From Murnau's Nosferatu in 1922 to this years upcoming Thirty Days of Night, the vampire has held a fascination for cinema audiences like no other monster. This month Cinema Macabre turns its attention to the bloodsucking fiends, so grab your crosses, your holy water, and a slice of garlic bread and let's begin.
Iloz Zoc: The Return of the Vampire (1944)
Bela Lugosi's career didn't fare well after his initial fame with Dracula. Having failed the makeup screen test for Frankenstein — though he wasn't overly fond of playing the monster anyway — his reserved and aloof demeanor kept him from ingratiating himself with the Hollywood in-crowd. That, and the rapidly rising stardom of Boris Karloff after his noted portrayal of the Frankenstein monster, put Lugosi in a deteriorating career position.
Although he created intensely unique and effective characters such as Dracula, Murder Legendre in White Zombie, and Ygor, beginning with Son of Frankenstein, he spent much of his time acting in lesser roles. After Dracula, he portrayed a "real" vampire onscreen only two more times; as Armand Tesla in The Return of the Vampire, and as the more comedic Dracula in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Columbia Pictures' The Return of the Vampire is a B-movie that plays like a fairy tale. You have your evil villain, the occultist turned vampire Armand Tesla, his reluctant servant tragically caught between good and evil — and werewolfism, the wartime backdrop of beleaguered London, and seething revenge creeping along in the night.
As the first World War ends, Tesla is trapped and dispatched by driving a steel spike into his heart. Years later, during the aftermath of a World War II Nazi bombing raid, civil defense workers mistakenly remove the spike from Tesla's heart, freeing him to seek vengeance on the family that stopped his vampiric evil many years before. The removal of the spike is reminiscent of a similar scene in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, where Larry Talbot is freed from his tomb by two would-be grave robbers. Calling his servant to return to his side, and turning him back into a rather huggable werewolf filled with remorse, Tesla assumes a new identity and executes his nefarious plan.
The film moves along well and Lugosi, while older, still plays the vampire with a sufficient touch of malice to make it all worthwhile. The addition of his werewolf servant is an odd touch, especially since he doesn't act like a werewolf, but it does provide a unique aspect to the storyline.