31 Nights of Dractober: The Return of Dracula (1958)

The Return of Dracula (1958)


Director: Paul Landres

Dracula: Francis Lederer

The other 1958 Dracula movie begins with a team of Romanian (or Hungarian) vampire hunters closing in on Dracula’s tomb — only to discover he has escaped! Taking the identity papers (and life) of artist Bellac (or Belak, if his name is supposed to be Slovenian instead of French) Gordal, Dracula (Francis Lederer) travels from Communist Hungary (or Romania) to Carleton, California to live with Gordal’s relatives. Screenwriter Pat Fielder, in addition to riffing on Stoker and Val Lewton, borrows the plot of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt — a murderous stranger presumes on family identity to continue his predation in a small California town. She even uses the “covert photograph” bit from that film, which brings the chief Romanian (or Hungarian) vampire hunter Meiermann (John Wengraf) back on stage to use his “European Police Authority” credentials to recruit a willing American sheriff, pastor, and doctor into an ad hoc slayer squad at the white-bread mortuary.

But the real action, of course, is in the abandoned mine outside town, where Dracula has lured his “cousin” Rachel (winsome Norma Eberhardt) to “survive this dying world” — a rare note of atomic-age paranoia in a film that neatly re-vamps anti-Communist paranoia. There is indeed a wicked foreigner among us, but he fled Communism for “freedom to live” in soft, welcoming America. All the acting is at least good 1950s TV level, and the score is by Star Trek composer Gerald Fried. Lederer’s Czech accent (and disgust at playing a vampire of all things) infuse his foreign, disdainful Dracula, who just barely holds on to Old World civility while yearning to kill these simpering dolts around him. His slouch hat and overcoat update the opera cloak effectively, too. The special effects wisely don’t reach beyond their grasp: good mist and optical matte shots (and better camera work in long shots) and a bat we only hear convey menace about as well as the budget allows. Lots more to say on this underrated, almost forgotten effort in Thrill of Dracula — for now, I advise checking it out on YouTube.

The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Freed from Communist surveillance (and having stolen your comments and responses before hurling you from a train), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the artistically designed hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!

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