The small town of Sighisoara — in Romania’s central province of Transylvania — has a message for Universal Studios: Bite me. Townsfolk are planning to break ground soon on a locally financed $30 million theme park — set for a 2003 grand opening — that celebrates their nocturnal native, Count Dracula, with a roller coaster, haunted house, golf course, and zoo. And they’re irked by the studio’s attempt to sink its teeth into Dracula Park’s future profits.
Universal, which has popularized Bram Stoker’s cruel count in seven films — from Bela Lugosi’s 1931 classic, ”Dracula,” to Frank Langella’s 1979 version — sent a letter to Romania’s tourism office reminding locals of its, uh, stake in the vampire. (The studio owns the rights to its interpretations of the baddie but not to generic vampires in other films.) A Universal spokeswoman confirmed its effort to ”open discussion about acquiring…rights and licensing” for Dracula.
”I don’t believe we will pay,” says Simion Alb, a Romanian tourism official who fears royalty payments would bleed the recession-burdened local economy. He hints that their Drac may be less Armani, more Attila — closer to the medieval prince Vlad the Impaler on whom Stoker’s count was purportedly based. ”We don’t need Universal to impose their Dracula.”
Besides the copyright fight, Dracula Park faces more controversy. Purists fear that the park — which will also include a ”Medieval Main Street” for shopping and shows — may further blur the line between fiction and Transylvania’s actual history. ”They will give the tourists what they want,” sighs Elizabeth Miller, an English prof at the Memorial University of Newfoundland who’s written four books on Dracula, ”which is Mickey Mouse with fangs.”