Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Return of the Vampire [dir. Lew Landers]

I am astonished that 1943's Return of the Vampire (RotV) isn't better known at least among classic horror fans. Starring Bela Lugosi as the titular vampire, it works almost like a sequel to Universal Studio's iconic 1931 Dracula (which IMDB's trivia section for the film tells me is what Columbia Pictures was aiming to put it as, before Universal threatened lawsuits, after which they changed the name of the vampire to Armand Tesla and made it anyway). RotV stands high with any of the classic monster movies and in some ways it is refreshingly progressive. The leading lady and Dracula...er, Tesla's nemesis is a woman (Frieda Inescourt), and not some screaming damsel in a negligee, but a strong-willed middle-aged scientist and mother who is willing to do what it takes to stamp out the vampire's menace, even if no one believes her.

Taking notes from the mashup movie Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, RotV includes a werewolf (Matt Willis), who is  slave to Tesla (although one wonders what he carries in those frequent packages to his master, it's not like the vampire needs takeout). The early part of the film is also notable in its implying of the vampire feeding off a child (I'm surprised the censors were okay with that). Later he also drinks from a young man, belying the exclusively heterosexual context of vampire attacks, at least in classic movies.

The resolution is a little pat and rushed (the film runs a brisk 70 min) but it carries sufficient interest and has some atmospheric fog-shrouded visuals (remember the movie clips used in Iron Maiden's video for Number of the Beast? They come from here). The dissolve effects used to show the vampire's demise might have been an inspiration for the death scene in Hammer's 1958 Dracula /  Horror of Dracula.

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