Plot: Armand Tesla (Bela Lugosi) is a vampire who has survived for centuries, feeding off the English villagers he comes across. But when a pair of scientists manage to stake his cold heart, he is taken out of action and placed in a sealed tomb. While he is not totally destroyed, the stake has left him helpless and after two decades of entombment, the future looks bleak for Tesla. As World War II unfolds however, a misguided German explosive gives him another chance, freeing him from his tomb by sheer accident. He quickly reclaims his werewolf assistant Andreas (Matt Willis), assumes a new identity, and sets his usual plans into motion. Of course, this involves getting vengeance on the family that put him inside that tomb, but if he can obtain the heart & soul of the targeted young woman, it will be much more than simple revenge. But his plan won’t roll out without a hitch, as the family intends to battle him and as time passes, Andreas comes to question his master’s wishes. Can Tesla put his stamp of vengeance on the family once and for all, or will they somehow manage to return him to the tomb once more, perhaps forever this time?
Entertainment Value: As Universal threatened legal action if this movie was marketed as a sequel to Dracula, The Return of the Vampire is not a technical sequel, though it seems like one. Bela Lugosi returns and plays the same basic role, with the sole change in name, from Dracula to Armand Tesla. While this movie doesn’t break much new ground, it does provide an entertaining experience and some new twists, including the vampire’s werewolf assistant. Yes, that might seem like a cheap reason to include another monster, but the premise is not wasted here and in truth, is put to far better use that could be expected, if you ask me. This is where The Return of the Vampire earns its stripes, with an in depth look at the relationship between these two monsters, as well as the inner turmoils that plague them both. Although it does fall into some of the usual cliches, even then it handles things well enough and in the end, is a fun, old fashioned vampire picture. I recommend this movie to anyone interested in classic era horror cinema, as this is a solid vampire tale that feels like a new chapter in the Dracula lore, even if it isn’t an official one.
He might look like Dracula, behave like Dracula, and even sound like Dracula, but thanks to legal barriers, he simply couldn’t be Dracula. But even though he isn’t called by that name, we all know Bela Lugosi is simply returning to the role that made him famous. Not that we should find that to be bad, as Lugosi is terrific here and thanks to some new twists, the role seems fresh and that gives him some room to shine even more. Lugosi is even more refined, snobbish, and pompous here as he was in Dracula, which is just how it should be, given that his upper class take on the character has defined it for so many folks. Then again, if you didn’t like his work in Dracula, you probably won’t change your mind here, as he plays up those aspects quite a bit. There’s a reason he is a genre legend and even if you don’t love the movie itself, you will likely find some charm in his turn, if you appreciate his work. The cast also includes Frieda Inescort, Roland Varno, Nina Foch, and Matt Willis.
The Disc: Scream Factory released the movie on Blu-ray in a solid visual treatment, though it is clear some restoration work is needed on this one. The print is mostly clean, all things considered, but has some rough stretches and the condition does lessen the visual presence at times. I do think this is a nice improvement over the DVD edition, as detail and depth are enhanced, which allows for a finer, sharper presentation. In other words, the movie is due for some clean up work, but this is a solid treatment that should please most fans. A trio of new audio commentaries are provided, but each is a solo effort from different film historians. If you like trivia, you might find some value in these, but I think they could have been combined into one cooperative session and not lost much in the process. The disc also includes some still photos, as well as the film’s trailer.