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  Return of the Vampire, The London Can Take ItBuy this film here.
Year: 1944
Director: Lew Landers
Stars: Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch, Miles Mander, Roland Varno, Matt Willis, Billy Bevan, Harold De Becker
Genre: Horror
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1918 and in this area of London there is a strange influence over some of the population, not least Andreas (Matt Willis), who has been transformed into a werewolf because of it. Yes, an actual vampire menaces the city, one Armand Tesla (Bela Lugosi), and he threatens to become very powerful indeed unless he is stopped, his latest victim a young woman who now lies in bed suffering delirium, but not making any sense as far as her carers can tell. One of those looking after her is Lady Jane Ainsely (Frieda Inescort) and when the patient dies, it is her daughter who Tesla turns to...

The idea of a vampire movie set during The Blitz is such an irresistable one that it's surprising that it wasn't made more of, with just this entry in the Golden Age horror stakes to take advantage of the ingenious premise. It was only the second time Lugosi had played a vampire after his most celebrated role as Dracula in the 1931 film of the same name, and this was meant to be an unofficial sequel from Columbia before Universal heard about it and insisted the Count's name not be used because that was their property. Thus Lugosi was essaying the part apparently named after the pioneer of electricity Nikola Tesla, for some reason.

The real Tesla wasn't a vampire, of course - worth pointing out - but presumably the name sounded appropriately European to Hollywood, and that was what made this so interesting, having been filmed at a time when Europe was labouring under a nightmare of war. From some angles, and this surely would not have been coincidental given how many immigrants from the continent were working on the film, the bloodsucker was standing in for the evils of the Nazis which had a substantial proportion of Europe in its grip at the time this was shot. As he threatened Britain, so parallels could be seen with the attacks on the British nation which they had to withstand.

Andreas was intriguing too, as once the vampire is vanquished at the end of the First World War during the opening ten minutes, he is now free of Tesla's control and reverts back to human form, going on to work for Lady Jane. However, when the bombs start dropping Teslas's unmarked grave is disturbed, a gravedigger pulls out the stake from his heart, and so the villain is released to start plotting once more. This includes placing Andreas back under his spell, as if the werewolf represented those who had been convinced to go along with the Third Reich which had risen like a malevolent phoenix from the ashes of the previous conflict. In light of that metaphor, it was also interesting how the filmmakers believed the evil would be overcome.

Naturally, it was possible to read too much into this, but equally hard to separate the era it was created from whatever may have bled through from real life, whether intentionally or not. It remained a basic Universal imitation, with even the mixture of vampire and wolfman reminiscent of that studio's then-recent Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, and some very Lon Chaney Jr-like time lapse transformations on the hairy horror here. Tesla evidently holds a grudge so after biting the neck of Lady Jane's little girl way back when, now Nicki is grown up and played by Nina Foch he comes back to have another go, leaving her in hs thrall. Lugosi proved he still had it when portraying this kind of Eastern European supernatural threat, and if he wasn't onscreen quite as much as you might have liked, he did get star billing and made his scenes, er, count. With creeping fog and graveyards featuring prominently, it was cliché all the way as far as the visuals went, but had a nice line in high-falutin' dialogue well delivered by a solid cast. Music by Mario C. Tedesco.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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