Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Return of the Vampire – review


Directed by: Lew Landers

Release Date: 1943

Contains spoilers

Bela Lugosi returns as a vampire, though that isn’t the reason for the title, and it isn’t Dracula but Armand Tesla in this war time produced movie that uses the blitz as a backdrop. However the story starts earlier than the Second World War…

The film begins with a woman (Jeanne Bates) screaming and a cloak is raised. We do not see the attack and it must also be stated that we do not see our vampire’s face until later in the film. I’ll mention this again later in the review.

Matt Willis as AndreasThrough a mist strewn graveyard walks a werewolf. The graveyard is a perfect example of the excellent atmosphere Landers generates through parts of this film and it is worth looking at the werewolf for a moment. This is Andreas Obry (Matt Willis) the slave of the vampire. We discover through the film that he is hypnotised into being Tesla’s slave and I guess the lycanthropy is an outward manifestation of the evil influence of the vampire. Unusually, for the time, the werewolf can speak in man-wolf form.

Andreas enters his master’s tomb and informs him that ‘she’, the woman from the beginning, is still alive and at the sanatorium. Jane and Saunders search for answersThe sanatorium is run by Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) and she has asked her friend Professor Saunders (Gilbert Emery) to look at the case of the woman – she seems anaemic, but her blood work shows no signs of anaemia. In the house are Jane’s son John (played as a child by Donald Dewar) and Saunders’ daughter Nicki (played as a child by Sherlee Collier). Saunders recognises that the victim has been hypnotised, he tries to question her and she mentions burning eyes and then dies.

no reflection - flesh onlyThat night, as Saunders reads a book on vampirism by Dr Armand Tesla, Nicki is attacked. In the morning Saunders examines the first victim and finds bite marks on her throat and then Nicki is discovered. They give her a transfusion and then Jane and Saunders go to find the vampire. They discover his tomb and check if the man in the coffin is a vampire by checking his reflection. Excellently the reflection shows no body, but does show clothes – which I always like.

Saunders stakes the body as Andreas enters the tomb. He seems to feel the stake and then collapses, returning to human form.

Twenty three years pass and Saunders has died. In his personal effects is found, by Sir Frederick Fleet (Miles Mander) of Scotland Yard, a manuscript detailing the killing of Tesla. It seems that after writing his book on vampirism Tesla succumbed to vampirism himself. Nicky and John, with JaneFleet questions Jane and asks about Andreas – he has been rehabilitated and works for Jane. Fleet says he will exhume the corpse and if it is pierced by a stake then Jane could be prosecuted for murder. Jane is not worried, she knows she will be able to prove he is a vampire as there will be no decay (and presumably the mirror trick will still work).

At home we meet Nicki (Nina Foch) and John (Roland Varno) again, now adults and engaged to each other.the staked corpse Nicki is unaware of the events from her childhood that involved the vampire. There is an air raid and the bombs disturb the graveyard. The next day two civil defence workers find the coffin open and believing the stake (which is metal) to be shrapnel, they pull it out. The corpse seems to moan but they dismiss the notion and rebury the body.

rising from the earthThat night a hand emerges from the earth, Tesla has returned. His first order of business is to resume his dominance over Andreas and then, with his henchman restored, he turns his attention to those who staked him. He claims that his curse killed Saunders and he will now destroy Jane’s family, turning his attention first to Nicki. Posing as Doctor Bruckner, recently rescued from Germany, he ingratiates himself into the household…

Tesla's portraitI mentioned not seeing Lugosi’s face at first. This seemed silly. We do not see his face and yet see his portrait in a book in the first section. Jane does not recognise him… but she saw him when he was staked and also saw the portrait in Tesla’s book so that makes little sense. Nicki seems to vaguely recognise him from when she was attacked as a child but he says he knew her Father when she was little, which seemed a fair enough excuse. However, the only reason to hide his face from the audience is to hide who Bruckner really is and that is given away immediately, indeed before he takes over the unfortunate fellow’s life.

Bela Lugosi as Armand TeslaThere are three performances to point out. Lugosi is on fine form, relishing the role of the vampire as ever. This vampire is not as charming as Dracula, he puts on a façade but he is, just below any surface civility, a festering pool of cruelty and Lugosi plays this to a tee. As always, it is great to see Lugosi in a role that was worthy of his, too often under-used, talents.

Frieda Inescort as Lady JaneNext is Inescort as Jane. It was great to see a film as early as this portraying a strong female character. Jane is a single mother (no mention is ever made of John’s father), a Doctor and a vampire hunter. She brooks no nonsense and is not the screaming, shrinking victim too often portrayed. The role is given gravitas by Inescort’s performance.

Finally there is Willis as Andreas. There are some negative comments flying around about his character in wolf form, was it necessary for him to be a wolf and didn’t he look ridiculous carrying packages in that form. However that misses the point. A main thrust of the film is about his struggle against evil and the path that might lead to redemption.

the eyes have itLore wise things are fairly standard, sleeping on native earth, no reflection, stake through the heart and an aversion to sunlight all come into play. There is a heavy reliance on hypnosis as a weapon and the ability, it appears, to control mist. Crosses repel the vampire. I’m not sure what to make of the curse that was mentioned, the one which killed Saunders, and perhaps that death would have been better left as a coincidence.

I really enjoyed this film, lesser known than Dracula it had some great aspects in its own right. There are a couple of obligatory comedy characters, but they are not too intrusive and there might be some aspects that seem a little silly (like Jane not recognising the face of the vampire she killed, even though she believes he has come back) but I could live with them.

7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...
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Taliesin_ttlg said...

The above deleted commented was a 1000+ word spam.

To the anonymous poster, please do not spam my page again, any such spam will be removed.

The T said...

At last someone gives this movie a fairer rating than the low ones it constantly receives. Yes, the werewolf makeup is kind of terrible (compared with Pierce's in Universal), yes the story has holes, but it's very enjoyable and it gives Lugosi another chance to show his vampire character. As you say, putting a female in charge was also rather bold.

And it has good "vampire science". By that I mean when people in movies talk and research and read book about vampires. I love that.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers the T

Stephen Phillips said...

This one is a personal favorite. It's almost like a Hammer film in terms of atmosphere, but in structure (and of course, casting) it's more like a later Universal entry. Luigi is, I think, better in this than in Dracula. I also feel he was better in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Probably because his English was better. Whatever, Bela really brings it in this. And Andreas is a cool version of a werewolf! The makeup was a bit sad, but the concept made it work. Also liked the Blitz setting and the comic relief fellows. It's just a great Dracula pastiche.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Stephen - as you'll have read I do rate this and hope I have been fairer than many others. Many thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment.