Return of Dracula, The (1958)
Cast: Francis Lederer, Norma Eberhardt, Ray Stricklyn, Virginia Vincent, John Wingraf, Greta Granstedt.
Director: Paul Landres
Nutshell: a long lost relative moves in with his American family but are his odd quirks just the artist in him or is there something far more sinister at play?
The Return of Dracula starts with a voiceover about the legend of Dracula being a fact as a posse of five men armed with crosses and wooden stakes and accompanied by a local priest head off into a derelict castle in Transylvania hoping to destroy the evil forever. The group of men who look more like brothers from the hood rather than anything remotely Transylvanian are miffed to discover that the Old Count has already made his escape and they are, once again, too late.
In the mid 1950’s the quaint little town of Carleton, California is under threat. An influx of foreign refugees is being allowed to settle in the vicinity which is a growing threat to the “American Way of Life”. These people arrive on American shores bringing strange religious cults and notions, weird smelling and tasting foods, unfashionable clothes, languages that sound like Mumbo Jumbo. They carry all sorts of odd customs and cultures that are at loggerheads with the “way it is in America”. Such aliens are a threat to the fabric of American life, at least that is what a Donald Trump supporter in 2017 would say about incoming refugees and on the strength of The Return of Dracula from 1958, he would certainly have a case.
Soon however matters start to get more and more sinister and disturbing as people in the community start to fall prey to a mysterious ailment that nobody can quite understand. Even a pet cat is found “killed by something”. A blind patient supposedly dies of a heart attack but later on, her coffin is found mysteriously empty. Meanwhile, Cousin Belak who is in fact the diabolical Count Dracula spins his web around his new family, slowly drawing them into his devilish masterplan. His attractive niece Rachel has several near encounters with immense danger each time to be rescued by her boyfriend Tim in the nick of time.
The Dastardly count ravages the poor artist, disposing of the body deftly and emerges in Carleton from the shadows posing as Belak so anxiously being awaited by the American half of his family. A family that is perfect for his future plans as they have recently lost the breadwinner and main male figurehead of the clan. The Count settles into his role as family man in his adopted home and begins to slowly work his charm and his deadly persuasive powers to good effect. He soon has his lovely niece idolizing him even if his strange habits and odd hours are a little disconcerting.
Finally, the devious fake Uncle has Rachel exactly where he wants her, ready to make her his queen of the undead for eternity. He drags her away to his cave to perform the final rites. Rachel tries to fight the evil off but is not strong enough and with no cellphones to fall back on and Tim nowhere to be found, it appears as though the Evil Count will triumph once again. Will Rachel be saved by some miracle or will she join Dracula as his eternal bride in a ghastly bond of the undead.
The Return of Dracula is on the whole a thoroughly enjoyable and well-acted little tale transformed into the contemporary world. The Count has dispersed with some old trappings such as the cloak and the fangs, relying instead on a mesmerizing charm and magnetism. Francis Lederer does a fine job as the sinister vampire exuding equal amounts of charm and menace. The supporting cast is solid and there are a number of scenes that are well executed and quite tense.
Maybe not the most terrifying or inventive of Dracula films it certainly manages to engross and entertain even if it lacks the lurid Technicolor gothic style of the Hammer films which introduced Christopher Lee the same year as The Return of Dracula and crushed most of the opposition including this little entity from Gramercy Pictures. Even so, the film holds up as one of the more satisfying versions from the zillion and one Dracula’s that have been churned up the world over since then. It helps that the music score has been composed by Gerald Fried, a highly underrated composer who has a brilliant body of work that is not given due acclaim. The William Castle-esque inclusion of a flash of colour in a climactic scene is also startling and effective.
The Return of Dracula is a solidly entertaining, effective and well performed little film with enough creepy moments to satisfy.