THE RETURN OF DRACULA (April 12,1958) Blu Ray -Olive Films -Available October 18,2016. $29.95 B&W/color 77 minutes. https://www.amazon.com/Return-of-Dracula-Blu-ray/dp/B01JLWZNJU
One of the most sadly neglected of the Dracula films is THE RETURN OF DRACULA, One of four horror films produced by Gramercy Pictures (the others being THE VAMPIRE and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) (released as a co bill) and THE FLAME BARRIER (1958) (which was the co bill for RETURN OF DRACULA) and released through UNITED ARTISTS, they were well made well-acted horror films that are often overlooked as they were not part of the AIP or Hammer Films of the 1950s. Indeed, one month later, Hammer released its Technicolor masterpiece, HORROR OF DRACULA (distributed by Universal) and many other terror films got left in the dust.
(In England, the film was known as THE FANTASTIC DISAPPEARING MAN !)
OLIVE FILMS new Blu Ray release gives the movie a proper release for its re-evaluation. It had previously been released on VHS by MGM and on an MGM/MIDNIGHT MOVIE co bill with THE VAMPIRE. Both have been out of print for years.
The new OLIVE FILM Blu Ray looks a bit sharper than the MGM DVD that I compared it to. The old disc tended to sometimes be too dark in places (I have not seen the new OLIVE FILMS DVD (available via https://www.amazon.com/Return-of-Dracula/dp/B01JLW5YSU ) but I am sure that it is also less dark). The picture looks amazingly sharp for a 58-year-old film shot for $125,000.
The film’s screenplay (by Pat Fielder, who wrote all 4 of Gramercy’s horror/sci fi films) echoes that of SHADOW OF A DOUBT and SON OF DRACULA (both Universal,1943) wherein a mysterious stranger arrives and turns the lives of a small town upside down.
(Old Super 8mm release )
In SHADOW, it is Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) who is a notorious serial killer who returns to his hometown to elude his pursuers. In SON, it is Dracula himself (Lon Chaney Jr) under the alias of Alucard who is hiding out in a small bayou Southern town.
shadow of a doubt
The Return of Dracula
RETURN begins with several vampire hunters led by Dr Merryman (John Wengraf, a German actor who fled Hitler’s madness, only to be often typecast in Hollywood as a Nazi!) in an unnamed Central European country. The opening narration tells the legend of Count Dracula, though it never directly refers to the vampire in this film as the Count himself (the novel was public domain in the U.S. since Stoker failed to comply with a portion of the U.S. Copyright Law. However, it was still under the Berne Convention copyright until 1962 in the U.K. and other countries. Hence the clever way of referencing the character but never saying if it is him or not). They are in a crypt (the name on the side of the coffin is Grof Naov Istvan, but that may be one that monster has merely taken over), awaiting sunset to stake the vampire, but at the precise moment when the coffin is flung open, they find it is empty.
We jump then to a train station wherein an artist named Bellac Gordal (an uncredited Norbert Schiller, who would later play a small role in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Fox,1974) is being allowed to leave and go to America. It is hinted that they are in an Iron Curtain Country, and that he is fleeing to be able to paint without government obstruction. Once he boards the train, his fellow passenger (whom we see only behind a newspaper, which is itself supernatural, changing in 3 quick cuts from the German Berliner Tageblatt to a Hungarian Maygar Szo then inside the German paper MODEN-SPEIGEL, which has English on its back page!) attacks him.
We jump again now to a small California town of Carleton where a young boy Mickey (Jimmy Baird) plays in an abandoned mine (Bronson Cavern once again), and decides to leave his unseen kitten trapped in the mines shaft (who gave this kid a pet?) when he hears a train whistle and tells his family of the arriving train. It seems the Cora Mayberry (Greta Granstedt) is expecting her cousin Bellac whom she hasn’t seen since they were children. When they get to the station, they are told that no one has left the train but that some mysterious luggage has been left. However, a strange man well-groomed man (Czech born stage and film actor Francis Lederer) appears on the platform.” Cora?” he says. She takes him for Bellac and the family takes him home.
Rachel Mayberry (Norma Eberhardt ),the family’s teenage daughter, is particularly drawn to her uncle as she is an artist and fascinated by his (un)worldliness. Bellac has several quirks (no mirrors in his room, sleeping throughout the day) which they accept as probably the result of artistic temperament or ill treatment in his native land. Rachel’s boyfriend Tim Hansen ( Ray Stricklyn ) is not such a big fan of the new arrival. Meanwhile, Mickey discovers that his kitten is dead, covered in blood (what did you expect though kid? You left it in a mine shaft?).
Rachel takes Bellac to meet her friend Jenny ,( Virginia Vincent )who is ill and blind . Unfortunately, Bellac decides that she is to be is to be his next victim. We see that Bellac has his coffin within the abandoned mine.
He awakes within and in slow motion his hand creeps spiderlike out of the box and opens it. The vampire then sits up through a haze of dry ice and sits up and opens his eyes. Bellac tells the blind woman that she can see him, but when she stares, she screams and becomes a victim of the undead.
Dr Merryman arrives in town looking for his quarry, and things start escalating with a vampire staking (a brief flash of color as blood oozes out, which must have made people jump at the time, and a bit of expense splicing that into prints), ending with a final confrontation within the old mine.
The film moves really quickly, and wastes no time of its short span. The actors pretty much play easy stereotypes (mother, teenage daughter, bratty younger brother, the boyfriend) with the film belonging to Lederer. Wearing his overcoat as a cape and his brylcreemed hair looks like an older gigolo, but perhaps that is fitting for a great seducer. He makes great use of his voice and stillness, and draws attention to himself in every scene that he is in.
The Blu Ray has strong deep blacks but doesn’t lose details in the night scenes (indeed, except for the first scene, the whole film takes places at night or interiors.). The mono sound is clear and free of hiss, and the score by Gerald Fried (using a frantic and booming “Die Irae “) properly propels the movie along.
The subtitles are clean and easy to read and follows the dialogue exactly. The only extra is the film’s trailer.
While I would have liked a commentary track of some sort, I do not think that you will be disappointed by adding this Olive Films Blu Ray of THE RETURN OF DRACULA.
-Kevin G Shinnick
Ps- Francis Lederer returned and this time was indeed DRACULA when he appeared as the Count in an episode of T.V.’s NIGHT GALLERY. In the episode,” The Devil Is Not Mocked”, he dispatches of some very nasty Nazis.