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From the Vault: The Lugosi Vampires

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From the Vault: The Lugosi Vampires

Bela Lugosis Other Vampire Roles

By Tim Janson     October 14, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Bela Lugosi is best known as playing Dracula and creating the vampire template we are most familiar with today.  But the fact is that Lugosi only played the role twice…first in the classic Dracula (1931) and then in the comedy spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).  But while he only played Dracula twice, he did have other roles as vampires.  Today in From the Vault we take a look back at two of Lugosi’s non-Dracula vampire roles in Mark of the Vampire and Return of the Vampire.
 
Mark of the Vampire
MGM 1935
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Barrymore, Lionel Atwill
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Grade: B+

Mark of the Vampire was directed by Tod Browning who also directed 1931’s Dracula.  The film was a remake of Browning’s lost silent film London After Midnight which starred Lon Chaney Sr.  Punctuated by an outstanding cast featuring Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Lionel Barrymore, and Elizabeth Allan, it’s one of Lugosi’s best yet most underrated films.  While his role isn’t huge, his presence can be felt throughout.

Sir Karell Borotyn is murdered in his home and found with two small punctures in his neck.  The doctor who examines the body concludes that he was killed by a vampire.  When Borotyn’s daughter Irena becomes the next target, Karell’s best friend Baron Otto von Zinden sends for an expert in vampires and the occult, Professor Zelen (Barrymore) to help track down the undead fiends.  The eyes of suspicion fall upon Count Mora (Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland), two very weird and creepy figures who live in a nearby mansion.

Sure enough when Zelen spies on Morla and Luna, he finds a mansion straight out of a gothic nightmare with giant spiders crawling, bats flitting about, and even Luna sprouts bat wings and flys.  In the end though, Browning dishes up a swerve that reveals Morla and Luna to be mere actors pretending to be vampires in order to help catch the true killer.  The horror elements work well because Browning never revealed his twist to the actors until the very end so they all played it as if it was a straight horror film.  Lugosi felt the twist was silly but as always he gave 100% in his performance.
 
Mark of the Vampire has some of the most ghoulish scenes of horror’s Golden Age.  The scenes in Morla’s mansion and of him and Luna in a cemetery are spectacular and rival or even surpass that of Dracula’s brides rising from their coffins in Dracula.  The film’s greatest strength is its atmosphere although the twist ending does take the edge off somewhat.
 
You’ll notice that Morla has a bullet wound on the side of his head throughout the film but there is no explanation ever given as to why.  In the original script, Morla was to have had an incestuous relationship with Luna, resulting in his committing suicide and rising from the dead as a vampire.  Of course, the studio balked, particularly after Browning’s previous film, Freaks, had been such a disaster for MGM.  This is why the original running time of 80 minutes is cut down to 60 minutes, and leaves the film with numerous plot holes.  
 
Borland was only 20 when she did the film and even though she has only got one line, she became a cult hero to horror fans.  Borland got the role after becoming friends with Lugosi while she was a student at UC Berkeley.  And while Lugosi was merely a red herring and didn’t play a true vampire, it nevertheless was one of his more chilling and potent performances.
 

 

Return of the Vampire
Columbia Pictures 1944
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Nina Foch, 
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Grade: B

Columbia wanted to do a Dracula film with Lugosi but since Universal controlled the rights to Dracula, Columbia had to rename him Armand Tesla. But make no mistake; Lugosi is playing Dracula, complete with cape, accent, and menacing eyes. In 1918, Tesla and his werewolf servant named Andreas (Matt Willis) were preying upon the family of Lady Jane Ainsely until Tesla had a stake driven into his heart and was buried in a cemetery. Fast forward to worn torn England in the 1940's. A stray German bomb slams into the cemetery and unearths Tesla's grave. A couple of dimwitted gravediggers find the body and remove the stake. Tesla returns to life and tracks down his werewolf servant.

Andreas has now been working for Lady Jane and she's been able to cure him of his lycanthropy and live a normal life. Look, don't question it...this film plays very loose with werewolf and vampire lore. Andreas can turn into a wolf anytime, even during daylight and in his werewolf form he still talks! But when Andreas encounters Tesla, he falls under the vampire’s influence again and turns back into a werewolf.  Tesla plans to get revenge on Lady Jane and he entire family for staking him years earlier.

 

Return of the Vampire is an exceptional movie for Lugosi. He gets to do even more than he did in Dracula. The film is beautifully shot with misty, shadowy cemeteries and crypts that rival Universal's classics of the 1930's. The performances were all strong, but especially Lugosi who seemed to revel in playing Dracula again, even if he wouldn't play Dracula in name again until 1948's Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Return of the vampire is an exceptional horror film of the 1940s and easily better than some of Universal’s efforts like House of Dracula.  Lugosi is older but still plays his role dripping with sinister charisma.  A talking werewolf probably isn’t the greatest idea in the world but it works within the context of this film.

 

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
CaptAmerica04 10/14/2012 10:14:56 AM

Thanks for this article, Tim!  I'm a big fan of old B&W horror films, but haven't seen these two, yet.  I'll have to find them to watch.

alienstatue 10/15/2012 2:07:21 PM

Great article. I saw Mark of the vampire recently, and at the end they mentioned that Lugosi didn't like the ending, so he asked Browning to make them real Vampires pretending to be actors pretending to be Vampires. Pretty cool history.

1 

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