What was it all about?
After years in Buffy, Anthony Head ventures out to discover the truth behind the vampire myth.
What to say if you liked it
A fascinating study of the lavish legend of the vampire that took in a great breadth of sources from Bram Stoker to tales of supposedly genuine bloodsuckers.
What to say if you didn’t like it
Anthony Head exhumes the long defiled tombs of the vampire fable and finds absolutely nothing that hasn’t been archived before.
What was good about it?
• The documentary expertly exploited the intrigue the vampire has in modern culture, exemplified most recently by Head’s very own Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
• The clip of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was accompanied by Head’s remark that “Dracula is the most famous vampire to ever have lived”. If this was intended as a humorous remark then it was subtle and acute (vampires don’t live, they are undead and Dracula is the only famous vampire outside the closeted world of Anne Rice fans).
• The random florid soundbites in the script which seemed to be based on spurious opinion rather than fact, and were unintentionally funny because of it. “Whitby sounds like the perfect location for a horrific tale.”; “The mountains covered not in trees
but in impaled men”; “When Bishop Manchester spoke to me and informed me of the legions of undead.”; and “Highgate Cemetery was the centre of the vampire epidemic.”
• The cheery pathologist who sanguinely showed the rather reluctant Head the effect of decay on a human corpse such as blood naturally collecting around the mouth as the rot set in.
• The wonderfully unhinged Bishop Manchester who claims to have hunted down and killed a vampire in Highgate that was sucking the blood of a young woman.
What was bad about it?
• The hugely patronising portrayal of rural Romania, to where Head travelled to in order to investigate an apparent real-life vampire. If it had happened anywhere else, he wouldn’t have had the mythology to back up what was actually a desecration of a grave by some stupid villagers.
• There was very little original material. Everybody with even a cursory interest in vampires acknowledges Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula was Wallachian
warlord Vlad the Impaler. And Countess Blood, an aristocrat who killed maidens and bathed in their blood to keep her young, has also been well-documented.
• When hearing the story of how the grave of a dead Romanian was dug up and burned because he was suspected of being a vampire, Head failed to use the knowledge he had accrued from the pathologist about blood collecting around the mouth during putrefaction, which had formed the basis of the villagers’ claims about the dead man’s vampiric habits.
• The appalling music in the Goth club Head visited.
• The inundation of clichéd vampire imagery – mould encrusted gravestones in gloomy cemeteries, and wizened Romanian peasants in head scarves who looked as if they inflicted curses as a day job.
• In Romania, Head came across more as a tourist susceptible to local legends than an investigative journalist.
• The masculine, portentous description of the dream Stoker had that inspired him to begin Dracula. It was presented as a hallucinatory vision akin to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s reverie that gave him Kubla Khan, when it was actually easy to discern it was a wet homoerotic fantasy that repressed builders often enjoy.