendered incapable of rising back from the dead to suck out the villager’s juices in the middle of the night.
The documentary continues into the life of Eleonore, and she is certainly a bit of an odd duck. She favors wolves’ milk as a drink, and also dabbles a bit with herbalism and other arcane studies to the extent that those around her question her sanity. Her death also had its own idiosyncrasies, and with much great miles of guesswork one could assume this is because the local people thought she was a vampire.
This is a straight faced documentary, filled with live action reenactments of Eleonore and her behaviors, all narrated with intriguing and alluding supposition which drags you, kicking and screaming if you insist, towards the film’s desired goal of making you believe that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula after being inspired by Eleonore’s story. It does this by making huge and unseemly leaps of guesswork, filled with narrated junk-logic conclusions that starts with such cold finesse as “Could this have meant that…” and “Maybe this is because she…” It is supposition, invention, and extremely questionable.
The biggest sin of the entire project is one of omission; nowhere in the entire documentary is the mighty old name of Vlad Tepes the Impaler ever dropped. The connection between Tepes and Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not a new one. There’s significant evidence that Stoker was inspired by Tepes. If this documentary truly sought to answer the question of who was the inspiration for Stoker’s story, why not at least pay a token nod to the plethora of evidence for the existing theory? And, for that matter, what of the great bloody baths of Elizabeth Bathory? Can’t a girl get a drink?
The biggest thing that irks me about such a work of pseudo-education as this is the ironic way it emulates the superstitions it describes. Throughout the documentary we’re treated to the now defunct beliefs of the time, such as bloodletting through leeches, or that black horses snorting near graves might signify a vampire is buried nearby. All of these superstitions and works of medical quackery were the results of inventive supposition and outright fabrication; exactly the same methods employed by the documentary which describes them. The logic behind this documentary belongs in the century that it struggles to describe. It is no better than the superstitious 18th Century villagers it makes light of.
The DVD release of this documentary is pretty bare bones, including only an advertisement for Smithsonian HD – which you are forced to watch before the main menu loads and not allowed to skip – if that counts as an extra, at all. There is also an extended advertisement for the channel under the main menu. Joy?
Struggling past the obnoxious supposition that drives the documentary, it’s at least a bit of fun. If you don’t take it seriously, and understand it’s mostly hooey, then you might find yourself amused for an hour. I wasn’t quite able to do that. I can’t help but wish the thing just went for straight fiction, instead of pretending to be a true academic study. It’s not a badly put together documentary; at least for everything besides the logic which drives it.
2 out of 5
0 out of 5
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