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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Return of the Vampire (1944)

"The following events took place in the outskirts of London toward the close of 1918. They began on the night of October the 15th, a particularly gloomy, foggy night that was well-suited for a visitation by the supernatural."
- Narrator

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: November 20, 2002

Stars: Bela Lugosi, Nina Foch, Frieda Inescort
Other Stars: Miles Mander, Rolando Varno, Matt Willis, Gilbert Emery, Sherlee Collier
Director: Lew Landers

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild horror elements)
Run Time: 01h:09m:11s
Release Date: August 13, 2002
UPC: 043396078727
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The often forgotten The Return of the Vampire from 1944 was really meant to be a Dracula film, but since Columbia Pictures couldn't use Universal's sacred "D" word, Bela Lugosi's character is simply renamed Armand Tesla. But he's Lugosi, he's Romanian, he's a vampire, and for all intents and purposes, he's Dracula. The uneven Griffin Jay (The Mummy's Tomb) script even tosses in a werewolf assistant for Tesla just for good measure, in a gratuitous attempt to one up Universal in the monster department.

Prolific B-movie director Lew Landers (best known for The Raven) does it mostly by the numbers here, and the film is really built around the screen presence of the infrequently seen Lugosi. If you put a cape on the guy, lie him in a coffin, there's no way not to see Dracula, and even when the story spends too much time talking about vampires, and far too little time actually showing vampires, Lugosi still seems to be in the shadows of every frame.

In this film, the Von Helsing role is played against type by a woman, in this case it's Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort), a proper British doctor of some sort who lives in a palatial estate in the London countryside. In the film's prologue, Ainsley and Professor Saunders (Gilbert Emery) raid the tomb of vampire Armand Tesla in a wonderfully foggy, creepy cemetery sequence. They drive a large steel spike through Tesla's heart, though it is too late for the Professor's young granddaughter Nicki (Sherlee Collier) who has already been bitten.

The story then jumps forward 23 years, though the transition is handled a little a bit roughly during a clunky expository sequence between Ainsley and Scotland Yard commissioner Fleet (Miles Mander). At first I mistook the dark circles around Ainsley's eyes as just bad lighting, but I then eventually realized that it was supposed to represent 23 years of aging. Little Nicki is all grown up and played by Nina Foch, and when Tesla returns from the grave (the film IS called The Return of the Vampire, after all) she falls under his control and the expected turmoil ensues.

Adding a Renfield-like werewolf named Andreas (Matt Willis) as Tesla's manservant seems like unnecessary dramatic padding, to say nothing of never exactly explaining just how a vampire could make a man transform into a wolf. The makeup effects on Willis are decent enough for the time, but the fact that he can talk like a normal man when in werewolf form makes him seem a little less menacing (and lose the sport coat, please). His character is the typical, troubled soul, and his eventual redemption is well foreshadowed, and culminates during a Nazi air raid.

The Return of the Vampire is really a Lugosi film at heart, and we all know he's supposed to be Dracula no matter what he's called. This one won't ever be confused with any of the truly great Universal monster films of the era, but the resolution of the "ghastly business" (as Lady Ainsley calls it) does include a neat melting corpse and the ever-present power of the crucifix.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has issued The Return of the Vampire in a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer, and though the ravages of time since 1944 have left a fair amount of perpetual speckles, the image detail is very sharp for a film of this vintage. This is a noticeable improvement over earlier VHS releases of this title, and no doubt represents the cleanest it will likely ever look.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: This disc contains a single Dolby Digital mono track in English, and as one might expect from a film pushing sixty years old, it is not the most robust audio experience ever released on DVD. Dialogue is presented clearly, free of any major hiss or any annoying crackle.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Japanese with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Revenge Of Frankenstein
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No bios, production notes or any historical data, and that's just too bad. The only extras are a pair of trailers (Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein) that seem more like an afterthought than anything else.

The disc is well-chaptered with 28 stops on a 70-minute film, and includes subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Japanese.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Fans of the golden age of Universal horror may want to seek out Columbia TriStar's The Return of the Vampire, as it features not only Lugosi as a vampire, but doubles down with a shuffling werewolf assistant, too. Despite her bad aging makeup, Frieda Inescort is quite good as Lady Ainsley, and her organ-playing showdown with Tesla is great B-movie stuff.


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