‘Man? or Monster? or Both?’
The Return of the Vampire is a 1943 supernatural horror feature film directed by Lew Landers (Terrified; The Boogie Man Will Get You; The Raven) from a screenplay by Griffin Jay (Cry of the Werewolf; The Mummy’s Hand; et al), based on an idea by Kurt Neumann (The Fly). The Sam White produced movie stars Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch and Miles Mander.
Although not a sequel to Lugosi’s 1931 Dracula, this film has been interpreted by some critics and some scholars as an unofficial follow-up with Lugosi’s character renamed because the production was made at Columbia Pictures rather than Universal.
The Return of the Vampire is being released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory on February 19, 2019. Extra features are in progress and will be announced nearer the date.
A voiceover (Miles Mander) announces that ‘the following events are taken from the notes of Professor Walter Saunders of King’s College, Oxford…’
A mist-shrouded cemetery at night: A werewolf (Matt Willis) enters a tomb and tells his vampire ‘Master’ that it is time for him to awake. A hand reaches out of the coffin and lifts the lid. A shadow appears on the wall, and the unmistakable voice of Bela Lugosi asks what happened while he was asleep. The werewolf replies that his latest victim has been taken to Dr. Ainsley’s clinic.
Baffled by her patient’s anaemic condition, Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) has called in Professor Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery). While they are discussing the patient, two children enter. They are Lady Jane’s son, John, and Professor Saunders’ granddaughter, Nikki. Lady Jane and the professor send the children to bed and return to their patient.
The vampire, finding that his victim is not alone, attacks Nikki instead. After the patient dies, Professor Saunders sits up the rest of the night, reading a book on vampires written two hundred years ago by Armand Tesla…
“The film is efficiently directed by Lew Landers, complete with the dreamlike rovings of a mobile camera and moody, mist-shrouded set pieces that are second to none. It also benefits greatly from the unwonted topicality of its setting.” Jonathan Rigby, American Gothic
“The best thing about it, apart from the outstanding performances by Inescourt (as a distaff Van Helsing) and Foch (making her debut as the vampire’s chief victim), is the ending in which the werewolf, tired of being in thrall to the vampire, drags him into the sun as he sleeps. The last shot of Lugosi’s face melting (actually a wax mould over a skeleton) was cut by the censor in Britain.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“Bela Lugosi’s Armand Tesla is a far cry from the smooth and well-mannered Count Dracula, who smarmed his way into society. In his final serious outing as a vampire, Lugosi gives us a grouchy and bad-tempered bloodsucker, exhibiting little of the charisma traditionally associated with the role.” And You Call Yourself a Scientist!
” …contains everything that makes classic horror films so special. It’s brimming with atmosphere in the form of foggy graveyards and decaying crypts, with Lugosi’s vampiric presence being the highlight of the show. As the speech-gifted werewolf, Matt Willis (who in human form resembles a bloated Buster Crabbe) is fun to watch and is given much screen time…” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
“It almost ODs on atmosphere (that low-lying ground fog is everywhere, including indoors at times) and the surprises are few, but there is plenty of energy and fun in the proceedings, with even the comic relief being sharper than usual. Though I wouldn’t call it a great movie, it is a lot of fun…” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“As a film, it certainly coasts a bit on the novelty of seeing Lugosi back in the cape, but, in hindsight, it sort of sadly encapsulates how stagnated his career had become. Once a huge star, here he is clutching to past glories in a film content to do faintly echo the better films that preceded it. The Return of the Vampire is certainly not a bad film, merely one that feels a bit perfunctory in many ways.” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!
“Lady Jane Ainsley is an atypically strong female character for horror movies of the time, which makes this more interesting than it might be otherwise, and Inescort does a fine job with the role, offering it both strength and charisma. She’s basically the lead protagonist in the picture…” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!
“Lugosi proved he still had it when portraying this kind of Eastern European supernatural threat, and if he wasn’t onscreen quite as much as you might have liked, he did get star billing and made his scenes, er, count. With creeping fog and graveyards featuring prominently, it was cliché all the way as far as the visuals went, but had a nice line in high-falutin’ dialogue well delivered by a solid cast.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image
“Inescort’s got good scenes with both Gilbert Emery and Miles Mander and Nina Foch seems like she’s a better actor than her part. The direction’s actually half good, usually going bad after a really good shot, but it’s probably better direction than most of the Universal monster movies of the era.” The Stop Button
…crude but fun – if you can accept cornball premises and a corny fog swirling around the vampire as he attacks his victims.” John Stanley, Creature Features
“The revenge orientated plot is too humdrum to give anyone a chance, apart from the conceit of a werewolf servant for Lugosi.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
Cast and characters:
- Bela Lugosi … Armand Tesla / Dr. Hugo Bruckner
- Frieda Inescort … Lady Jane Ainsley – The Alligator People
- Nina Foch … Nicki Saunders – Jennifer; Cry of the Werewolf
- Roland Varno … John Ainsley
- Miles Mander … Sir Frederick Fleet
- Matt Willis … Andreas Obry
- Ottola Nesmith … Elsa Walter – Governess
- Gilbert Emery … Dr. Walter Saunders
- Leslie Denison … Detective Lynch
- William Austin … Detective Gannett
- Jeanne Bates … Miss Norcutt (uncredited)
- Billy Bevan … Horace – Civil Defence Worker (uncredited)
- Sydney Chatton … Peters – Desk Clerk (uncredited)
- Sherlee Collier … Nicki as a child (uncredited)
- Frank Dawson … Old Man (uncredited)
- Harold De Becker … Horace’s Friend – Civil Defence worker #2 (uncredited)
- Donald Dewar … John as a Child (uncredited)
- Jean Fenwick … Girl on Street (uncredited)
- Olaf Hytten … Ben – Lady Jane’s Butler (uncredited)
- Nelson Leigh … Sir Frederick’s Office Assistant (uncredited)
- Stanley Logan … Col. Mosley (uncredited)
- Audrey Manners … Nurse (uncredited)
- George McKay … Cemetery Caretaker (uncredited)
- Marianne Mosner … Nurse (uncredited)
- Clara Reid … Old Woman (uncredited)
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