• Return Of The Vampire (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: February 19th, 2019.
    Directed by: Lew Landers
    Cast: Bela Lugosi, Gilbert Emery, Matt Willis, Nina Foch, Frieda Inescort
    Year: 1943
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    Return Of The Vampire – Movie Reviews:

    Bela Lugosi stars in this picture directed in 1944 for Columbia Pictures by Lew Landers, the same man who directed Lugosi in The Raven way back in 1935. When the movie begins, we’re taken back to 1918 where an English family are forced to deal with a vampire (Lugosi) running around World War One era London causing problems. Professor Saunders (Gilbert Emery) and his pal Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) are on the case and are able to save Saunders’ niece, Nicki, after she’s attacked and some good detective work unveils the fact that the vampire is actually a man named Armand Tesla, though dead since the 1700’s but now back and assisted by a werewolf man servant named Andreas (Matt Willis).

    They take him out but then two decades later some German bombs hit the cemetery where Tesla was buried decades back. Some gravediggers show up and see him as an easy target, removing the stake that sent him to what Saunders hoped was eternal rest. Tesla comes back from the dead and once again enslaves Andreas, who helps him take on the new identity of Doctor Otto Bruckner, a man who has recently left Germany to avoid the rise of the Nazi party. What no one realizes, however, is that Tesla-now-Bruckner, hopes to take revenge on Jane and finally claim Nicki (now an adult played by Nina Foch) as his own.

    This is good stuff, a fast-paced monster romp in the classic sense of the world. Obviously inspired by the success of Universal’s horror pictures, Columbia’s take under Landers’ guidance moves at a great speed and wastes no time getting into the thick of it. Lugosi is in fine form here, strutting about as ominously as he’s able and providing that bizarre sense of menace that only he could bring to the silver screen with a legitimate enthusiasm that was sometimes lacking in his later works. The rest of the cast follow suit, with Nina Foch offering up some seriously appealing vampish good looks and Matt Willis doing a fine job as the werewolf, a creature who in many ways winds up with more screen time here than our headlining vampire (who is basically Dracula, let’s face it – though he’s never referred to as such for obvious reasons, though he’s more or less wearing the same outfit!).

    Lady Jane Ainsley is an atypically strong female character for horror movies of the time, which makes this more interesting than it might be otherwise, and Inescort does a fine job with the role, offering it both strength and charisma. She’s basically the lead protagonist in the picture and is given a much bigger role than Emery as Saunders. The movie was made with enough money that the production team was able to ensure that it looks good throughout – foggy gothic set pieces help to set the mood while the score and the cinematography help to build atmosphere the way you’d want in an older horror picture.

    Return Of The Vampire – Blu-ray Review:

    The 1.33.1 fullframe transfer on this disc is excellent. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition picture shows very good detail and nice depth and texture throughout. There’s very little print damage here at all, while a natural amount of film grain is present throughout. Black levels are nice and deep while whites are clean, never blooming. Contrast looks fine here and the greyscale seems nicely balanced. The image is free of noticeable compression problems, noise reduction and edge enhancement issues alike. All in all, the movie looks great.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is also of good quality. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and the track is properly balanced. No audible hiss or distortion issues were noted.

    Extras include three separate commentary tracks, courtesy of Gary Don Rhodes, Lee Gambin and Troy Howarth. Between the three tracks, a lot of ground is covered. Rhodes, who has written extensively about Lugosi in books like No Traveler Returns: The Lost Years Of Bela Lugosi and Lugosi: His Life In Films, On Stage And In The Hearts Of Horror Lovers, does the best job of covering where the actor was at in this part of his career and what was happening in his life off set. Lots of great trivia here, Rhodes clearly knows what he’s talking about and he does a nice job of detailing the actor’s life and times as they relate to this film and period in his career. Gambin, who has written a few books on the horror films based on Stephen King’s work and who also penned Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring The Natural Horror Film, covers a lot of behind the scenes detail, covering the studio’s involvement, the supporting cast and the director’s history while offering plenty of observations about the film and those who made it. Howarth, who has written a few books on Giallo cinema as well as books on Fulci and Bava, follows a similar path and offers up a mix of trivia and insight into the film’s qualities, the effectiveness of the set pieces, the quality of the performances and quite a bit more. All three have quite a bit to say and while understandably there is some overlap, each commentator brings his own personality and insight to his work here.

    Also included on the disc is an eight-minute 8mm version of the movie, which is a lot of fun to see. It’s great when studios include these options and it’s nice to see this particular one preserved here on disc. The film’s theatrical trailer, a nice still gallery of ephemera, menus and chapter selection round out the extras on the disc. The cover art isn't technically reversible here but it does open up to a pretty cool piece of promotional art featuring the vampire and the wolfman... oh, and puzzlingly enough the back of the cover features a still that looks like it's from Return Of The Ape Man.

    Return Of The Vampire – The Final Word:

    Return Of The Vampire is a seminal classic horror picture, a film that features Lugosi in very fine form supported by a great cast. It’s an enjoyably spooky picture loaded with atmosphere, and Shout! Factory has done a very nice job bringing it to Blu-ray in great shape and with a host of extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Return Of The Vampire Blu-ray screen caps!