The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Director:

Lew Landers

Cinematography by

L. William O’Connell (as L.W. O’Connell)
John Stumar

The Return of the Vampire is a horror film released in 1943 by Columbia Pictures. It  describes an Englishwoman’s two encounters with a vampire. The first encounter takes place during World War One, and the second during World War Two.

The film stars Bela Lugosi as the vampire Armand Tesla. The Return of the Vampire is not an official sequel to Lugosi’s 1931  Universal Studios film Dracula, but the film has been interpreted by many critics and Dracula scholars as an unofficial follow-up with Lugosi’s character renamed because the film was not made at Universal.

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Even though Bela Lugosi is forever, inseparably associated with Dracula, he actually only played the part twice–first in the original classic, and then once again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.

But he did play vampires that were an awful lot like Dracula, in a number of films that range from not bad to absolute dreck. Let’s see how this one measures up!

Return of The Vampire opens imaginatively, before the title, with a close-up of a scared-looking woman. As she backs away from the camera, a familiar-looking caped figure comes into the foreground, filling the frame. The woman screams, and the credits begins!

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The camera pans across a foggy cemetery, surrounded by dead trees with branches that loom overhead menacingly. A lone figure enters the frame, and gets close to the camera. We see…its a werewolf! The werewolf enters a crypt, and inside it is his “master”, who awakens from his coffin. It is, of course, Bela Lugosi, playing Dracula in all but name. The werewolf tells his master that his latest victim has been taken to a nearby clinic.

We then cut to that clinic, where the young woman’s condition baffles two doctors–Lady Jane Ainsley (Freida Inescort) and Professor Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery). Professor Saunders stays up all night reading a book on vampires (by Dr. Armand Tesla), which Jane dismisses.

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But she changed her mind when the vampire comes to the clinic and attacks the young woman again, leaving two bite marks on her neck. The two of them head to the cemetery to find the vampire’s coffin.

The main cemetery set is quite gorgeous to look at, with its varying levels of depth and spooky lighting:

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The two doctors find the coffin, and drive a stake into the vampire’s chest. This makes the werewolf turn back to normal. He’s a simple, kind man named Andreas, whom Lady Jane takes under her wing.

The film then flashes forward 24 years (which means we’re now in 1967!). Prof. Saunders has just died, and his journal relating the events is being read by a member of Scotland Yard, Sir Fredrick Fleet (Miles Mander). He is shocked by what he reads, and plans to dig up the corpse(!) to see if Lady Jane committed murder.

Lady Jane says that even if the body is exhumed, it won’t have decomposed, proving that it was really a vampire. But before that can happen, there’s an air raid by Germany, and the cemetery is bombed.

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Two gravediggers find the unearthed body of the vampire, stake intact. Assuming the stake ended up there due to the bombing, they remove it. Bad idea!

The vampire returns to normal vampire-y behavior, and goes after the now-grown daughter of Lady Jane, a woman named Nikki. The vampire’s return inspired Andreas’ curse to also return, and he becomes a werewolf once again.

The werewolf, wanting to be free of the curse, begs the vampire for help. No longer needing him, he shoves Andreas into a corner, dismissing him as if a dog.

As the vampire is about to bite Nikki, Andreas finds a crucifix in the dirt and finds the courage to step in:

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This stops the vampire for a moment, and then more bombs hit the cemetery, including the tomb.

A few hours pass, and its now daylight. The werewolf, now back in human form, drags the vampire’s body into the sunlight so it will decompose. Lady Jane Sir Frederick arrive, to watch the vampire slowly disintegrate in a surprisingly effective (and kinda gory, for 1943) series of effects shots:

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Sir Frederick still doesn’t quite believe they were dealing with a real vampire, and asks two plainclothes policemen if they buy into this whole story. They say they do, and Sir Frederick looks right into the camera and asks if we, too, believe in vampires:

…The End!

Return of the Vampire is a lot of fun, loaded with some really atmospheric touches. Bela Lugosi’s face is not seen for almost a half hour–the vampire is seen only in shadow or over the shoulder, with only Lugosi’s voice being heard. Even though we all know who the vampire is of course, its still an effective bit of staging.

