Festival of Darkness: New event to celebrate Aberdeenshire's links with vampire classic

It is one of the most celebrated horror stories of all time.

Now the Scottish roots of Dracula are set to be celebrated with the launch of a "Festival of Darkness" this autumn.

Aberdeenshire locations which are said to have inspired Irish author Bram Stoker's gothic horror classic will be among the atmospheric settings for events during the two-week festival in October.

The 100-year-old silent movie Nosferatu, the 1931 version of Dracula (the first vampire film made with sound), Interview With The Vampire and The Lost Boys will be screened as part of the event.

Blairs College, a former seminary in Aberdeenshire, will be hosting film events during the new Festival of Darkness.

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    Organisers say the festival, which is part of Scotland’s first official Year of Stories, will celebrate “our fear of the darkness and how that fear binds us as an audience”.

    However, events suitable for all ages will be staged during the festival, which is being launched to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the book’s publication.

    The festival, which will be staged in the run-up to Halloween, will allow visitors to explore the Aberdeenshire connections of Stoker, which have only come to prominence in recent years, and the author's use of Doric phrases in his work.

    Stoker is said to have travelled north from his home in London, where he managed the Lyceum Theatre, for regular summer holidays in the village of Port Errol, near Cruden Bay, between 1892 and 1910, with his wife Florence and their son, Noel.

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    The new Festival of Darkness in Aberdeenshire will run from 21-31 October.

    Stoker, who wrote two novels set in the area, is said to have based Castle Dracula on Slains Castle, a landmark dating back to the 16th century, when he started writing Dracula while staying at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in 1895 – two years before the book was published.

    Festival director Marie Archer said: “Aberdeenshire has a really solid connection to the novel as Bram Stoker, the creator of the world’s most famous vampire, was resident each summer in Port Erroll, spending time walking about the cliffs near Cruden Bay and Whinnyfold.

    “The Kilmarnock Arms Hotel at Cruden Bay still has the visitors’ book containing the Stokers’ signatures, which helped trace their visits from 1892-1910.

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    “Stoker latterly stayed in cottages in the village, Crooked Lum Cottage, and Hilton Cottage. It was at Hilton that Stoker had a view from the garden of the imposing Slains Castle, the seat of the Hays of Erroll. Stoker would sit there daily and write at a small table with the castle in sight. Unsurprisingly, he was influenced by it, including its famous octagonal room in Count Dracula’s castle.”

    Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire is said to have provided the inspiration for Castle Dracula in Bram Stoker's classic novel.

    The former catholic seminary Blairs College, near Aberdeen will be hosting two events – a screening of Interview With The Vampire in its library and a showing of Nosferatu in its study hall, accompanied by a live score from multi-instrumentalist David Allison.

    Arden Country Park’s museum will be hosting screenings of The Little Vampire and Let Me In, as well as vampire arts activities for children and a ghost tour of the grounds for adults.

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    A tour of Slains Castle itself will be held before a screening of the classic 1931 version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, in Cruden Bay Village Hall.

    The Bennachie Leisure Centre, in Insch, will host a screening of new film Nelly Rapp: Monster Agent, which is based on the Swedish children’s books, while the venue will also host a Halloween-themed escape room for a week.

    Blairs College, a former seminary in Aberdeenshire, will be hosting film events during the new Festival of Darkness.

    Other highlights include the launch of a short film by the author’s great grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker, exploring how the original novel has been adapted for the stage and screen, and an exploration of the portrayal of women in vampire films.

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    Archer added: “We want to have a good look at Dracula, why we’re connected to him, why the movies have made us frightened and explore all their forms, from a child’s view of who Dracula is to that really uncomfortable feeling that it could be the person next door.

    “We’ve chosen really interesting pop-up venues that will heighten the film-watching experience, but will also be intimate.

    “We we were very to put events on across Aberdeenshire, but we didn’t want to create a horror festival that was inaccessible.

    "We want to scare people but also want to ensure as many people as possible can see the films we’re showing.

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    "The horror genre is often perceived as 18-certificate films, so we’ve actively chosen films that go against this to help make the festival accessible to a broad audience.”

    Nosferatu will be among the classic horror films being shows during the new Festival of Darkness in Aberdeenshire.

    Historian Mike Shepherd, whose book When Brave Men Shudder shed new light on the links between Stoker and Aberdeenshire, said: “The Festival of Darkness is a further celebration of how how special Cruden Bay is in connection with Bram Stoker and Dracula.

    "It’s a literary connection to compare to Thomas Hardy and Dorset, or Beatrix Potter and the Lake District, although Count Dracula is hardly Jemima Puddle-Duck.

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    “The fishermen of Port Erroll adored Bram Stoker, who liked to ‘yarn’ with them. They were proud he picked their village to write his books. One of the local ministers was less taken with him.

    "Although the Reverend Drummond found Bram convivial enough, he deplored his interest in ‘black superstitions’ and his ‘peculiar fascination’ with funerals, spending ‘altogether too much time alone in graveyards’. Bram, in turn, avoided asking the local ministers about the local folklore. One can guess that when Dracula was published, the Reverend Drummond was appalled that such a devilish book had been written in the village.”

    The Festival of Darkness has been instigated by the charity North East Arts Touring, which launched Scotland’s first network of community cinemas to allow screenings to be staged in village halls.

    Executive director Emyr Bell said: “We’re fully committed to providing affordable and accessible cultural experiences in rural communities.

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    “I'm delighted that through this festival we have the opportunity to celebrate one of the world's most famous fictional characters, doing so in such a way that makes it both accessible and affordable for audiences, especially during these difficult times.”

    The Lost Boys will be among the classic horror films during the new Festival of Darkness in Aberdeenshire next month.
    Aberdeenshire's rugged coastline is said to have helped inspire Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Picture: VisitScotland/Damien Shields