The Return of the Vampire

07/17/2023 13:33

Film: The Return of the Vampire

Year: 1943

Director: Lew Landers

Writers: Griffin Jay and Randall Faye

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort and Nina Foch



This is a movie that I learned about when searching for horror from 1943. I was intrigued to see that Bela Lugosi starred as this is another one that I can tick off the list for him. The title also caught my attention. I ensured that this wasn’t a sequel or if it was, confirming that I saw what this follows. I’ll come back to this though as I think it is a play on something and marketing to pull people into seats.

Synopsis: when an errant bomb unearths the coffin of a vampire during the London Blitz, a gravedigger unknowingly reanimates the monster by removing the stake from his heart.

Now this is an interesting vampire film. We don’t see the monster’s face, but we start in 1918 in a cemetery outside of London. A werewolf is strolling through it and he is the servant to the master. The vampire is Armand Tesla (Lugosi). This will come back into play later. His servant is Andreas Obry (Matt Willis). He tells the status of a woman in a hospital to Armand. Dr. Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery) believes it is vampires as to why this woman is hospitalized. The creature is defeated and buried in the cemetery with an unmarked grave.

The film then shifts to the present and we’re now in World War II. I found this to be intriguing. There are daily bombing runs and one of them hits the cemetery. The grave of Armand is found. The stake is removed from his chest so they can rebury him. This allows the monster to return to life. An issue here is that Dr. Saunders has passed away from a plane crash. Him being the only one knowing how to deal with this creature.

Attacks around the area happen again. Andreas is still here and he’s been cured thanks to Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort). That is until Armand shows up. He brings out the darkness within him and makes him once again a slave. Armand then starts to claim victims. One of which is Nicki Saunders (Nina Foch), who was also attacked years ago when her father discovered what was happening.

There is also another wrinkle here. Sir Frederick Fleet (Miles Mander) from Scotland Yard is looking into the case of what happened and potentially charging Lady Jane with murder. She consults her son, John (Roland Varno). He is engaged to marry Nicki, so he is worried when she falls into being unwell. To make things easier, Armand poses as a doctor that is coming to this hospital and one that none of the other personnel have seen. It is a matter of time before the victims pile up and with the attacks from war happening, Armand has a way of covering his tracks.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that I did have to reference a recap to give mine. I was exhausted the night that I tried to watch this. That’s not to say that it was bad. I think this does interesting things and uses current events of the time to add as well. There were just finer details that I was missing.

Where I want to start though is what I alluded to earlier with the title. I made sure that this wasn’t a sequel to a movie I hadn’t seen. It seems like this was an unofficial sequel to Dracula, but to avoid a lawsuit, things were changed. I think he was cast as the creature here due to him being that iconic character. He also has a great screen presence as this monster. The return this movie is alluding to is the fact that he was stalking this area, was defeated and now is back. I thought that was a creative thing to play with. Even more so because of the research that is done in the second part of the film, Armand was the writer of the article. There is a picture of him with it which helps as a reveal since I don’t know if we’d even seen his face to that point.

Since I’ve brought up the monster, let me go into the lore of both the vampire and the werewolf. For the former, they use the normal things. Stake to the heart to defeat. Stalks around at night. The one that I noticed being different was that Armand doesn’t need to be invited in. Another is that if the stake is removed, the vampire can return. I don’t hate this as it feels like something Hammer would use in their run that would come a couple decades later. Then for the werewolf. What is interesting here is that the moon doesn’t have an effect from what I see. It seems like when evil takes over, Andreas changes. He is a servant to the master. I’d also say that this seems closer to being a familiar. This to my knowledge is a first to use another creature for this. It might be something used in the Universal Classic run as well.

The last bit of the story is the fact that Lady Jane could be charged with murder for what happened to Armand. This is a concept that strikes me when watching movies like this. Armand is an established person. I’m not sure if Frederick investigated the fact that I think he made his findings on vampires well before his murder. To the point where he would be much older than he looked. This adds interesting tension that they need to prove to Frederick they aren’t killing a person, but a creature of the night. Rational thought needs to be suspended, which when you’re dealing with the police isn’t an easy sell. I like using this idea.

That should be enough there so let’s go to the acting. I’ve already said about Lugosi being good as this villain. He has a look about him that works for a vampire and it is his piercing stare. They don’t give him as much to work here, but I think he’s still good. Inescort works as this doctor who is the link between the past events and what is happening currently. I liked that. Foch is good as the one that needs to be saved before it is too late. I like Varno in his role. Mander works as well to help raise tension and push that things need to be solved before it is too late. Willis works as this monster that finds humanity and that struggle is pulled into question. I like how his character works in the framework of the conclusion. Other than that, the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

All that is left then is the filmmaking. I like the cinematography here. The use of the graveyard is an interesting setting. The looming war can be felt here so that helps with the depressing nature. There are destroyed buildings due to the bombing run and I think that adds an interesting element we don’t normally see. The effects are good. They are practical due to the era. The best being the look of the Wolf Man here. That was top notch in my opinion. We don’t get much aside from that. I’d also say that the soundtrack fit what was needed.

In conclusion, this is an interesting early vampire film. I like that it is borrowing lore that is classic and then doing things a bit different with it. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Universal and Hammer borrowing from this, as well as things even today. The acting is good. Lugosi is great. I wanted to give special credit to Inescort, Foch and Willis as bright spots as well. Not a bad performance though. This is well-made as well. The look of the werewolf being something else to give credit to. Not one that I can recommend to everyone. You’d need to be a fan of early cinema, but I think this does things a bit differently and that makes it more interesting.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10