Let’s face it: Not everyone is particularly scared of Dracula. In fact, he is sometimes easy to joke about, due to particular stereotypical characterizations. However, some movies make the world’s leading household-name vampire scary. Granted, when I recently watched Paul Landres’ The Return of Dracula for the first time, I wasn’t exactly petrified. Still, it was creepier than I expected, and that’s largely due to Francis Lederer’s performance as the blood-drinker. While Leonard Maltin found the script “mediocre,” I personally had no huge problem with Pat Fielder’s script, even though it’s a weird concept.
What Happens in The Return of Dracula?
In the movie, Dracula’s fleeing persecution (or whatever) in Europe and kills an artist named Bellac (Norbert Schiller) aboard a train. He then assumes his identity and moves in with his family in California. Yes, it’s a bit out there and not inherently scary. Still, it’s one of those things you may want to give a chance anyway because I think it’s conveyed reasonably well. In fact, the idea of vampires moving into town is nothing very new. It was in fact touched upon in Bram Stoker’s novel.
That is, after all, how the Count first meets Jonathan Harker to arrange for a move to London. In this case, though, Drac heads to a small California town (and how refreshing, given that most films involving California seem to be about Hollywood!). In many ways, The Return of Dracula is a back-to-basics, meat-and-potatoes story. What if Dracula showed up in your small town? It’s something that’s been revisited in other films, too, such as Salem’s Lot and The Monster Squad.
There are also similarities between this Dracula and Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. Both involve a mysterious, somewhat exotic stranger moving in who may not be benevolent. The Return of Dracula also stars Norma Eberhardt, Ray Stricklyn and John Wengraf.
This is all subjective, but I personally think Lederer provides one of the best depictions of Dracula. He has just the right balance of ordinary and supernatural potential. He makes Dracula seem like an earthly murderer blended with vampire lore. His performance here easily rivals those of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, along with so many others. It wasn’t the last time he’d play Dracula, either. He reprised the role in a Night Gallery episode titled The Devil Is Not Mocked, suggesting that his original performance resonated with some.
Lederer didn’t shy away from other horror roles, appearing in a notable Filipino/American horror film, Terror Is a Man, where a mad scientist tries to create a half-man/half-panther hybrid monster. It that concept doesn’t delight you, you might not be a sci-fi horror fan.
What are your thoughts on The Return of Dracula? Let us know in the comments!