A Review by Jason L. King
Starring: Bella Lugosi
Directed by: Lew Landers
Rated: Not Rated
Movie Released: 1944
The summer months have been whisked away and we are now heading into autumn with leaves turning colors and people’s doorsteps sporting jack-o-lanterns and skeletons. October is Halloween, month of the monsters, hence why many of the reviews you are seeing are horror films or monster movies. Throughout the month of October 2009, I will be focusing at least a solid portion of my reviews on various movie monsters each week. Week #1’s movie monster is Vampires.
You can’t have a review site with an October monster movie theme going on and not mention Bella Lugosi at least once. Lugosi, the famed Dracula stage actor appeared in a wide variety of monster films over the years until his death in 1956. The actor, who was a native of Hungary reached his peak of popularity quickly and then suffered a quick and steady decline mostly because he accepted any role that played off his Dracula induced fame. He died working with director Ed Wood, who is famously known as one of the worst directors of all time.
Lugosi stars as Armand Tesla a 200 year old Hungarian vampire in The Return of the Vampire. This 40’s film was about in the middle of his short Hollywood acting career, chronicling the story of a vampire who comes back to life two decades after someone put a stake in his heart. Now blinded with revenge, this re-born undead blood sucker teams up with his werewolf servant, Andreas, to torment the family that killed him years ago.
I have a very hard time saying that this is a good film. It feels low budget, with a terrible plot line. It is the type of film Ed Wood actually would have made if he had half a brain and budget. Apparently if you remove a spike from a vampire’s heart he can come back to life and haunt you. I wasn’t aware of this. This could easily cue up another Vampire rules rant, but if you want for me to elaborate on that, check out the review for FRIGHT NIGHT.
Being a film from the 40’s, it falls victim of what many of these films do- overacting. Many of the actors and actresses involved like to ham up their roles and be over dramatic with their performances to enhance the film. This is a technique that works well on stage plays but doesn’t need to be done in films. In The Return of the Vampire every actress of the time has to speak in an over dramatic Katharine Hepburn cantor, and the men mimic Vincent Price. I know it is a period thing, it is something you notice quickly.
I also couldn’t help but get a good laugh at the slow stop motion/fading camera effects that allow the werewolf to transform in front of your very eyes. Film goers now days would laugh hysterically if someone tried to use that effect in a modern film. It just goes to show how far Hollywood has advanced over the years from a technical standpoint. What we can do now with special effects look really good, but will probably be dwarfed by what we will be able to do in the future. Films like this always remind me of this, making them even more fun to watch from a technical standpoint.
What I really did enjoy about The Return of the Vampire is that Lugosi plays the classic Halloween Vampire. He’s decked out in full tuxedo and cape, slicked back hair, and pointy fangs. He can travel in mist, sleeps in a coffin and can seduce young girls. It’s the truest form of the Hollywood classic bloodsucker on film, and no one quite does it like Lugosi.
Should you put The Return of the Vampire on your rental list for your next movie night? I’m giving it a lukewarm yes. I enjoyed the film but because of its classic vampire elements, and classic good vs. evil storyline. It’s not a film that is going to blow your mind, it’s not a film that is one of those must see films before you die, but it is a fun watch.