Friday, October 19, 2007


Though released by Columbia Pictures, this begins like a classic-era Universal horror film, with a foggy graveyard meeting in 1919 between a werewolf (Matt Willis) and a vampire (Bela Lugosi, though we never see his face in this opening sequence). Lugosi has been feeding on the young daughter of Dr. Gilbert Emery, head of a sanitarium. He and colleague Frieda Inescort read an article by long-dead occult expert Armand Tesla about vampirism and know what they have to do. They find Lugosi's grave and drive a long metal stake through his heart. This kills him and frees the werewolf from his curse. Inescort takes Willis under her wing and makes him a trusted assistant. We flash ahead to the present day, during WWII; Inescort is now in charge of the asylum and her son is soon to be married to Emery's grown daughter (Nina Foch). During a German air raid, Lugosi's body is unearthed and two comic-relief air raid workers find him and pull the stake out, bringing Lugosi back to life. Surprise! The vampire is actually Armand Tesla, who calls Willis back under his command and, taking the identity of a visiting professor, ingratiates himself with Inescort, the better to get access to Foch. When it becomes clear that a vampire is back at work, Inescort gets Scotland Yard inspector Miles Mander to help her flush him out.

This is essentially an unofficial sequel to Lugosi's 1931 DRACULA. Lugosi looks the same, sounds the same, wears the same outfit, has an underling in his mystical control, and once again haunts the grounds of a London sanitarium biting the neck of a lovely young woman who is soon to be wed. Though there is nothing here as wonderfully creepy as DRACULA's first 15 minutes, there are some nicely atmospheric touches, mostly having to do with omnipresent fog. Inescort makes an interesting Van Helsing character, and Foch is good, though her husband-to-be (Roland Varno) barely makes an impression at all. I like that Willis's Renfield character is a werewolf, but little is done with that idea; in fact, the sight of the wolfman always fully dressed makes for an unintentionally funny moment or two. Similarly, the wartime setting works nicely for Lugosi's unearthing, but not much else is done with it. The movie is not exactly a classic, but it's a must-see for vampire movie fans, and it's also notable as one of Lugosi's last big-studio movies. [TCM]

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