Monday, February 18, 2019

THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1943) Blu-ray review

The Return of the Vampire (1943) d. Lew Landers (USA) (70 min)

In 1918, Armand Tesla (Bela Lugosi), a 200-year-old Hungarian Vampire, prowls the English countryside, feeding from the jugulars of the villagers. But Tesla’s reign of terror is interrupted when a pair of scientists, Lady Jane (Frieda Inescort) and Sir John Ainsley (Roland Varno), drives a spike through his heart. The undead Tesla remains safely entombed for two decades until the impact from a stray Nazi bomb accidentally releases him. Along with his werewolf servant Andreas (Matt Willis), the resurrected vampire plots vengeance on the family that put a halt to his nocturnal feasting, setting his sights on the young and beautiful Nicki Saunders (Nina Foch).

Playing an actual vampire (as opposed to the mock bloodsucker from 1935’s Mark of the Vampire) for the first time since his star-making role in Universal’s Dracula (1931), Lugosi (60 at the time) did his best to imbue this new incarnation with the same charisma and spirit, but considering he was asked to follow pretty much the same dance steps from a dozen years earlier, there was not a lot to dazzle fans old or new. (This film was also released the same year as Lugosi’s ill-fated turn as the bolt-necked monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, as well as the snub of having Lon Chaney assume his mantle in Son of Dracula.)

That said, there are some interesting ideas at work, including having a very capable female Van Helsing substitute (Inescort) amidst the wartime setting and an enjoyable riff on the Renfield tropes with Willis’ fuzzy acolyte. (Much criticism has been aimed at Clay Campbell’s werewolf makeup, but it serves the turn and deserves credit for being quite unique from Jack Pierce’s vision for The Wolf Man.)

Shout! Factory lavishes an impressive amount of attention on what is often considered a minor horror effort from a major studio (Columbia, trying to get a slice of the Universal pie), with three, count ’em, three audio commentaries which offer a surprisingly minimal amount of overlapping information betwixt them. Troy Howarth and Gary Don Rhodes focus primarily on the star and this transitional, troubled stage of his career while Gambin focuses on cinematic werewolves and shape-shifters during the 1940s!

The films is directed by Lew Landers (The Raven, which also starred Lugosi opposite Boris Karloff) and scripted by Griffin Jay (The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, Captive Wild Woman), based upon an idea by Kurt Neumann (The Fly, Rocketship X-M), with additional dialogue by Randall Faye (Man Without a Face).


NEW Audio Commentary with author Troy Howarth (So Deadly, So Perverse)

NEW Audio Commentary with author Gary Don Rhodes (Bela Lugosi: Dreams and Nightmares)

NEW Audio Commentary with author Lee Gambin (Massacred by Mother Nature)

Silent 8mm Presentation

Theatrical Trailer

Still Gallery

The Return of the Vampire is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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