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The Secret Origin of DRACULA: VLAD the IMPALER!

Luke Evans - Dracula Untold

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, Drăculea 1431–1476

Vlad comes back to life, demands royalties

Many of the horror movie classics over the past hundred years have drawn on spooky legends and creepy myths from various cultures throughout history: Zombies, Werewolves, Ghosts, Frankenstein’s Monsters, Headless Horse-men, mutant cockroaches, and of course the undead emos in the corner of the Halloween party – Vampires. Many of these terrifying tales of suspense are psychological metaphors for aspects of ourselves that we subconsciously fear, whether it’s rampant consumerism (in the case of the good ole’ Romero Zombie), or unchecked ambition (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein)… BUT – some Boogeymen are in fact based on real-life monsters, such is the case with the Vampire.

Bela Lugosi as DraculaAccording to most versions, Vampires are creatures of the night with superhuman abilities, a lethal allergy to UV rays, a taste for blood plasma, and a knack for spreading their unique parasitic symptoms on an unsuspecting populace via python hickeys. These pale, blood-thirsty, nocturnal, garlic-intolerant, sexually deviant immortals have become a gothic pop-culture icon in recent years thanks to series such as Tru-Blood, Underworld, Blade, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 30 Days of Night, Let the Right One In, and the numerous remakes of the one and only Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was first written in 1897. In the book, Count Dracula (the original vamp) is a sketchy elderly noble in Transylvania who just so happens to be a demon-cursed polygamist (3 wives: sounds like too much damn work) whom drinks the blood of young women in exchange for eternal life. Throughout the stories progression, which is told in the form of letters, Dracula smuggles himself to England to stalk this one dude’s smokin’ wife, only to be confronted by his arch-nemesis: Prof. Abraham Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman and automatic crossbow not included). Van Helsing and his anti-vamp posse slay themselves some fang-bangers and eventually corner the Count himself. Retro-spoiler-alert: Dracula gets staked through the heart with a Bowie knife and goes poof.

The scary thing in this case is that this fictional character is, in part, based on an actual real life person whose truly evil crimes against humanity rival those of his supernatural counterpart – Vlad the Impaler: the true story of Dracula is not for the faint of heart. We all have a dark side, but there are some who simply lack a light side to balance the equation. In case his name doesn’t give it away, Vlad the Impaler would fall into the later category.

Count Chocula cereal

Count Chocula on the other hand has some redeeming qualities…

At the tail end of the Late Middle Ages, Vlad the Third, Prince of Wallachia (modern-day-Romania), was a notoriously murderous monarch who eventually earned the nickname Tepes, meaning the Impaler. You might be wondering why or how Vlad Dracula earned his rather unique moniker, and no it wasn’t some attempt at an inappropriate innuendo. You see, what sets Vlad apart from your generic, run of the mill tyrannical rulers was a compulsive tendency to shove a ten foot pole up the collective asses of his enemies.

Medieval pamphlet depicting Vlad feasting before a host of impaled corpsesI personally would rather take my chances with a coffin-dwelling, fang-bearing Bela Lugosi than a crazy whack job whose idea of a good time is ramming sharpened spears through Turkish POW’s, misdemeanor criminals, and unlucky peasants who accidentally chuckled at his handlebar mustache. At least with Nosferatu or Lestat you can offer to donate blood with an IV drip, while any attempt at negotiation with Vlad would likely end with splinters up your rectum.

Before Vlad became ‘The Impaler’ he was also referred to as Drăculea, which translates from Romanian to ‘Son of the Devil’. His father, Vlad II, initially took on the title of Vlad Dracul of the House Drăculeşti after joining the head of a secret Christian fraternity of Knights called ‘the Order of the Dragon’, established by the Hungarian King, Sigismund, to protect the Church from the Ottoman-Turk incursions.

