Dracula - The True Story of Vampires | Full Documentary
[narrator] The fear that the dead could return from their graves is as old as the world. Particularly feared are vampires, who strike terror into people's hearts at night, according to legend. [speaking German] [interpreter] I am Dracula. You've surely heard of me. I am a creature of the night, feeding on the blood of the living.
I am neither dead nor alive. I used to be the loneliest creature on earth. People were afraid of me. Today, I have many companions. We are modern stars. I am their great model.
But they have turned me into a pale teenager who hesitates to bite. The monster from gothic novels has turned into a sex symbol in romantic teen sagas. I will tell you my true story. Come with me, if you're brave enough. [clicks tongue] [distant siren wailing] [narrator] In 1897, Bram Stoker publishes his novel Dracula, a book that today is among the most famous novels in world literature.
It is the story of a Romanian count and his trip to England, where he roams the streets as a vampire. Gothic horror stories like this one sold well at the end of the Victorian Age. At that time, technology finds its way into daily routine. Life is picking up speed. Until then, the world had been shaped primarily by religious beliefs, but suddenly everything is changing. [man in German] Now there are steam engines, newspapers, order.
Ships that depart on time. There is no more room for your occult, supernatural, deeply religious beliefs. [narrator] It is into this world where everything seems controllable that Bram Stoker sends his vampire. His creature stirs people's fantasy even today. Hardly anyone still speaks of Bram Stoker, however.
The urn with his ashes modestly rests in a London crematorium. [in German] He is considered my creator. He made me famous.
[narrator] He did even more than that. In his book, Stoker also described many of the attributes vampires allegedly can be recognized by. [camera shutter clicks] When the book is published, it splits the critics' opinion. Some find it literarily second-rate, others praise it as one of the best horror stories ever written, though it is not for the faint-hearted. In any case, Stoker has hit a nerve. I think as long as you've got a religious belief that believes there is a soul, there's always that scope for an intermediate period between the person dying and their soul reaching another world, or the fear that maybe the soul is trapped with the body.
That means that legends of people coming back out of the grave, are fairly universal, they're found all over the world. [narrator] Long before Stoker's novel, alleged vampires made headlines. There was one case in 1732 in particular.
Military doctor Johann Flickinger is ordered by the Austrian military authorities to investigate the case of one Arnold Paole. Allegedly, he was roaming around a small Serbian village at night as an "undead." At that time, a downright vampire epidemic starts. [bird cawing] [speaking German] [interpreter] I remember the case of Arnold Paole very well. That poor man, they wouldn't leave him alone. [narrator] Several villagers swear that they have seen the recently deceased creeping through the alleys, stealing people's vitality.
Well, we know that belief in kind of undead beings sucking blood goes right back to ancient times, so in ancient Greek and Roman culture. And actually in Roman society they had a festival in May, which was really a public event to try and chase away the souls of people that hadn't properly transferred to the afterlife. [narrator] Doubtlessly, Arnold Paole is one of those lost souls Johann Flickinger has in mind.
When he examines the body, he hardly finds any signs of decomposition. [speaking German] [interpreter] He didn't know that, firstly, when you're buried underground, where it is cooler and there is less oxygen, you just don't decompose as quickly as a soldier lying on the battlefield for a week. Secondly, he didn't know fingernails can appear longer due to skin drying up.
And thirdly, he didn't know that hair sticks to dry skin. So, he told himself, "Everything that I've seen in my life until now applies here, and if I see something now that doesn't fit, it has to be supernatural or something is not right." [narrator] The authorities in Vienna had hoped that the doctor would put a quick end to the vampire rumors. They wanted to prevent turmoil in the peripheral regions of the great Habsburg Empire that contained so many ethnic origins.
However, it would turn out to be completely different, as has been put on record in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, the National Archives of Austria. [in German] "That he was complete and undecomposed... and that fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. He was indeed a real vampire. Whereupon they burned his body to ashes on that very day and threw it into the grave."
[narrator] Flickinger's report spreads throughout Europe like wildfire. Instead of stifling the wild tales, the military doctor had only added fuel to them. [in German] Suddenly, we were on everyone's lips.
No longer were we a fantasy of superstitious hillbillies, but rather the subject of academic discourse. [narrator] When rumors of vampirism were still spreading in the Habsburg Empire 20 years later, Empress Maria Theresa ordered her personal physician to investigate the issue. He is supposed to end this superstition once and for all. Gerard van Swieten is a highly educated man and an ardent supporter of modern science.
To him, vampires are nothing but a barbarism of ignorance. Pure fantasy. Even before his investigation, he was already sure about its findings.
[speaking German] And indeed, the physician describes natural causes like a lack of oxygen and the process of fermentation as reasons for the blood coming out of the mouth, for the swollen bodies and their rosy skin color. He writes to the empress... "...that all the fuss doesn't come from anything else than a vain fear, a superstitious credulity, a dark and eventful imagination, simplicity and ignorance among these people."
With one stroke of the pen, van Swieten believes he can wipe vampires from the face of the earth. The administration in Vienna was satisfied. They were convinced that the curse of the superstition was defeated forever. Even the mockers abroad who had seen the Austrian court library solely as a pretty place for royal festivities were to finally recognize it as a temple of knowledge.
[inhales] [in German] Enlightenment, oh, how I love it! Heaps of books scientists used to try and drive out superstition. Hundreds of essays solely for this purpose. Vienna was finally blessed with enlightenment. And us? We just didn't exist.
[narrator] To eradicate the belief in vampires once and for all, an alliance was formed at the highest level. The pope, in his tracts, had already discounted vampirism as a delusion of sick people. Now, the empress follows suit.
On March 1st, 1755, Maria Theresa issued the so-called "vampire decree." From now on, it is forbidden to open graves unauthorized or to stake the dead. Offences will be punished. [speaking German] [interpreter] They had abolished us by decree. At least, that's what they thought in cozy Vienna. [Benecke speaking German] [interpreter] As soon as authorities investigate the existence of vampires, people think, "If the government, if academics pay attention to it, it's important."
And if you then put it into law or into a decree, you confirm the idea that it is real, as you wouldn't need an investigation, a decree or public statement otherwise. So, it is very much a double-edged sword. And eventually it leads to people feeling encouraged in their superstition.
[narrator] The fear of the undead is rooted too deeply to simply eliminate it by decree. According to ancient folk belief, anyone can become undead, either because they have sinned during their lifetime, because they have been cursed, or because they have fallen prey to a vampire. [speaking German] [interpreter] If you live as long as me, you get around a lot.
I've been almost everywhere and have found no place on Earth where people don't know me and my kind. Well, that's quite a collection. [narrator] In Romania, the belief in vampires is still pervasive even today.
In the spring of 2004, the small village of Marotinu de Sus is making headlines. The story is about the desecrations of graves. The culprit is found quickly.
He makes no secret of his deeds. On the contrary, he is proud of having taken out a vampire who assaulted the villagers. [goat bleating] Shepherd Mircea Mitrica knows the victim's symptoms. [Mitrica speaking Romanian] [interpreter] When the thing with the young woman happened, I went to her. I saw the state she was in and how she was wailing.
She cried, "Look, here he is! He is killing me, he is eating me!" [narrator] Mitrica acts immediately. He opens the grave and cuts out the heart of the dead, just like they do with vampires in this village, according to tradition. [in German] My very special collection. [blows] Souvenirs from the centuries.
I certainly had enough time to collect them. Supposedly, we vampires can be killed with a silver bullet. Or with a wooden stake through our heart. And the cross. We avoid it like the plague. [speaking German] [interpreter] Garlic is supposed to protect against vampires and wizards and so on.
The reason for this could be that an undead could manifest as a ghost in the kitchen, if you let him in too many times, like 7 times or 13 times. Or that Satan leaves a trace of garlic behind. Where his left foot touched the ground, garlic grows. This is a sign for Satan having been somewhere.
I think that's because garlic was used as a medicine. This fact was mixed up and transferred to vampires. [in German] People would prefer we didn't even have a chance to come back. In Romania, they have countless rituals to keep us away. Quite effective, I must say.
[narrator] Old Nana-Sida has been practicing these rituals for decades. [speaking Romanian] [interpreter] We put up candles in every corner, so that he has light when he enters the afterlife. [narrator] She knows neither when nor where these funeral customs originated.
[interpreter] I have to be careful that the whole casket doesn't catch fire. [woman speaking Romanian] [interpreter] Poppy seeds are sprinkled into the casket, so that the deceased will be occupied with counting them. In addition to that, poppy seeds are an anesthetic and supposed to sedate the dead.
You could also put gunpowder into the casket so that the soul gets scared to return. [speaking Romanian] [interpreter] We rub them with garlic, so their soul can rest in peace. That's custom with us. [Hedeşan speaking Romanian] [interpreter] Recently they've even started to put mobile phones into the casket so that the deceased can communicate with their relatives from the beyond. Behind all this is the notion that the beyond is a somehow rather concrete world, where the dead must be supplied with everything necessary so they don't have to return. [narrator] In the end, the dead person is still staked, although only symbolically.
