RUMANIA: Is Dracula Really Dead? (TIME: Monday, May 23, 1977)


Have you seen that awful den of hellish infamy - with the very moonlight alive with grisly shapes? Have you felt the Vampire's lips upon your throat?

 - From Dracula by Bram Stoker


For devotees of Stoker's famed 1897 thriller and of the 100 or so horror movies it inspired,* Count Dracula's domain in Transylvania has long been a place of pilgrimage. Every year hundreds of Americans and Europeans visit Rumania for government-organized Dracula tours of spooky castles that were supposedly once inhabited by the Transylvanian ghoul. Many of the tourists who climb secret staircases and descend into the dank depths of dungeons wear bags of garlic round their necks - the traditional method of warding off the vampire's bloodsucking kiss. In the spirit of the occasion, local schoolchildren wave their arms like bat wings and bare their budding fangs for visitors' cameras.

The ghoul tours of Rumania are conducted tongue in cheek by the Ministry of Tourism. While not acknowledging the existence of vampires, it profits handsomely from indulging the fantasies of visiting foreigners. After all, as every vampire watcher knows, Dracula was zapped for all eternity when a stake was driven through his evil heart.

But now Dracula is showing signs of life, thanks largely to efforts by Rumanian President Nicolae Ceausescu to resurrect him as, of all things, a national hero. At ceremonies last week in Bucharest celebrating the 100th anniversary of Rumania's independence, Ceausescu solemnly included Dracula among the immortals in the nation's Hall of Fame. The honor bestowed on Dracula followed a propaganda campaign to refurbish the image of the count. The real Dracula, Rumanian party historians insist, was the 15th century warrior-prince Vlad Dracula, who heroically battled Turkish oppressors.

Vlad the Impaler. In fact, the historical Prince Vlad Dracula is scarcely an improvement over the legendary Count Dracula. In his day, the prince was known as Vlad Tepes (pronounced Tsep-pesh) or Vlad the Impaler. Reason: his favorite method of killing enemies was to impale them on wooden poles. He was fond of dining outdoors, surrounded by a veritable forest of impaled men, women and children. According to one account, Vlad remarked, "Oh, what great gracefulness they exhibit!" as he watched his victims writhe in their death agonies.

Contemporary chronicles testify to Vlad's many ingenious cruelties. When envoys from the Turkish Sultan refused to remove their turbans in Vlad's presence on the ground that this was not their custom, Vlad replied: "I would like to reinforce your custom." He thereupon ordered the turbans nailed to the Turks' heads. Vlad once gathered a "multitude" of sick and poor citizens in a castle, then bolted the doors and burned them alive so "there should be no more poor in my realm, leaving only the rich."

Despite these excesses, Rumanian historians note, Vlad effectively maintained law-and-order in his realm and ably defended it against foreign aggression. It so happens that Vlad's virtues, not his vices, are similar to those attributed to Rumania's present-day dictator. While ironhandedly ruling his country, Ceausescu credits himself with keeping both Western imperialism and Soviet expansionism at bay. Summing up the lessons of Vlad's reign, one Rumanian historian notes, "The country can only prosper under authoritarian rule." More turgidly, another Communist analyst contends that Vlad exemplifies "love for the fatherland, undaunted support for the high ideals of the people [which] represent a material force capable of curbing the surge of even the mightiest power."

Vlad met a fitting end not always stressed by Rumanian historians. After being captured by Turks in 1476, he was decapitated. His head was sent to Constantinople, where it was publicly displayed on a stake - the impaler impaled. Dracula's headless body is said to be buried in the monastery of Snagov, near Bucharest. It was there last week that a party-line-conscious priest observed of Rumania's new hero: "Vlad was a good Christian and he loved the truth. If he impaled people it was just to put a stop to injustice by noblemen at home and Turks from abroad." With chilling assurance he added, "Traitors have to be punished, and Vlad was very efficient."


* Including F.W. Murnau's classic 1922 Nosferatu, the celebrated 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, Roman Polanski's 1967 black comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck, a 1970 skinflick called Does Dracula Suck? and the 1974 X-rated Andy Warhol's Dracula.




Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?