Friday, August 29, 2008

The return of Dracula – review


Director: Paul Landres

Release date: 1958

Contains spoilers

I really didn’t know what to expect when I watched this. Paired with Paul Landres’ earlier The Vampire (1957) on DVD, I was looking to catch something that was drive-in fair (which it was) and something, I feared, that would spoil the Dracula story.

To be fair, this could have been any vampire rather than Dracula but it didn’t undermine the original story in any massively negative way. Indeed, for a drive-in movie this was actually a fine piece of filmmaking, all told. This is despite the fact the star of the film Francis Lederer listed the film as the worst in his career. Lederer would reprise the Dracula role in the series Night Gallery and, interestingly, actually lived through three centuries, being born in 1899 and dying in 2000.

vampire huntersThe film begins with some overly dramatic music that becomes the theme through the picture. It is pompous to a large degree and yet seems to work. A voice informs us about Dracula and we see cars enter a graveyard. The men put crosses on and enter a crypt. They wait until the sun breaks over the horizon and open the coffin – the inhabitant has gone.

On a train station, painter Bellack Gordal (Norbert Schiller) is leaving the old country to move in with family in America. He boards his train, sets down his luggage in a carriage, a man sits reading a newspaper. Gordal asks what he said and then screams. It is interesting, throughout this, that we hear the victims respond to telepathic communication from Dracula.

cousin Bellack?In Carleton, California, Mickey Mayberry (Jimmy Baird) is looking for his cat. The cat is stuck in a pit in a disused mineshaft and he has not got time to get him out as he hears the train – which for once is early. He runs home to his mother, Cora (Greta Grandstedt), and she and his sister Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) quickly get ready so that neighbour, and Rachel’s sweetheart, Tim (Ray Stricklyn) can drive them to the station. Cousin Bellack is due.

rising in the eveningWhen they get to the station the stationmaster states that no one departed the train but then a man steps from the shadows and says “Cora”. It is, of course, Dracula posing as the cousin and he is invited into their home as one of the family. Cora, to be fair, had not seen her cousin since he was ten years old. The family are rather indulgent, it seems, of cousin Bellack’s odd habits. He never seems to eat, vanishes through the days and removes the mirror from his room.

an unhealthy interest in RachelOf course he starts to become interested in Rachel, though she is not his first victim. Luckily John Meiermann (John Wengraf), international police officer and vampire hunter, also comes to town – checking all the immigrants to have travelled in Bellack’s group.

where could Bellack be?Lore wise things are pretty much as one would expect. We see that the vampires can turn into wolves (or dogs at least) and there is a suggestion of changing into bats – though we do not see that. The vampires can also turn into a mist. I mentioned the telepathy and there also seems to be hypnotic control. They sleep through the day in coffins. As well as not casting a reflection they do not show up on photographs.

Jennie risesWhen it comes to unusual tricks of the mind we need to look to Dracula’s first victim, a blind girl named Jennie (Virginia Vincent). When he approaches her he tells her she can see him, with her mind, and she certainly seems to. When she awakens as a vampire she can see. Whether this was because the vampirism had cured her blindness or whether it was an extension of the mind trick is not explained.

a moment of vivid colourWhilst they avoid the sun and crosses (which paralyses them when placed on their chest in coffin), the way to destroy them is stake through the heart. In an attempt, I am sure, to shock the audience the black and white film bursts into colour for two seconds as a stake is rammed through Jennie’s heart. Interestingly the staking of Jennie causes Dracula pain.

lack lustre endingOf course Dracula is staked – isn’t he always killed in one way or another – but I did find the way in which it happened disappointing. This underlines the problem with the film, it does some things really well but is lack lustre at other times. The atmosphere can be thin and some of the acting is poor. Lederer has a presence but one almost feels like his heart wasn’t in it (which, by the sounds of things, it wasn’t). This lends him an arrogance, which works, but not necessarily the sinister qualities the character demanded.

Rachel sleeps, but how safely?All in all, this was a worthwhile film but, it could have been so much better. 5.5 out of 10 is probably fair.

The imdb page is here.


The T said...

This was a better film than expected... Though Lederer's hair doesn't help...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It certainly didn't deserve the scorn Lederer felt for it - but as primary actor I guess that was his choice.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting, too, that Dracula felt pain when one of his disciples was staked. I think that would be a big problem for a vampire. Every time you gained a disciple, you would have to worry that he/she would eventually get staked and you would have to experience that heartburn again!

I thought Lederer was convincingly creepy as Dracula. No Christopher Lee, of course, but menacing nonetheless. I hadn't heard that he hated this role, but he was a very serious actor and I imagine a vampire movie probably seemed beneath him.

Oh, I think I may have borrowed a few images from you for my review. I'm having problems getting decent screen captures on my new computer. ;)

Hope all is well. ~ Mark

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mark, great to hear from you and good to see you're back blogging. :)

Of course, feel free to use the screen grabs. :)