[speaking Romanian] [interpreter] We hold the needle to the candle until it glows. And when the head lies here, we stick the needle through the ear. That's the staking.
May God give him peace. [narrator] Romania is known as the home of the vampire. Transylvania, Wallachia. Regions that to this day seem unworldly and backward to many. A mysterious place, where people fear vampires and yet they don't shy away from profiting off them. [Tom Waits] ♪ Know that I'm in heaven When you smile... ♪
[narrator] Dracula is good for business. ♪ I got something that I found ♪ ♪ And it's you ♪ [singing scat] [narrator] His historic model allegedly lived in Bran, Romania: Vlad Tepes, a dreaded ruler from the 15th century. There's hardly a souvenir that doesn't show him or Dracula.
[in German] Maybe I should charge fees. Business is booming and it's my good name after all. [narrator] Thousands of visitors are attracted to the place each year. The idea of making Bran the residence for Vlad Tepes came up no more than 50 years ago.
At the time, people were looking for a castle that would fit the description in Stoker's story. [in German] Would Bram Stoker's novel have been such a success without Vlad Tepes? Who knows? And it all happened only because people had a soft spot for the supernatural in ever-so-modern England. [narrator] In fact, Bram Stoker learns about Vlad Tepes for the first time at a necromancy. Séances are all the rage around 1890. Even scientists attend them.
As does a Hungarian historian who tells Stoker about Vlad Tepes, the ruler of Wallachia, who went down in history as "the impaler" because of his cruelties. [in German] As a figure in written tradition, Vlad Tepes appears for the first time in 1463. Although, only in rhyme. And Wallachia, where Vlad Tepes was active, was far away and totally strange, almost like the moon. [narrator] At the time, the Ottomans were threatening Europe. This landscape has seen horrible atrocities on both sides.
Tepes allegedly impaled thousands of Ottomans, earning himself the telling nickname "the Impaler." [speaking German] [interpreter] Bram Stoker took a small part of the story, mixed it up with everything else, and that's how the vampire from movies and Hollywood developed. [air blowing] [speaking Romanian] [narrator] Bram Stoker's Dracula was an Irish fantasy peppered with a pinch of Romanian history and tradition.
The recipe for an international hit. [liquid sizzles] The vampire supposedly even owes his name to the 15th-century prince of Wallachia. Vlad Tepes carries the added name "Draculea," which means "little dragon." It's reminiscent of the knights of the Order of the Dragon, who had taken up the cause of defending the Christian occident against the Ottomans. -[priest] Amen. -[knights] Amen. [narrator] Vlad Tepes was a relentless and dreaded warrior.
Thousands of enemies fell victim to him. Even after the victory over the Ottomans, the prince lived up to his reputation as a cruel leader. Until his death and even beyond it, he was feared and hated in his country.
[in German] Vlad Tepes is said to have died in early 1477. But when they opened his grave in 1931, it was empty. What's the expression? Honi soit qui mal y pense. "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it." [narrator] Bram Stoker's pen turned the bloodthirsty prince into a bloodsucking vampire.
The Irishman even changes the title of his novel: The Un-Dead is now Dracula. [Benecke speaking German] [interpreter] For many years, we didn't know that Bram Stoker was a thorough researcher. Only when the notes for one of his books were discovered and it turned out he had collected many newspaper articles, travel journals, etc.
He used them to make a beautiful patchwork. [narrator] Stoker's character has everything a gothic horror novel needs. [in German] In the end, Bram knew everything about me. He even knew where my school was and who had been my teacher. [thunder crashes] [narrator] Dracula learns the art of conjuring from the devil himself, together with nine others.
The tenth pupil must serve the devil for eternity. [in German] I'll give you three guesses who the tenth was. [in German] Stoker wasn't the first one to write about us vampires. But he knew things about us that nobody else knew.
[narrator] Bram Stoker skillfully interweaves historic facts with horror stories. He doesn't want his readers to be sure whether it's fact or fiction. So, in 1902, in the first foreign-language edition, he writes... "I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. I state again... [Dracula] ...that this mysterious tragedy which is here described is completely true
in all its external respects." Of course, Stoker knew nobody would believe him. That's why he wrote in his preface... "In this enlightened century, when people do not believe what they see with their own eyes, the doubt of wise people is Dracula's biggest power." [narrator] In a time when people think they understand everything, Stoker deliberately plays with this doubt. [gulls calling] For instance, he lets Dracula travel to England on a schooner that runs aground at Whitby.
