The Universal monster movies notably ignored modern events–when World War II came around, the clocks turned back on all their European-set monster movies to some indistinguishable point. The Return of the Vampire, a Columbia cheapie, on the other hand, sets the events directly in contemporary settings, both after the First World War and during the Second. It’s set in London, so there are bombing raids, which change the physical settings the film has to tell its story in. This acknowledgment of reality makes Return of the Vampire interesting. While it’s obviously cheap, it’s a neat idea, so’s the one where there’s a twenty-three year gap, which is only successful because of Frieda Inescort, who gives a good performance in her aging make-up.
I watched Return of the Vampire for a couple reasons. First, I might have owned it years ago on an EP VHS tape–though this viewing didn’t bring about any memory of it–and second, because it’s got a werewolf and a vampire. For some reason, that combination, mixed with the low budget, seemed like it might amuse. Unfortunately, the werewolf–played by Matt Willis–fails to amuse much. Willis is terrible as the werewolf, though sincere as the human alter ego. And I suppose Bela Lugosi is better in this film than he is in Dracula, but he’s still terrible. He’s getting old here and when the girl falls for him, it’s visibly absurd.
The acting makes a lot of Return of the Vampire passable. Inescort’s got good scenes with both Gilbert Emery and Miles Mander and Nina Foch seems like she’s a better actor than her part. The direction’s actually half good, usually going bad after a really good shot, but it’s probably better direction than most of the Universal monster movies of the era. Adding to the acceptability is Lugosi’s relatively short screen time and the film’s seventy-minute running time. However, if it didn’t have a peculiar approach, I doubt it’d be tolerable.
Directed by Lew Landers; written by Griffin Jay and Randall Faye; directors of photography, L. William O’Connell and John Stumar; edited by Paul Borofsky; music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; produced by Sam White; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Bela Lugosi (Armand Tesla), Frieda Inescort (Lady Jane Ainsley), Nina Foch (Nicki Saunders), Miles Mander (Sir Frederick Fleet), Roland Varno (John Ainsley), Matt Willis (Andreas Obry) and Gilbert Emery (Dr. Walter Saunders).