Sunday, October 22, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: The Return of the Vampire

Film: The Return of the Vampire
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

With the popularity of horror movies in the early days of talkies, it didn’t take long for things to take a turn for the goofy. Since these movies were also considered kids’ stuff, they weren’t taken very seriously, given much of a budget, or given much of a running time. That’s certainly the case with The Return of the Vampire, a film that desperately wants to capitalize not only on the Dracula story, but on the fact that they managed to get a fading Bela Lugosi (albeit a few years before his full descent) to play the titular creature.

We start in World War I with a vampire named Armand Tesla (Lugosi) stalking the streets of London. His latest victim is admitted to a clinic run by Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescourt) and Doctor Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery). They are nonplussed when their patient dies of evident anemia. Shortly after, the doctor’s young niece Nicki (Sharliee Collier as a child, and then Nina Foch as an adult) is attacked. Lady Jane and Dr. Saunders track the vampire down and kill him, fighting off his werewolf assistant (Matt Willis). With the vampire dead, staked through the heart, the werewolf changes back into a human, restored to his humanity.

Flash forward to the Blitz in the early stages of World War II. An errant bomb unearths the unmarked grave of Tesla. Thinking he is a fresh corpse, the two gravediggers remove the stake, which naturally revives the creature. He soon re-establishes his control over his former thrall (which inexplicably turns him back into a werewolf), who kills for him to help secure a new identity as Dr. Hugo Bruckner.

Essentially, this is all about Tesla/Bruckner trying to get back to Nicki, who he bit 25 years previously. Standing in the way is Lady Jane, detective Sir Fredrick Fleet (Miles Mander), who is convinced that Lady Jane is a little loco when it comes to her vampire ideas, and Lady Jane’s son John (Roland Varno), who is naturally engaged to Nicki, since we can’t do this without some sort of love triangle. Things more or less go as you expect them to, rounding out the tiny 69-minute running time exactly as you would expect things to go.

There’s no real way to look at this as anything other than an attempt to put the basic Dracula story into the modern day by adding elements of World War II to the tale. We’ve changed the names from Dracula to Tesla and we’ve gender-swapped Van Helsing to Lady Jane, but this is very much the same story in a lot of respects. The addition of a werewolf is interesting, if not really explicable. The fact that the werewolf is essentially just a guy who can talk—he’s just hairy and has claws—doesn’t make any more sense than his presence in the film, or to explain why him being hypnotized turns him into a werewolf. It’s just something that happens because the film wants it to happen, and the inclusion of the werewolf is there just for added monster presence in a short movie.

The truth is that there really isn’t a great deal to say about The Return of the Vampire. The only surprises here—the almost complete absence of John Ainsley as anything other than Nicki’s relationship with him early on, for instance—are negative ones, failed expectations or omissions that speed up the story but otherwise hurt it. Even the eventual destruction of the vampire (you know it’s got to happen because of the Hays Code) is anticlimactic and brought about in an unexpected but entirely pedestrian way.

This is an entirely toothless film, pun fully intended. It’s harmless and short and easy to watch because of the miniscule length, and even the fourth wall break at the end, while cute, isn’t enough to recommend the film to anyone. You could certainly do a lot worse, but you could (and should) take the time to do a lot better.

Why to watch The Return of the Vampire: It’s short and harmless.
Why not to watch: There’s pretty much nothing here.


  1. I love Bela Lugosi but a vampire film that doesn't have much bite? Come on!