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World Dracula Congress


SIGHISOARA, Romania (Reuters) - Who was Count Dracula's "mother?" Are vampires sexy? Was the world's first vampire film in Hungarian?

Academics and amateur vampirologists are sinking their teeth into such burning questions during the third World Dracula Congress taking place in the heart of Transylvania this week.

The participants have flocked to the Carpathian town of Sighisoara to explore the world's fascination with the vampire hero of Bram Stoker's gothic novel which inspired scores of Hollywood films and a cult following.

"In the dark world of the occult there is no more terrifying figure," Alan Murdie, chairman of England's Ghost Club, said.

Murdie, whose presentation was titled "Scared to Death: the Power of Fear to Injure and Kill," said the aristocratic count who took his blood-sucking habits to 19th century London, had a certain sex appeal.

"Two of the most important drives are the sex drive and the fear of death and the vampire is a symbol for both," he said.

The May 15-18 congress is set within the walls of the medieval birthplace of the Romanian hero who is said to have inspired Stoker's fictional Dracula -- 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes the Impaler.

But there are doubts how much Stoker, who never set foot in Transylvania, knew about Tepes, who was notorious for his cruelty, and debate rages at the congress about where the author drew his inspiration from.

At least one speaker claimed to have identified Dracula's "mother": Scottish novelist Emily Gerard, whose 1885 travel book on Transylvania was all Stoker was said to know of the region.

"She is known as the mother of Dracula," Lokke Heiss, a Los Angeles medical doctor and film expert, told Reuters.

Heiss said he had also discovered the world's first vampire film, produced by a Transylvanian-born Hungarian director in 1921, months before "Nosferatu," which was long believed to have launched the Dracula movie genre.

"It doesn't exist anymore but as far as we know it's the first Dracula film," Heiss said.

Amateur occult investigators went head to head at the congress with university-trained folklorists who have tried to trace Dracula's links with other creatures from the dark side, presenting rival presentations and competing on the details of the count's history.

"I guess you can say I've moved from one blood-sucking business to the next," said one much-applauded delegate who is a London-based lawyer.

The Transylvanian Society of Dracula, organizers of the congress first held in 1995, said it was pleased every such meeting brought more clarity to a dark and obscure subject.

"Dracula is uneasy. With every congress we get a bit closer to his lair," said society president Nicolae Paduraru.


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