The Return of the Vampire
1943, Columbia Pictures, Dir. Lew Landers
79 min. / B&W / 1.37:1
BD: Scream! Factory $27.99

Highly entertaining horror romp from Columbia, who pretty much said, "the hell with trying to compete with Universal's monster movies; let's MAKE a Universal monster movie!" Bela Lugosi is Count Dracula in all but name; his demented assistant is a werewolf who wears a suit and walks upright and doesn't bite anybody but who growls a lot; he's less the Wolf Man and more the Dog Man, actually.

Lugosi's Armand Tesla was staked-through-the-heart during WWI and returns 23 years later courtesy of a badly-placed Nazi bomb. He vows revenge against Frieda Inescort, one of his stakers, and her family, which includes her son, Roland Varno, who has a Dutch accent "mom" doesn't share (and he's roughly the same age as she is) and his fiance, Nina Foch, who gets bitten. Miles Mander is the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, and William Austin, Alfred the Butler in the first Batman serial, is a detective. Matt Willis is very effective as the not-so-wolfy-but-awfully-hairy werewolf, but he talks too much. Like, WAY too much.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Chief Inspector: "My dear lady, you simply can't go around the country driving things through people's hearts."

A pretty silly film even as these things go; frankly, I'm so used now to seeing Lugosi play the red herring butler that dressed in his Dracula tux he simply looks like an old butler that doesn't speak English very well. A walking, talking werewolf who gets around just fine in daylight and who has to climb over a lot of bombed-out ruins isn't exactly lending a gothic atmosphere to the proceedings, either. But for those of us who love monster movies, well, this is one HECK of a monster movie.

So how's the Blu-ray?

Not so good. Granted, nobody expects a Criterion-level restoration of movies like this, but general print and presentation aren't much of an upgrade from the old Columbia DVD. Scream!, however, tries to make up for lacking in that area with three (count 'em!) new commentaries and an impressive still gallery, plus the trailer. The sloppiness of the film presentation is mirrored in the packaging: that's a still from Return of the Ape Man on the back cover! (I expect this means we'll see Dana Wynter and Kevin McCarthy pictured on the back of the upcoming release of The Body Snatcher.)

We like the film enough to recommend this if you haven't already gotten the DVD but don't think of this as a must-upgrade. Of course, if Scream! is going to give us more Columbias, including The Devil Commands or Before I Hang, well, I'm all for supporting them, although I hope to see better work in the future (and in fact, the very next Scream! release, The Mole People, is much better).