Starring: Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Miles Manders, Nina Foch, Roland Varno, Matt Willis
Directed by: Lew Landers
Written by: Griffin Jay (screenplay)
Original Year of Release: 1943
Distributor: Scream Factory
Run Time: 70 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
No, this is not a sequel to Universal Studios' Dracula. It is, however, Bela Lugosi's return to a vampire roll. This time Lugosi plays Armand Tesla, a vampire that haunts a particular English family during WW2, in England. With a first-time release of the film on Blu-ray, I knew that it was high time to make the upgrade. Again, Scream Factory delivered.
There isn't too much different in this vampire story that marks a huge change from Lugosi's other vampire films. What is interesting is the setting. Before the outbreak of WW2, a pair of scientists, Lady Jane (Frieda Inescort) and Sir John Ainsley (Roland Varno), end Tesla's bloodsucking reign of terror. In the course of those events, they take his servant, Andres Orby (Matt Willis), a werewolf, and cure him of his subservience to Tesla. The story then jumps two decades and a German Air Raid unearths Tesla, and the nightmare begins again. With a lust for revenge, Tesla strikes back at Lady Jane and her fully grown children.
The premise sounds slightly different, but besides Telsa's servant being a werewolf instead of a crazed insect craving madman, you'll be able to notice the similarities to the Dracula story fairly well. What film aficionados will appreciate is the setting and how WW2 shapes the story. Tesla easily assumes the identity of a refugee scientist from the Eastern part of Europe because no one knows what he looks like. The bungling fools that allow Telsa to rise once again, have probably seen one too many dead bodies as it is, so their "mistake" is actually believable. What confounds me is the choice to make the character of Andres a werewolf. When Tesla has the stake driven through his heart, Andres returns to a normal human. In two decades, and numerous full moons, he has no outbreaks, but at Telsa's resurrection, the fur is immediately back. Andres is also interesting because he becomes the salvation for Lady Jane and her whole family, an obvious allegory for those countries that sided with Axis Powers. At the time, it illustrated that faith and hope are enough to help turn the tide. On the lighter of side things, The Return of the Vampire does mark two firsts in the horror genre. This is one of the first vampire films to show a vampire disintegrate on camera. This is also the first film made to have both a vampire and a werewolf in it together.
There is a lot to appreciate in The Return of the Vampire. Certainly, it is not "Dracula: Part 2", but one can make the easy leap as Lugosi is once again brilliant. Scream Factory has included new commentaries with film historians about Lugosi's return, so if you are a fan, you have three more reasons to watch it again. Finally (and this is fun), the 8mm silent presentation has been included. Watching it reminded me of the shortened films my dad once brought out from his grandfather's attic. A complete throwback to how one watched movies before the dawn of home video. That alone made the Scream Factory release worth it.
THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE Blu-ray Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary with film historian Troy Howarth
- NEW Audio Commentary with author/film historian Gary Don Rhodes
- NEW Audio Commentary with film historian Lee Gambin
- Silent 8mm presentation
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery