TELEVISION / Blood suckers: Gerard Gilbert on one Dracula film you won't lose sleep over

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The Independent Culture
Two nights spent listening to a mosquito whining in the dark had left this critic receptive to Dracula: the Undiscovered Country (C4), even if the timing of Sue Clayton's Rear Window seemed a touch mysterious. Perhaps it is hypocritical to moan about all the dinosaur programmes that rode on the back of Jurassic Park, and then to blame Channel Four for not commissioning this vampire documentary to go with last January's Coppola movie. But there was a stale, left-over whiff in the air that had nothing to do with the subject matter.

Ah, yes, the subject matter. For those who find their media studies course axed by the Government, here is something to keep you ticking over: discuss, illustrating with scenes from Dracula movies, the ongoing fascination with vampires. In Clayton's case, Nosferatu, as it deserves to, provides the most clips, although vampirism's connection to sexual frustration, social convention, Aids and xenophobia have all been well noted elsewhere. In fact the most interesting part of her film was the first ten minutes, where she talked about the origins of the vampire myth.

Apparently, medieval Transylvanians believed that the spirits of those who died accidentally existed in a sort of limbo, and that, when they got bored, they would return to perform helpful tasks like mend their children's shoes. Enter the Catholic church who used this folk belief for its own ends. Anyone who died a non-Catholic would be officially undead, a vampyr. As usual the church overdid it, and vampire hunting became acult 17th-century pastime. The rest is history.

Telling us all this was a cove by the named of Ronan Vibert, who looked and talked like Julian Sands playing De Quincey in one of De Quincey's opium spells. Vibert's stare was deep and steady, his voice hypnotic. Your eyelids got heavier . . . your eyelids got heavier.

The second episode of Storm from the East (BBC2) woke one up with a start. In fact, wherever the Mongol hordes went - China, Persia, Russia, and now Western Europe - they caught opponents napping. The thing about the Mongols was that they were essentially a one-trick army. They sent in the dummy suicide troops to draw out the enemy, and then encircled them in a pincer movement. Mind you, it's a good trick, and Hitler was still using it 700 years later.

1240, unlike 1940, wasn't the finest hour for the forces of light. In reconstruction, at least, the armies were ill-matched. On Ogedei (son of Ghengis) Khan's side were 5,000 Mongolian extras, wild-eyed on resurgent nationalism, while Christendom could only muster a handful of what looked like hungover members of the Chislehurst Medievalist Society.

The Knights Templar, each loaded down with armour heavier than the Maginot Line, were soon swept aside by the Mongol blitzkreig. Fortunately for all concerned ('What they didn't understand, they destroyed,' Robert Marshall gleefully kept reminding us), the Mongol generals had a funeral to attend - 4,000 miles away.