And in fact, newspapers at the time did report a shipwreck. [speaking German] [interpreter] Here you see the stranded ship on the beach looking a bit lost and lonely. Like a ghost ship on which only one thing has survived, and that is Dracula. He goes ashore and enters the modern world, a world that we would call high tech today, in which he performs his ancient and strange acts.
[narrator] Dracula doesn't stay in Whitby for too long, however. [The Clash] ♪ London calling to the faraway towns... ♪ His actual destination is London. A place that seems to him "the most delicious in the whole world," according to Stoker. ♪ Come out of the cupboard You boys and girls... ♪
[narrator] To a vampire, the capital of the British Empire must appear as a land of plenty, with a selection of delicacies from all corners of the world. And at that time, Dracula has the city all to himself. Since then, vampires have conquered the world, accurately reflecting the tastes and fashions of their current times. It's a broad spectrum ranging from the historic prototype of Vlad Tepes to horrifying monsters, from permissive bon vivants to today's noble vampires who practice abstinence and promise eternal love. Yet throughout all the differences, due to contemporary tastes, all those vampires have one feature in common. [in German] Most of all, we can do what every human wishes for: live forever.
At least if you let us. The idea of this immortal Dracula figure is somehow, it's kind of counter cultural. It goes against perhaps this battle between the values which society espouses, which is kind of materialism and conformism and respectability, and the Dracula legend which is immortality, which is something different than the kind of materialistic society. [narrator] It's almost as if vampires were the better human beings. And they have hardly anything in common with Dracula anymore.
Hollywood has turned the nocturnal bloodsucker into a doting teddy bear and teen heartthrob. [in German] Each one more beautiful than the next. All pretty boys to me. When Bram Stoker created my image, he was probably thinking about his friend, the great Henry Irving.
[narrator] Irving was the most famous Shakespearian actor of his time, and Bram Stoker was the manager of his theatre. [in German] Yet Irving didn't want to play me on stage. He found Dracula too trivial. [chuckles] Yet who still talks about him today? Everybody knows who I am, although there hasn't been a film about me for some time.
Still, everybody thinks they know what I look like. And some are even convinced, they've met me in person. [narrator] Or at least another one of his kind, like in 1970 in London. At the time, an undead allegedly roamed around Highgate Cemetery. The rumor quickly attracts people who go hunting for the scary creature. Dozens of caskets are opened during the biggest vampire hunt of the 20th century.
Not least because one man was sure he had seen the undead. [speaking German] [interpreter] It was a great mystery at the time. What is inexplicable in this world, or do we know enough in the 1970s to be able to explain everything? And he said, "There is a lot that we can't explain and here is an example from the realm of shades, from the nocturnal, gloomy world." [narrator] For weeks, London is kept in suspense by the Highgate vampire, or rather by what the supposed eyewitness claims to have seen. It took the form of a tall grey figure about eight feet tall, and it seemed to glide off the path, without making any noise.
[in German] I've been to Highgate several times in recent years. I've never met another vampire here. But fear of us is widespread in the former British Empire. In Bram Stoker's native Ireland, we are said to have been wandering around for more than a thousand years. [narrator] A few years ago, archaeologists discovered a cemetery from the eighth century in the north of Ireland.
One by one, they dig up 3,000 skeletons. Some have stones on their legs and in their mouths, a clear indication of people's fear that the dead could return. A fear for which scientists have found evidence at other British cemeteries as well. We found nails, not these actual ones, but very similar ones. Those have been deliberately placed in the body. So one was found through the right shoulder, another one was in through the heart, and another one through the left ankle, almost as if they deliberately placed them there to make sure that the body could never rise up again.
[narrator] Who were these dead? Were they seen as vampires? [in German] Bram Stoker could not have known about this when he wrote Dracula here in this house. [narrator] However, written records on the undead on the British Isles already existed in Stoker's times. [speaking German] [interpreter] His notes contain nothing about his old home, Ireland.
And yet it is teeming with elves, fairies, leprechauns, or whatever all these creatures are called. On the other hand, do you have to write down what you know inside out? [narrator] One of the legendary creatures from Ireland's so-called Otherworld could challenge everything we thought we knew about vampires' origins. An undead was making trouble there as early as the sixth century. We even know where he is buried. The stones on it are supposed to prevent him from leaving his grave at night. [Dracula speaking German] [interpreter] The place is called Slaghtaverty, although Laghtaverty would be more correct, as is written in this smart book.
