During the 1930s and 1940s, Universal Studios had a string of hits with horror films. Most of these films went on to become classics, mainly because of the presence of three actors: Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr.. Universal was then imitated by many other studios that tried to capitalize on the success of these iconic horror films, but typically the results were disastrous.
There were, however, a few noteworthy exceptions. In the Columbia Pictures film, The Return of the Vampire, Béla Lugosi once again played a bloodsucker, though this time in World War II England. His role as Armand Tesla is almost identical to the role he played in Dracula, which was the classic film from Universal that spawned the horror movie craze.
Along with Béla Lugosi playing the archetypal vampire, there is also a reluctant werewolf, and a chase seen through a fog-enshrouded cemetery; all of these things, which could be attributed to the Universal monster cycle of films. Unlike most attempts at recreating the atmosphere of the Universal films,The Return of the Vampire succeeds on most levels. The acting is of the same style and quality of the Universal films and look of the sets and costumes is very close to those films. The film so closely resembles the horror films of Universal that I'm surprised that the Universal Studios didn't sue for plagiarism. Luckily they did not.
During the air raids in London a vampire named Armand Tesla is accidentally resurrected after a bomb blast disturbs his coffin. He sets out to destroy those responsible for his temporary demise twenty-three years earlier. Tesla targets the offspring of his assailants, Lady Jane and Professor Saunders. He once again calls upon his slave, the reluctant werewolf Andréas to help him carry out his insidious plans. But little does Tesla realize that in his absence, Lady Jane has been teaching Andréas to resist his master's hypnotic powers. As Tesla takes his revenge, Lady Jane is forced to consider the possibility that only through sacrificing her son, John and Professor Saunders' granddaughter, Nikki will they be able to stop Tesla from spreading his plague of death and vampirism. But can Armand Tesla be thwarted?
While Béla Lugosi's performance is by no stretch of the imagination groundbreaking, viewers will delight in seeing him once again playing a Count Dracula-like vampire. The cast also includes Nina Foch, who later would famously declare that she hated horror films.
While the plot is not that dissimilar from other horror films of the time, it is interesting to see a B-movie address the war, even if it merely exploits it as a plot device. Most films intentionally avoided the subject for fear of depressing audiences further. It's also fascinating to take note that Lugosi's costume is almost exactly the same as the one he wore in Dracula, and some film historians have even suggested that the costume he wore was that from the 1927 stage play of Dracula. Despite it's predictable plot and hammy acting, The Return of the Vampire is a must-have for horror fans, if not for its story then for its star, Béla Lugosi.
Another reason for adding this often-overlooked film to your collection is its novelty ending. After seeing the disintegrated corpse of the vampire, a skeptical police investigator turns toward the camera and actually asks viewers if they believe in the existence of vampires. Priceless!
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, … more
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.