The fine folks at Shout/Scream Factory have done all of us Monster Kids a great service this month by releasing the 1943 Bela Lugosi vehicle The Return of the Vampire on Blu-ray disc. While certainly not a classic, this film falls into that interesting subgenre of other studios trying to jump onto the Universal Studios Monster Bandwagon by any means necessary. How weird is it to see a Lugosi vampire tale that uses World War II bomber planes as a significant plot device?
The Plot in Brief: In London during World War I, vampire Armand Tesla (Bela Lugosi) victimizes patients in a medical clinic. His manservant (more of a [SPOILER ALERT] wolfservant, really) is chatty lycanthrope Andreas Obry (Matt Willis). Dr. Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery) and Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) follow their instincts to the nearest cemetery, where they find the supine Tesla and stake him through the heart. Obry is released from his hirsute servitude.
We jump forward to World War II, when some errant bombs unearth the still-staked body of Tesla. Well-meaning but dunderheaded civil defense worker Horace (Billy Bevan) removes the metallic arterial obstruction, thinking that it’s a random bit of shrapnel. Vampire Tesla is reborn. Assuming the identity of the deceased Dr. Hugo Bruckner, Tesla returns to the medical clinic to wreak havoc. All hell breaks loose.
The transfer on the new disc is immaculate. I am constantly impressed and surprised by how much detail today’s advanced AV technology can wring from these 70-year-old negatives. I doubt that The Return of the Vampire looked this good during its original theatrical run, which was quite successful. Rhodes notes on his commentary track that the film was held over for five weeks during its original LA theatrical engagement.