After being exploited mercilessly for years by capitalist mythmakers, Dracula has finally been rehabilitated on celluloid in the land of his birth - Communist Romania. A new film depicting the former Ormanian price as "a cavalier of justice" has just opened in Burcharest to rave reviews from the county's official news media.
Entitled simply "Vlad the Impaler", Romania's new big-screen blockbuster is said to be the world's 62nd Dracula film. Unlike all the others, however, it is devoted not to the legendary vampire Court Dracula, but to the historic figure of Price Vlad Dracula, who ruled the Romanian provinces of Transylvania and Walachia in the 15th century.
Trying somewhat belatedly to set the record straight, Romania's Communist Party newspaper Scinteia complained: "Foreigners talk of a cruel and evil Dracula, depicting Vlad the Impaler as a bloodsucking monster in anecdotes and horror films. This has no connection whatsoever with the real Vlad, who was one of the foremost fighters for Romania's independence."
The new film begins by showing Dracula coming to power in Walachia in the year 1456. Then, according to Romanian critics, "It sketches a portrait of a determined and strong-willed leader who combined an extraordinary sense for diplomacy with a genius for war."
In the past, historians have not been so kind to Vlad (Dracula was a nickname meaning "Son of the Devil" or "Son of the Dragon"). The cruelties attributed to him include the implaing of as many as 20,000 noblemen and their servants on stakes, the killing of all cripples and vagrants in his kingdom, and sending the Turkish messengers of his enemy the Sultan home with their noses and ears cut off.
In a biography published six years ago, two American academic historians seriously debated whether Vlad was indeed a vampire or merely interested in the techniques of terror.
It was, however, Irish writer Bram Stoker who transformed the historicl Price Vlad into the mythical Count Dracula. His novel "Dracula", published in 1896, gave birth to the world's most enduring monster, whose insatiable appetite for human blood has been chronicled in movies, stage plays, TV serials, lurid paperbacks, and even comic strips.
In the West, the latest addition to the genre is a spoof American movie entitled "Love at First Bite". It has Dracula kicked out of Translvania by the Communists, who want to turn his castle into a sports and recreation center: He then continues his exploits in Yew York.
Needless to say, all such spoofs are banned in Romania, which takes its own Dracula much more seriously. According to Romanian critics, "Vlad the Impaler" is "a political film" - the message apparently being that a pre-condition for the pursuit of national independence is the imposition of a strong and ruthless style of government at home.
Writing about Vlad-Dracula today, Romanian historians stress his belief that "the country can only prosper under authoritian rule." Much the same could be said of Romania's present-day ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu. For the reputation of being the most repressive of Soviet Bloc leaders in his domestic policies.
Indeed Ceausescu, 60, frequently has been compared with Vlad by enthusiastic Romanian commentators. Vlad's struggle against the Turks for independence in the 15th century has become a historical counterpart of Ceausescu's attempts to win greater autonomy for Romania from the Soviet Union.
During nationwide celebrations in 1976 marking the 500the anniversary of his death, Vlad was praised for "the modern style in which he conducted himself as head of state." A few implaings here and there were admitted, but the overall judgement was of "an honest leader who upheld strictly observed order, a cavalier of justice and freedom who never forgave an oppressor of the people."
The project for the latest lavish movie, which reportedly has been drawing big crowds at Bucharest cinemas, grew out of the 1976 celebrations.
While looking askance at what they regard as the distortion of Price Vlad's tru place in history, Romanian officials are also fully aware of the Dracula legend's commercial value. Every yar special tours are arranged for thousands of foregin tourists to Transylvania and rival "Castle Draculas' have sprung up all over the country to meet the demand.
This ambivalence was reflected in an incident last September, when officials berated foreign journalists who insisted on describing a rountine visit by the Chinese leader, Chairman Hua Kuo-Feng, to a tractor factory in the Transylvanian alps as "a venture into Dracula country." The point would have been better taken had a poster 50 yards away not invited tourists to "Visit Transylvania-and Follow in the Footsteps of Count Dracula."