PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
The film begins with a voiceover (Miles Mander) announcing that ‘the following events are taken from the notes of Professor Walter Saunders of King’s College, Oxford’.
The first scene takes place in a mist-shrouded cemetery at night. A werewolf (Matt Willis) enters a tomb and tells his vampire ‘Master’ that it is time for him to awake.
A hand reaches out of the coffin and lifts the lid. A shadow appears on the wall, and the unmistakable voice of Bela Lugosi asks what happened while he was asleep (Throughout the first half of the film Lugosi remains just a shadow, or a figure in the mist). The werewolf replies that his latest victim has been taken to Dr. Ainsley’s clinic.
Baffled by her patient’s anemic condition, Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) has called in Professor Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery). While they are discussing the patient, two children enter. They are Lady Jane’s son, John, and Professor Saunders’ granddaughter, Nikki.
Lady Jane and the professor send the children to bed and return to their patient. The vampire, finding that his victim is not alone, attacks Nikki instead.
After the patient dies, Professor Saunders sits up the rest of the night, reading a book on vampires written two hundred years ago by Armand Tesla.
The following morning, the professor shows Lady Jane the bite marks on their dead patient’s neck, and tells her that he believes they were caused by a vampire. Lady Jane is skeptical until they discover similar bite marks on Nikki’s neck.
Professor Saunders and Lady Jane go to the cemetery and search for the vampire’s coffin. As they are about to drive a stake through its heart, the werewolf returns and tries to stop them; but once the vampire is staked, the werewolf returns to his human form.
The story now jumps forward 24 years. Professor Saunders has just died, and his account of these events was found among his effects. Sir Fredrick Fleet (Miles Mander) sits in his office at Scotland Yard, reading the professor’s manuscript.
Sir Frederick tells Lady Jane that he intends to find the body of the man whom she and Professor Saunders staked. If the man really was alive when they staked him, Lady Jane is guilty of murder.
Lady Jane tells Sir Frederick that the man she and the professor staked was two hundred years old. He was none other than Armand Tesla, whose lifelong fascination with vampires ended with his becoming one himself.
The scene shifts to Lady Jane’s clinic. Her son, John, and Professor Saunders’ granddaughter, Nikki, are now adults and plan to marry.
It is World War Two, and Nikki (Nina Foch) is in military uniform. John (Roland Varno) is in civilian clothes, having been discharged from the RAF due to a war injury.
When she and John are alone, Lady Jane tells him about her meeting with Sir Frederick. John asks if she is worried about being arrested for murder. Lady Jane says that, when Sir Frederick finds Tesla’s body, he will see that it hasn’t decomposed. That will prove Tesla was a vampire.
They agree not to tell Nikki about this. They don’t want to remind her of her childhood trauma when she was bitten by the vampire.
While they are talking, Andréas enters. He used to be Tesla’s werewolf servant. Freed of the vampire’s power, he has become human again, and is Lady Jane’s assistant at the clinic.
Andréas is visibly upset when he hears that the vampire’s body is going to be dug up.
During an air raid, a bomb falls on the cemetery. Gravediggers are assigned to rebury the disturbed coffins. They find Tesla’s body, assume the stake driven through his heart was part of a bomb, and pull it out.
Back at the clinic, Lady Jane tells Andréas that Hugo Bruckner, a famous scientist, has escaped a Nazi concentration camp and is coming to England to work with her. She sends Andréas to meet Dr. Bruckner’s boat and bring him back to the clinic.
On his way to meet Bruckner, Andréas sees the risen vampire. Now, for the first time, the audience see Lugosi’s face.
Fixing Andréas with his hypnotic eyes, the vampire says that he was responsible for Professor Saunders’ death. Now he will take his revenge on Lady Jane.
Andréas, once again under Tesla’s power, becomes a werewolf. Following the vampire’s orders, he kills Bruckner and Tesla takes his place.
The following morning, Sir Frederick and Lady Jane come to the cemetery to look for Tesla’s grave. When they find there is nothing left of it but a hole where the bomb fell, Sir Frederick declares the case is closed.
That evening, Lady Jane throws a party to celebrate John and Nikki’s engagement. Sir Frederick arrives, with Professor Saunders’ manuscript. He asks Lady Jane whether he should give the manuscript to Nikki, since she is the professor’s granddaughter and only living relative. Lady Jane takes the manuscript and locks it in a drawer because she doesn’t want Nikki to be reminded of her childhood trauma.
Tesla arrives, pretending to be Bruckner. He charms everyone except Sir Frederick, who seems suspicious of him.
Lady Jane discovers the drawer has been forced open and the professor’s manuscript stolen. She calls in Sir Frederick. He finds some hairs stuck to the drawer, and puts them in his pocket.
Upstairs, Nikki finds the manuscript lying beside her bed and begins reading it.
Later, she hears Tesla’s voice calling to her. She asks who he is, and he replies that she already knows.
The following morning, John and Lady Jane find Nikki lying unconscious on the floor of her bedroom. John is upset when he sees the bite marks on Nikki’s neck, but Lady Jane assures him that everything will be all right.
Lady Jane returns to the cemetery and speaks with the gravediggers. They tell her that they found a body with a stake in it. They pulled out the stake and reburied the body, but now it’s missing.
She tells this to Sir Frederick, but he dismisses it because he doesn’t believe in vampires. Instead he assigns two plainclothes men to shadow Andréas.