Its kind of odd that there’s so much discussion over whether vampires are real, but no one seems to have a huge problem with a werewolf running around.

The final effect of the vampire crumbling to dust is remarkably well done, keeping with the film’s general level of dry realism. Only the final, goofy scene with Sir Frederick talking to the audience breaks the spell.

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The Columbia Gower studios were rather cramped so the production moved to Fine Arts Studio for the cemetery sequence.

A very good 40’s vampire movie

13 March 2003 | by jrcindy2000See all my reviews

Bela Lugosi stars as Armand Tesla vampire, but this is the only movie I’ve ever seen that had a talking werewolf who carries the vampire’s laundry in a package tied up with string. This was the only bad part of an otherwise very good 40’s vampire movie. I’ll give it an A.

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Lugosi’s best ’40’s film

5/10
Author: bgh48 from United States
20 October 2006

This has got to be one of Bela’s most underrated performances, a bright spot among the dreariness of Monogram potboilers. Columbia allows him to both reference Dracula while at the same time expanding the definition of vampirism by having him play Dr. Armand Tessla, the “depraved Roumanian scientist” who is so obsessed with evil that he actually becomes a bloodsucker. (there is also a nifty sketch of Lugosi drawn in a book about his character) Lugosi is alternately sinister, avuncular, lovestruck, arrogant, and commanding. His voice, usually cause for laughter at its ripe indelibility, is used extremely effectively as a whisper when he is calling Nina Foch into the graveyard. (“Just a little bit further–further–further!”) This is actually quite eerie. His exchanges with Matt Willis are atmospheric and believable, in that someone undead would naturally have supernatural acolytes surrounding him. (so what if they sprout facial hair; that just gives the acolyte more “texture”) I have to disagree with viewers who think Willis is ridiculous as a talking wolf; I happen to think he’s the best thing in the film.

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Willis’ natural speaking voice is kind of strange, half Southern, half something..and when he’s the werewolf with those teeth his line readings are really creepy. My favorite is when he’s saying “as if they could tell what happened!” and then he chuckles. He is really effective. The whole production is sort of tongue in cheek and the Britishness at its height. (Frieda Inescort: “The Gerries have rather taken things out of your hands”) The WWII element adds more interest, and Lugosi has a droll line that he is going out of his hotel but, “whether I can be reached is another matter.” A jarring note is Foch’s boyfriend, who has “Lady Jane” as his mother and yet speaks with a German or Dutch accent. All in all, a must for Lugosi fans and all other horror film fans interested in how Columbia does this kind of movie as opposed to Universal.

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Dracula meets the Wolf Man!!

8/10
Author: Glen McCulla from United Kingdom
21 October 2010

Bela Lugosi returns as the dreaded vampire Count, here going under the name of Armand Tesla due to Columbia being unable to get the Dracula copyright (owned exclusively at the time by Universal). Despite this, Lugosi here gives in my opinion his finest Dracula performance – much improved over his halting and stagey efforts in the Universal classic twelve years previously.

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Dracula / Tesla returns from the grave to wreak vengeance upon the vampire hunters who staked him decades previously, after a Nazi blitz raid unearths his tomb and a comedy Cockernee (played as usual by the reliable Billy Bevan) mistakes the stake through his heart for shrapnel and removes it. Lugosi sets his sights on vampirising the lovely Nina Foch (and you can’t blame the guy), and even adopts the identity of a German doctor fleeing the Nazis to get closer to his prey. Lugosi gets more top do here than in most of his 1940s horror movies, and rises to the challenge with a great performance.

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We also get Matt Willis (not the one from Busted!) as Lon Chaney-a-like werewolf Andreas, in thrall to his vampiric master my night, but yearning to destroy him whilst in tormented human form. Also featuring good solid performances by Frieda Inescort as the decidedly MILFy Lady Jane, and Miles Mander as the disbelieving police inspector. He doesn’t believe in werewolves or vampires. Do YOU people?

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