THE RETURN OF DRACULA
THE FANTASTIC DISAPPEARING MAN
Alas, all of Paul Landress genre material has a flat, pedestrian monotony that is unlikely to ever make his films rediscovered as gems as other B-budget directors of the era like Edgar G. Ulmer have been. Cast as Dracula, Francis Lederer has a dull ordinariness he seems more like a door-to-door salesman than a dangerous supernatural predator. There are occasional moments that stand out Dracula appearing to Virginia Vincents Jenny and subsequently as a mist. Other scenes like Jennys attack of Bryant and the appearance of the white dog are flat and unevocative, as though Landres has conspired to find the least possible atmospheric interpretation of the material. At the climax, some of the scenes almost manage to surmount the pedestrianness of Landress handling, particularly during the scenes with Norma Eberhardt discovering that Francis Lederer has no reflection; the opening of Jennys coffin to find her alive but imprisoned by the crucifix and her staking (where the black-and-white screen momentarily flashes red for a splash of blood as the stake is hammered in); and the showdown with Dracula in the mine where he hypnotises Ray Stricklyn to drop the crucifix, only to fall back into an open pit and be impaled on a wooden stake. The script does have the odd amusing idea like Dracula coming to America and promptly being hounded by INS as an illegal alien (an idea that would have amusing potential for a comedy some day).
No better contrast can show how routine The Return of Dracula is than to point to another vampire film that came out one month later the same year Hammers landmark Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958). Where Paul Landres plods prosaically and above all takes his conception of vampirism and Dracula from where Bela Lugosi trod nearly 30 years earlier, Hammer moved Dracula into colour, gave the film a dynamic directorial charge and recast Dracula with a snarling and regally imperious Christopher Lee. Alongside Hammers Dracula, The Return of Dracula at once seems old-fashioned and only looking back instead of breaking new ground.
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