The film is set in the heart of Transylvania and the story appears to take place sometime during the mid-19th Century at Christmas time.
As the film opens, Professor Abronsius, formerly of the University of Königsberg and his apprentice Alfred are on the hunt for vampires. Abronsius is old and withering and barely able to survive the cold ride through the wintry forests, while Alfred is bumbling and introverted. The two hunters come to a small Eastern European town seemingly at the end of a long search for signs of vampires. The two stay at a local inn full of angst-ridden townspeople who perform strange rituals to fend off an unseen evil.
Whilst staying at the inn, Alfred develops a fondness for Sarah, the daughter of the innkeeper Yoine Shagal. Alfred witnesses Sarah being kidnapped by the local vampire lord Count von Krolock. Upon being told of their daughter’s kidnapping, Shagal attempts to rescue her but doesn’t get very far before he’s captured, drained of his blood and vampirised. Abronsius and Alfred begin pursuing the kidnapper soon after following the snow trail, which leads them to Krolock’s ominous castle in the snow-blanketed hills nearby. They break into the castle but are trapped by the Count’s hunchback servant, Koukol. They are taken to see the count, who affects an air of aristocratic dignity whilst questioning Abronsius about why he has come to the castle. They also encounter the Count’s son, the foppish (and homosexual) Herbert. Meanwhile, Shagal no longer caring about his daughter’s fate, sets on his plan to turn Magda, the tavern’s beautiful maidservant and the object of his lust while he was still human, into his vampire bride.
Despite misgivings, Abronsius and Alfred accept the Count’s invitation to stay in his ramshackle Gothic castle, where Alfred spends the night fitfully. The next morning, Abronsius plans to find the castle crypt and kill the Count, seemingly forgetting about the fate of Sarah. The crypt is guarded by the hunchback, so after some wandering they climb in through a roof window. However, Abronsius gets stuck in the window; and it is up to Alfred to kill the Count, which he feels unable to do. He has to go back outside to free Abronsius but on the way he comes upon Sarah having a bath in her room. She seems oblivious to her danger when he pleads for her to come away with him and reveals that a ball is to take place this very night. After briefly taking his eyes off her, Alfred turns to find Sarah has vanished into thin air.
After freeing Abronsius, who is half frozen, they re-enter the castle. Alfred again seeks Sarah but meets Herbert instead, who first attempts to seduce him and then after Alfred realises that Herbert’s reflection does not show in the mirror, reveals his vampire nature and attempts to bite him. Abronsius and Alfred flee from Herbert through a dark stairway to safety, only to be trapped behind a locked door in a turret. As night is falling, they become horrified witnesses as the gravestones below open up to reveal a huge number of vampires at the castle, who hibernate and meet once a year only to feast upon any captives the Count has provided for them. The Count appears, mocking them and tells them their fate is sealed. He leaves them to attend a dance, where Sarah will be presented as the next vampire victim.
However, the hunters escape by firing a cannon at the door by substituting steam pressure for gunpowder, and come to the dance in disguise, where they grab Sarah and flee. Escaping by horse carriage, they are now unaware that it is too late for Sarah, who awakens in mid-flight as a vampire and bites Alfred, thus allowing vampires to be released throughout the world.
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