Release Date(s)1975 (May 26, 2020)
Studio(s)Independent-International Pictures/Studio Canal (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: C+
Though Christopher Lee had stepped down from portraying the reigning Prince of Darkness, it didn’t stop him from taking part in other Dracula related productions. To wit, he starred in and narrated the documentary In Search of Dracula. Based upon the book of the same name by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally, it explores the Dracula character and the many facets and incarnations of vampire lore before and after Bram Stoker’s world-famous novel was published.
In Search of Dracula takes itself quite seriously, which is both a pro and a con. Christopher Lee’s narration over the various pieces of footage is hypnotic, but always austere. Contained within are reenactments of pieces of European folklore about vampires; various bits of footage of the European countryside; clips from the films Scars of Dracula, Nosferatu, Vampyr, and Dracula vs. Frankenstein; and various paintings and other pieces of artwork showcasing the subject at hand. Christopher Lee, in both normal garb and costume, occasionally speaks to the camera for narrative and dramatic emphasis. It almost feels like a mondo film crashed into F for Fake.
What the film manages to get right is atmosphere. It remains steady, with particular regard to the violent and horrible exploits of Vlad Tepes, the historical figure that Bram Stoker drew inspiration from. What it gets wrong, which isn’t a total loss, is going off topic. A great portion of time is devoted to talking about Lord Byron and Mary Shelley, and the creation of the novel Frankenstein. Much of this material is fascinating, but it doesn’t feel organic to the subject matter. There are also times when the aforementioned film clips go on far too long, evidence enough that the running time needed lengthening (which makes sense being that the film originally premiered on British TV in a much shorter form a few years prior).
Above all, In Search of Dracula does manage to successfully captivate at times. The subject matter is rich and intriguing, even if it doesn’t fully explore the breadth of its subject. It’s quite interesting at times, but dull and plodding at others. However, listening to Christopher Lee speak for an extended period of time is no bad thing.
Kino Lorber brings In Search of Dracula to Blu-ray, sporting a presentation that’s touted to be from a “brand new 2K master” in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Though new, the master still contains obvious flaws. Density is an issue, mostly in the first reel, but the presentation features frequent instances of scratches, speckling, staining, cracked frames, and minor wobble. That said, it’s still a crisp and organic presentation with amazing color reproduction. The various countryside locations feature lush greens, and bold reds for shots of human crimson. Blacks are uneven, due mainly to the various pieces of footage used, but overall brightness and contrast levels are ideal. It’s an imperfect presentation, but a natural one.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It too has its share of flaws, including hiss, crackle, thumps, and wobble (the latter mostly pertaining to the music, meaning that it could be baked in). Lee’s narration is perfectly audible, but the sound effects lack any sort of dimension. Certainly not an terrible listening experience by any means, but still lacking in terms of dynamics.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Lee Gambin and John Harrison
- The Crimson Cult Trailer (HD – 2:04)
- The Oblong Box Trailer (HD – 1:56)
- Scream and Scream Again Trailer (HD – 2:21)
- Arabian Adventure Trailer (HD – 2:54)
- House of the Long Shadows Trailer (HD – 2:28)
The audio commentary with film historians Lee Gambin and John Harrison is an upbeat and introspective listen. Both are fans of the film and its source material, and they often compare the two with reverence. As they watch the film together, they highlight the clips used from other films, delve further into the information that’s given, and go a bit further into the history of the character that the documentary doesn’t cover. The disc is rounded out by a set of genre-related trailers.
In Search of Dracula is an acquired taste to some degree. Many won’t have the patience to watch a slow-moving documentary that lacks any real narrative propulsion, but the subject matter and its presenter are strong enough to get you through it. Add to that a fine audio commentary that provides further texture and it makes the experience worthwhile.
– Tim Salmons