Born in Transylvania, Lil Vlad, (prior to his days of notoriety) was a prince surrounded by suspicion, betrayal, and deception. Our Dark Prince probably gained most of his psychological disorders and anger management issues from a 3 year ‘vacation’ as a royal hostage in the Sultan’s court. As part of a truce between the Ottoman Turks and the Romanian kingdom of Wallachia, Vlad Dracul sent his two younger sons, Vlad Jr and Radu, to live in the Ottoman Court. I can only imagine Vlad didn’t appreciate this gesture. Growing up as a prisoner, biding his time, Vlad was educated in the ways of warfare, horse-back-riding, and literature. I can only assume he also studied methods of torture on the side, for elective credits. Dracula was a bit of a troublemaker in his youth, so spent much of his free time being lashed for his Dennis the Menace like antics.

In 1447 news arrived that Vlad’s father was assassinated by the Hungarian regent, Hunyadi, along with his older brother, Mircea who was tortured then buried alive for good measure. While his brother Radu the Handsome converted to Islam and swore an oath to the Sultan, Vlad the Third had another career path in mind: bloody vengeance!

art depicting vlad with sword, surrounded by the forest of impaledThe Ottomans actually helped young Dracula regain his throne, briefly. Before long the Hungarians kicked in his door, kicked him out, and put Vladislav II in his rightful place. Vlad Dracula was forced to flee to Moldavia. After being exiled Vlad eventually sided with his rival Hunyadi, against their mutually hated opponent, Mehmed the Conqueror, the newly appointed Turkish ruler responsible for the Fall of Constantinople (renamed to Istanbul) and now threatened the entire stability of Medieval Europe. Vlad fought alongside Hunyadi in Serbia. After which, Vlad led a contingent of Hungarians to invade his homeland, and take it back from the fraudulent King.

This monumental battle ended in an epic sword fight to the death between Vlad III and Vladislav II over the throne of Wallachia, because you know, there can be only one. Vlad got the upper hand, probably by faking him out with a stunning genealogical revelation, then kicking him in the balls, and judo chopping him in the neck before finishing him off.

Vlad found his country in disarray, so his first order of business was to whip it into shape through the most effective motivator he intimately knew, the power of fear, specifically the fear of impalement. He began first by inviting all the nobles of his kingdom over for an Easter Celebration under false pretenses, knowing full well that most of the attendees had some connection to the conspiracy against his family. As he wined and dined the nobility he ironically asked his guests how many rulers they’d seen in their lifetime, some mentioned as many as twelve. During the feast he held a toast to all those who stood by and did nothing while their King was overthrown and exiled. After an awkward silence Vlad had them all arrested, and either executed on the spot, via impalement (which must’ve really sucked for the janitor on duty), or worked to death on building Dracula’s gothic castle, on the edge of a cliff with a thousand foot drop.

Thus began Vlad’s reign of terror.

Vlad portrait

Peasant steals loaf of bread for his starving kids. – Vlad impales his entire family.

Dracula set a new standard for overkill: The punishment of any crime, no matter how trivial, was an excruciating form of death by torture. Vlad’s excessive cruelty is only rivaled by the likes of the Roman Emperor Nero, Stalin, and Ivan the Terrible, and like those deplorable despots, he ruled through fear. No one was exempt from Dracula’s vicious methods of torture, even women and children were butchered without mercy.

While decorating his castle for Halloween, Dracula (the real OG) pulled out all the stops. Rather than going with the ole’ traditional jack-o-lantern displays, Drac opted for the more grotesque option: dismembered heads on a stick. In order to deter foreigners, Vlad set up a perimeter of bodies impaled on wooden spears around his kingdom as a warning. (It’s really too bad Buffy didn’t exist back then to shove a stake up his.)

Impalement in particular was a particularly gruesome affair of inhumane cruelty. More often than not it was a slow, agonizing death in which one died of exposure to the elements rather than blood loss, or organ piercing. After years of going through the motions, Vlad started to get a bit creative with his methods of impaling. Sometimes he would arrange the stakes in geometric patterns, or just for shits and giggles would hang his victims upside down, and branched out into other forms of torture and mutilation. People were skinned alive, drained of blood, roasted, and put on display.

