This surprisingly good tale has Bela Lugosi donning a Dracula-like cape, this time playing a Romanian vampire named Armand Tesla. Tesla was a scientist seeking eternal life who eventually became a vampire. Tesla lives in a cemetary mauseleum protected by his talking werewolf servant Andreas. Throughout the film Andreas seems to always be carrying a package that looks like his laundry.
The story begins during WW I where Tessla is visiting a rich scientist's mansion, first praying on a woman then his young daughter (I wonder how that one got past the censors back then). The scientist and his wife seek out the vampire during the day and locate his hiding place at the cemetary (they follow barefoot footprints in the cemetary to the mauseleum. They are about to spike him when Andreas returns. He tells them to basically go ahead and after the dead is performed, Andreas is transformed into a man.
Tesla's body is buried in a secret grave and Andreas goes to work for the scientists. Things stay quiet until the beginning of WW II. The Germans (they are called Jerrys in the film) start bombing raids and for some reason they decide to bomb the cemetary (they want to make sure those dead people stay dead). The force of one of the explosions exposes the hidden grave of Tesla. Some comical grave diggers come by and see Tesla and figure that the spike should be removed before they rebury him (you wonder why his body isn't destroyed because he is in sunlight when they find him). Off course Tesla comes to life again after sundown and seeks out Andreas again.
Tesla assumes the identity of a visiting doctor that Andreas has disposed of. He arrives at the mansion and of course is the charming visiting guest (looks like a scene from any Dracula movie). Of course Tesla is after the little girl who is now grown into a beautiful woman. The female scientist starts to realize what is happening and must figure a way to defeat Tesla again before everyone ends up a victim.
The movie is fun and a good period piece. Though it was made by Columbia, it has the look and feel of any of the classic Universal monster films. The DVD extras include a hysterical trailer for Hammer's Revenge of Frankenstein as well as the trailer for Brahm Stoker's Dracula.
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The Return of the Vampire is a rare, but not unique, case where the film makes it very clear that there is a war on and which war the film is talking about. The bombing raids where at least one plane has a swastika as well as the references to concentration camps make it very clear that the film is set during World War Two. One bombing raid helps set Tesla free and another bombing raid helps destroy him. The concentration camps provide Tesla with the false identity of Dr. Hugo Bruckner. Still most of the story's action is unrelated to the war. Most of the story is strictly concerned with the feud between Armand Tesla and Lady Jane, a feud that predates the war.
Like most Wartime Horror films, the writers and producers of The Return of the Vampire preferred to keep the Vampires, Werewolves and other fantasy characters far from the battlefields of history.