Drakula Istanbul’da (1953)
Director: Mehmet Muhtar
Dracula: Atif Kaptan
The first direct identification of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Vlad the Impaler came (unsurprisingly, in retrospect) from the Turks, who after all were on the receiving end of Vlad’s hobby. In 1928, Ali Riza Seyfi wrote a novel called Kazikli Voyvoda, or Impaler Voivode, xeroxing Stoker’s novel with Turkish characters and moving the action to Istanbul rather than London. Drakula Istanbul’da (“Dracula in Istanbul”) adapts that book, and it is — modulo the terrible YouTube transfer, haphazard subtitles, and other unavoidable artifacts of time — not a bad flick, although it seldom rises to true horror. As a lens through which to examine Dracula, however, it’s vitally interesting. First and foremost, of course, our intrepid vampire hunters Azmi (“Harker,” an earnest and curious Bulent Oran), Turan (“Holmwood,” tempestuous Cahit Irgat), Dr. Nuri (“Van Helsing,” steady Kemal Emin Bara), and the forgettable Dr. Afif (“Seward” with no asylum, Munir Ceyhan) drive Drakula (politely menacing Atif Kaptan) back with garlic bulbs, not crosses. Azmi has a medallion of some sort, but it doesn’t protect him from the attacks of Dracula or his (one) Bride — instead, he befriends Drakula’s hunchbacked servant with a gift of cigarettes that pays off in rebellion.
There are many Stoker-ish touches throughout: we see Drakula speed-climb head-downward down the wall of his castle; Drakula’s canines grow into fangs when he senses blood; Azmi tries to kill Drakula with a shovel (and a revolver) in the crypt; Sadan (“Lucy,” a stolid Ayfer Feray) sleepwalks and later kills children as a vampire; Sadan’s mother dies of a heart attack during Drakula’s invasion of their home. And some less Stoker-ish: Drakula or his Bride put Azmi to sleep by pumping gas into the room through the eyes of a portrait (an effective touch, and a possible delivery system for vampire mist in your game); Güzin (“Mina,” the vivacious Annie Ball) is a nightclub singer, providing provocative item numbers throughout; Drakula depends on his cape to turn into a (really unconvincing) bat. But all in all, it’s remarkably faithful to the novel. Filmed at the height of Turkish secularism, it doesn’t code Drakula as a Christian menace (unless that’s why he only has one Bride) or invoke anything more sacred than garlic and folk wisdom to defeat him. Atif Kaptan’s Drakula has a nice line in appearing and disappearing, and is convincingly cruel in his castle. But he steps on his menace pretty thoroughly in the last act where he punches a stagehand, demands Güzin dance for him instead of biting her, loses his bat-shifting cape in a struggle with Azmi thus setting up a not remotely tense foot chase, and then hides in his coffin rather than using the “strength of twenty men” to finish off the sole vampire slayer in sight. Having slowly chased his wife’s vampiric stalker to the cemetery, Azmi finally stakes, beheads, and garlics Drakula, and we end on a lovely domestic scene of him and Güzin taking down the garlic from their windows. Dracula movies — even Drakula movies — live and die by the strength of their vampire, not of their garlic.
The 31 Days of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Expanded and enriched (with garlic and perhaps with your own thoughts and comments), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order hard copies (no shapeshifting cape required) of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!