Gary Oldman as the Count in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" by Francis Ford Coppola

For some odd reason, “I vant to Shishkabob you!” never quite caught on…

Dracula was well known for holding elaborate feasts among the bodies of his victims. One hapless Polish visitor made the mistake of complaining about the stench of the rotting corpses. Since Vlad didn’t have any air fresheners around for his guest, he instead hoisted him up on a pike above the other impaled victims, so that he could enjoy a nice gentle breeze of fresh air. It is said that Vlad Dracula even partook of their blood, drinking goblets full, lending to the urban legend of vampirisms. It is also commonly accepted that Vlad suffered from acute Porphyria which would explain both his psychosis, and his nocturnal tendencies, further fueling the folklore myths.

In order to demonstrate his absolute control, Vlad placed a golden cup in the middle of the town square, where it remained untouched throughout his diabolical reign. To show his ‘compassion’ for the poor, he held a massive banquet for the homeless, he then boarded up the hall and set it on fire, and announced, “No one will be poor in My realm!” 

Vlad_the_Impaler_by_JonHodgsonAfter ‘setting his house in order’, Vlad set his sights on more people to impale: raiding the Transylvanian-Saxon trade routes before turning his attention to the Ottomans. The Pope, Pius II, called for yet another Crusade against the Ottoman-Turks led by Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. Vlad signed up with more enthusiasm than a kid at Disneyland.

When the Sultan sent envoys to collect their customary tribute from Wallachia, Vlad massacred the messengers, reportedly because they didn’t take off their turbans to him, so he nailed them into their skulls. After declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, Vlad Dracula and his army immediately set off to intercept the Turkish forces, and catch them off their game.

Like a boss (a Castlevania boss), Vlad the Impaler cleverly attacked at night, and utilized his extensive knowledge of Turkish customs to his advantage. Vlad once successfully posed as an Ottoman commander, with his mastery of the language. Dracula burned villages on both sides. The lands of Bulgaria, everything from the Black Sea to Serbia was devastated. Dracula left behind a trail of corpses.

The Sultan, Mehmed II, put together a force of nearly 90,000 and began a march toward Castle Dracula. What they encountered along the way left them speechless: The Forest of the Impaled! A field of dead bodies on spikes. Mehmed the Conqueror lost his lunch at the site of 20,000 rotting corpses on the shores of the Danube River. He and his men said ‘Fuck this shit’ and hightailed it out of there in a full-scale retreat.

impaled corpses courtesey of vlad

Thousands of impaled corpses courtesy of Vlad

Like your average vampire, Vlad was truly bloodthirsty, and not just in the figurative sense…

According to one story, two monks made a visit to Dracula’s palace. The Dark Prince led them to the window where they could see rows of impaled peasants and asked what they thought of the view. The first monk gulped and passed it off as punishing the wicked, or some bullshit, while the second monk had the balls to speak up honestly and condemned his cruel actions. Vlad patted the honest monk on the back, and had the other one impaled.

Vlad’s body count easily tops Jason’s, Freddy’s, and Leatherface’s: estimated at upwards of 40,000 give or take a few hundred, but without calculators back then it was probably easy to miscount.

The Count (Sesame Street)

Did somebody say ‘Count’?

a modern stylized painting of Vlad Dracula

Following his war with the Ottomans, Vlad Dracula was captured shortly thereafter, not by the Turks, but by his Hungarian rivals. He lived out a twelve year sentence while his brother, Radu, was placed on the throne as a puppet of the Sultan’s. Upon Vlad’s release, he immediately retook his throne once again, but this time he was surrounded by enemies on all sides.