While the two men are following him, Andréas changes into a werewolf. He runs away, dropping the bundle he was carrying.
The two men take the bundle to Sir Frederick, who opens it and finds it contains the personal effects of the real Hugo Bruckner. Sir Frederick’s suspicions of Bruckner/Tesla are now confirmed.
While Sir Frederick is examining the contents of the bundle, another man comes in. He says that a laboratory analysis of the hairs Sir Frederick found on the drawer show them to be wolf’s hairs.
That night, as Nikki sleeps, Tesla calls to her again. He tells her to go to John’s bedroom.
The following morning, Lady Jane finds John lying on the floor of his bedroom with bite marks on his neck. Nikki is convinced that she is becoming a vampire, but Lady Jane tells her that Tesla bit John, hoping to make Nikki believe she did it.
Sir Frederick and Lady Jane question Andréas about the bundle. His hands become hairy and clawlike, but before he completes his transformation into a werewolf, he runs away.
Sir Frederick assigns the same two plainclothes men to follow Bruckner/Tesla, but the vampire eludes them.
Bruckner/Tesla goes to the Ainsley house and stands in the shadows, watching Lady Jane as she plays the organ. He tells her that, now she knows who he really is, he will take his revenge. He will turn Nikki into a vampire, and she will then do the same to John.
Lady Jane pushes the sheet music aside, revealing a cross on the organ. The vampire disappears.
Again Tesla calls to Nikki. She rises from her bed, leaves her bedroom and walks down the stairs.
Downstairs, Sir Frederick and Lady Jane are once again arguing the existence of vampires. When they see Nikki coming down the stairs, they stop arguing and follow her.
Nikki goes to the cemetery, where Tesla and Andréas (who has now completed his transformation into a werewolf) are waiting for her.
The air raid siren goes off and bombs start falling. Nikki faints. The werewolf picks her up and is carrying her to safety when Sir Frederick shoots him.
The wounded werewolf staggers into the tomb, still carrying the unconscious Nikki. He lays her down and asks Tesla for help. The vampire says that he no longer needs him, and tells Andréas to crawl into a corner and die.
The werewolf obediently crawls into a corner, where he finds a crucifix. He picks it up, and returns to his human form.
An explosion fills the screen, indicating a bomb has hit the cemetery. When Nikki awakes, she sees Andréas dragging an unconscious Tesla out of the tomb.
It is now dawn, and the vampire begins to decompose in the daylight. After Tesla dies, Andréas also dies of his bullet wound.
Sir Frederick and Lady Jane had taken shelter from the bombs, and continued quarreling. They now rush back to the cemetery and find Nikki, who tells them that Andréas saved her.
Lady Jane asks Sir Frederick if he now believes in vampires. He says that he is still an unbeliever.
He turns to the two plainclothes men and asks them ‘You two fellows don’t believe in vampires, do you?’ To his surprise, they both reply that they do. He then faces the camera and asks ‘Do you people?’
When one sees the name Bela Lugosi and the word vampire together, it is immediately assumed that he’s Dracula, and with good reason. He immortalized the great vampire lord in Dracula. Unfortunately, The Return of the Vampire does not feature Dracula because of some legal stuff between the studio that owned the rights to the name and the studio that made this film. Was this legal battle the end of this film before it even got started?
Let’s see what I liked.
Bela. First off, does anyone else find it ironic that the greatest vampire actor ever shares a name with a lifeless character in a series of books and movies that have done nothing but defecate on the legacy of all vampires? Anyway, this man is a great actor, and proves it time and time again, by bringing some life to the hopeless script. His presence on screen can only be matched by his enormous talent
Working together…sort of. Most of the films and television shows nowadays that show werewolves and vampires together have them at each other’s throats. This flick, however, does something slightly different. The vampire has the werewolf as his slave. Yes, you can make the case that is the same thing they do in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. However, this werewolf isn’t aware that he’s a slave. As a matter of fact, he seems to be more of an Igor type character until certain things happen to him.
Vampire smooth. One think that not enough vampire incarnations seem to do is capitalize on the smooth, hypnotic powers these creatures have. I loved how Tesla was using this power of suggestion on the young maiden, Nikki. I have total faith that if this film would have been released about 50 or 60 yrs later, there would have been come kind of scene where he turns into mist and sneaks into her bedroom, similar to the scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
What didn’t I like?
Make some sense. The plot wasn’t disjointed as much as it just didn’t seem to gel. It was almost as if they thought getting Bela Lugosi to play a vampire was going to be the sole selling point of the film and a well crafted story was too much to ask. Why they thought this is a mystery to me, but there it is.
Make up. Bela’s vampire make up was decent enough, but paled in comparison to his Dracula make up. The real crime, though, was the werewolf. I guess now I know why they make those Twilight werewolves look more like bears than wolves. The way they had hair and stuff on this guy he looked like some kind of bear, a teddy bear, to be exact.
Not so feminine. Lady Jane from start to finish just turned out to be the most unlikable character in the entire flick. How is it that one of the film’s alleged heroines is less likable than the villains? Something just seemed off about that, if you ask me.
The Return of the Vampire is a misnomer, seeing as how Armand Tesla is not a vampire we’ve seen before..at least to my knowledge. However, this film is not all bad. I would recommend it to those of us that are fans of classic horror. However, for the rest of you that refuse to acknowledge the past by saying these films are cheesy and crappy, this is obviously not for you.
3 3/4 out of 5 stars