The black cape; a thick, eastern European accent; one inch, needle sharp fangs, and a mad, hypnotic glare—unmistakably, these are elements of the look and feel of a horrifying medieval terror, the thief of souls, the Prince of Darkness ... Count Dracula.
Little about this character remains unwritten, unstudied, or untold. Bram Stoker was not the first to write about vampires, nor will he be the last, but he was the first to tell the tale of Count Dracula, as well as develop specifics to the modern vampire brand. According to Stoker, Dracula is at the core of what the vampire brand is all about. And what he began with was not fantasy, but a very real character from history. His name was Prince Vlad III. Popular history knows him as Vlad the Impaler. He was a 15th-century Romanian general and, believe it or not, a once-celebrated defender of the Christian faith against the invading forces of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The question is: how did a defender of the faith turn into a terrifying brand of the dark side?
Vlad was born in 1431, the son of Vlad II, a nobleman. Suffice it to say that Vlad's family lines were loaded with quality, homegrown blood from the Transylvania region, which is in today's Romania. Because his father was called, "Dracul," Vlad was called "Dracula," meaning "son of Dracul." According to David Johnson, who wrote an educational piece for infoplease.com titled, The Terrifying Truth About Dracula, both men were a part of the Order of the Dragon, a militaristic society of nobles with the expressed purpose of defeating anti-Christians, but mostly the Ottoman Turks. Johnson writes,
"Dracula" is Romanian for "son of Dracul." Therefore young Vlad was "son of the dragon" or "son of the devil." Scholars believe this was the beginning of the legend that Dracula was a vampire.
Johnson also writes that Dracula's life as a noble was not all bonbons and caviar. Indeed, his homeland lay between the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian-Hungarian Hapsburgs, so political strain was always a thing, along with an irritatingly persistent threat of war, if not a near-constant state of war. Not so different than Julius Caesar, Dracula found himself imprisoned more than once. The Turks humiliated Dracula by hauling him off in chains. And then the Hungarians murdered his father and blinded his brother before burying him alive.
Having your family slaughtered in gruesome fashion is not so much a justification, but at least some reasoning behind Vlad's transformation into a bloodthirsty ghoul on the battlefield.
Dracula's preferred method of torture was to impale victims and leave them to slowly slide down a wooden spike in agony and without mercy until they bled out—hence the nickname, "Vlad the impaler." Death often took days. The near-dead and corpses were left on the spikes as birds pecked and tore at their rotting flesh. It was a ghastly site intended to have impact. And it did. Once a Turkish advance was thwarted because the foul stench was too much for the sultan.
Dracula's earthly reign over Transylvania lasted from 1448 until his death in 1476. Twice his rule was challenged and twice he reclaimed his throne. While the Vatican disapproved of his methods, it did praise Dracula for defending Christianity.
Now, things really start to take creepy shape with one report stating that Dracula ate a meal amidst hundreds of impaled victims, having actually dipped his bread in human blood. But the demonic brand transformation doesn't stop there. When the Turks finally defeated Dracula and his forces in 1476, they severed his head and displayed it in Constantinople. His body was buried in a monastery near Bucharest. It was in 1931 that archaeologists rediscovered the site and found a casket, presumably Dracula's. Among the adornments of the skeleton, was a faded silk brocade, similar to a shirt depicted in an old painting of Dracula. But the kicker is this, those remains have since disappeared without a trace, leaving the whereabouts of Dracula unknown.
But the kicker is this, those remains have since disappeared
without a trace, leaving the whereabouts of Dracula unknown.
Much of this, except for Dracula's vanishing skeleton, weave into Stoker's lore of the vampire. Count Dracula was very passionate about his warrior heritage, emotionally proclaiming his pride. And he was primal and predatory in his views, as you might expect the real Dracula to be, given the conditions in which he lived. It is interesting that Stoker writes Dracula as pitying of us ordinary humans for possessing a revulsion of our darker impulses. Vlad certainly embraced dark methodology in his efforts.
There are some interesting ironies to the Dracula brand, however. One is that he can only be killed by decapitation preceded by impalement through the heart with a wooden stake. Dracula was decapitated, and perhaps it is symbolic that it is a wooden stake, an ode to Vlad's many impaled victims, that is needed to kill the demon. And then there is blood. All that Dracula needs to survive is fresh blood, which rejuvenates him, but isn't required frequently.
Watch any Dracula or vampire horror flick and the vampire brand will quickly reveal itself. Indeed, I leave it to Abraham Van Helsing for detailing the attributes of Count Dracula, along with Buffy Summers and teams of others to wage their nocturnal wars against the Prince of Darkness and his horde.