The very next year, in 1476 Dracula made a last stand with his Moldavian homies, outside the gates of his blood-stained dungeon. Many historians believe he was killed by a spear from a traitor among his own ranks. At the end of the day no one mourned their vile tyrant.

Following the demise of this deranged lunatic many would attempt to rewrite history, some in favor of Vlad as a defender of his people (ignoring the wholesale slaughter of them), and others within the Catholic Church later used his visage as an artistic representation of Pontius Pilate, the Anti-Christ, and the Devil himself, in their iconography, probably because they felt bad for supporting the guy.

His body was later found face down in a bog, left to rot by his own people. He was then decapitated by the Turks, his head placed on a pike, and displayed in Constantinople as proof that the horrible Lord Impaler had finally been defeated…

…or was he?

Bram Stoker may have known something we didn’t. Perhaps, the real Dracula really did rise from the dead an immortal vampire, (regathered his preserved head) and is still out there, at this very moment, haunting the night, and spreading his viral curse like Herpes. If so, beware, he probably more closely resembles a cross between a young bat-eating Ozzy Osbourne and a bearded biker than a pale, well-shaved Andrew Jackson look-alike in an ominous black cape.

So remember this Halloween, when you’re doing the Monster Mash dressed as a make-shift mummy in toilet paper, and suddenly a kid with a pronounced widow’s peak and glow-in-the-dark canines randomly appears with a sack of candy, and says ‘Trick or Treat’ make sure you fork over the good stuff… or else!

                                                                            Erik Slader

Steve Martin - "Dracula: Dead and Lovin it"Hope you enjoyed this edition of “Epik Fails!”, if you have any comments, questions, concerns, or suggestions, let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to ‘Like’ EPiK FAILs on Facebook! (, and SHARE IT with your friends!

—–Here’s some other hilarious terrifying tales of FAIL to keep you up all night:

The Salem Witch ‘Trials’

Tales From Under the Iron Fist of STALIN

Emperor NERO (and Caligula too!)

——-Click for a Complete List of Essays on Historical Failure!!

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“The Most Evil Men in History: Vlad the Impaler” (documentary)

“Deadliest Warrior: Vlad the Impaler vs Sun-Tzu” (documentary)

Erik Slader
Erik Slader
Erik Slader is the creator of “Epik Fails of History” a blog (and podcast) about the most epic fails… of history. With Ben Thompson, Erik is the co-author of the Epic Fails book series. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media, once managed a comic book shop, has a weakness for fancy coffee and currently lives in Green Cove Springs, Florida with too many cats.


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  20. Radu Andrei says:

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  21. Andy says:

    The picture on your webpage of the people impaled with the title:
    “Thousands of impaled corpses courtesy of Vlad”
    Is it a still from a documentary/docudrama?
    I’m looking for a specific very well made version of a documentary I saw a few years back.
    All I remember is 2 Monks visiting him and one he lets go. Another scene is he is eating outside while people are being impaled, it’s fairly graphic.
    It’s not on youtube that I can see.
    Would you or anyone happen to know of it and the title/makers of the documentary?
    Thanks In advance.

    • Erik Slader says:

      Hey there! (sorry about the late response, for some reason I thought I had already responded)

      If I remember correctly, it’s from an episode of a documentary series called “The Most Evil Rulers in History” or something along those lines. 🙂

  22. Virgil says:

    Vlad, like many others romanian rulers, were among the people who helped to keep Europe christian. For many centuries ottomans demanded tribute in gold and young boys and fights against ottomans were carried on romanian soil, outnumbered and surrounded by enemies, the scorched earth tactic was many times applied when ottomans invaded romanian states. While in Romania people retreated in the mountains, torched villages and poisoned waters in order not to be used by ottomans, western europe could develop, build schools and universities, inventors , researchers, painters and writers could carry their work in peace. So before all, Vlad deserves respect for keeping away from Europe ottoman invaders and contributing to development of Europe. (Legends in Romania, say that he empaled and punished only enemies and people who were breaking the law)

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