The lagh of the abhartach, meaning "the grave of the dwarf." He may be a dwarf, but his thirst is that of a giant. [narrator] He quenched his thirst with human blood.
He was an evil king in his lifetime. His people asked someone to kind of get rid of him. A neighboring ruler kills Abhartach, but then he rises from the grave and is said to drink the blood of his people until he's buried upside down and a big stone on top of his burial. So that's kind of quite an interesting legendary account, because it brings the idea of the undead and blood drinking together. [in German] The story is pretty similar to mine, isn't it? [narrator] In Ireland even today, one night each year is dedicated to the walking dead. According to ancient Celtic belief, the deceased can return from the grave on the night of October 31st.
The Irish call this day Samhain. Everywhere else, it is known as Halloween. [Evanescence] ♪ ...into my core ♪ ♪ Where I've become so numb ♪ ♪ Without a soul ♪ ♪ My spirit's sleeping... ♪ [in German] It's a good thing that people like to celebrate. On nights like these, they even lose their ancient fear of the dark.
[narrator] But originally these ancient rituals were about keeping the undead in check. ♪ Wake me up ♪ -♪ Wake me up inside ♪ -♪ I can't wake up ♪ -♪ Wake me up inside ♪ -♪ Save me ♪ ♪ Call my name And save me from the dark ♪ -♪ Wake me up ♪ -♪ Bid my blood to run ♪ -♪ I can't wake up ♪ -♪ Before I come undone ♪ ♪ Save me ♪ ♪ Save me from The nothing I've become... ♪ [woman screams] [narrator] Is it possible that Stoker's Dracula is really from Ireland? Especially because his name has a fitting Irish meaning. It's a possible etymology for the name Dracula, 'cause droc-ula in Irish would mean "bad blood." Now of course, Vlad the Impaler, this 15th-century leader in the East, his patronym was Dracula. So that might be a more convincing thing, but again it's possible, that the term "Dracula," the fact that he chose this person, there might be a resonance there, because it had a meaning in Irish which suited the kind of character he was wanting to portray.
[indistinct chatter] [narrator] It's hard to imagine that Stoker didn't know these old stories. As a child, he suffered from a mysterious disease which confined him to his bed for the first seven years of his life. And his nanny used to read him Irish fairy tales and legends. The little boy must have dreamt of these stories at night. [in German] Have you ever had problems distinguishing between dream and reality? [narrator] Bram Stoker dies on April 20th, 1912. He leaves no notes about when and where he heard about the undead and vampires for the first time.
The official cause of death on his death certificate is listed as "exhaustion." [in German] Bram, without you, nobody would know my name. I owe my fame to you, but you owe me yours as well. [narrator] Even though the book was not particularly successful at first. [Benecke speaking German] [interpreter] It was reviewed politely but rather reservedly, and that was it.
There are almost as many editions and translations of this book now as there are of religious texts like the Bible or the Quran. So, there's a difference between this polite and reserved text and how casually and pervasive Bram Stoker's motif of the vampire has become in western societies. [narrator] Today, Dracula is world-famous. Stoker didn't live to see his success. He died long before his book became a bestseller. [in German] It's a shame he didn't get to see our success.
Thanks to him, I am more alive than ever. [blows] [narrator] The Irish writer wanted to be cremated after his death, at a time when hardly anyone did this. Was he ultimately scared of his own fantasy? [Rodriguez] ♪ Street boy ♪ ♪ You've been out too long... ♪ [narrator] Scared of the realm of shadows between life and death? The one that lets us shudder with fear, because we don't know what the end of our lives will bring? Who knows? ♪ Street boys... ♪ [in German] Now you know my story.
And do you know why I will never die? Because I have never lived. I exist only in people's minds. You decide my shape. Where and when I will return is solely up to you. [Meat Loaf] ♪ Like a bat outta hell I'll be gone when the morning comes ♪ ♪ But when the night is over Like a bat outta hell ♪ ♪ I'll be gone, gone, gone ♪ ♪ Well, like a bat outta hell I'll be gone when the morning comes ♪ ♪ When the day is done And the sun goes down ♪ ♪ And the moonlight's shining through ♪ ♪ Then like a sinner ♪ ♪ Before the gates of heaven ♪ ♪ I'll come crawling on back to you ♪