Banned Japan: From Tsuburaya Productions With Love

Given the very nature of the sort of cinema I gravitate towards its an unavoidable fact that every now and again I stumble onto something that’s banned somewhere, but this may be the first time I’ve ever crossed paths with a banned episode of a television series. The now-infamous episode 12 of Tusburaya Productions’ excellent Ultra-sequel Ultra Seven ran afoul of the same cultural sensitivities that would land Toho’s Prophecies of Nostradamus: Catastrophe 1999 in the hot seat just a few years hence, the result being that it has not been seen (officially) in its native Japan in decades. Those of us elsewhere have proven luckier. While Tsuburaya Productions have pulled the episode domestically and now (according to the interwebs) refuse to so much as acknowledge its existence, Yusei yori Ai o Komete (From Another Planet With Love) was marketed in foreign territories none-the-less. Those fond of Cinar’s mid-80s English adaptation of the series may remember it as the modestly spelling-challenged Crystalized (sic) Corpuscles.

The fuss in this case is all to do with Cristalized Corpuscles‘ requisite villains, a race of chortling backroom baddies from the nuke-ravaged planet Spellia who are out to fill their irradiated veins with delicious Earth blood (“This planet gives good blood!”). For a television show produced in a nation in which A-bomb survivor lobbyists are still counterbalanced against lingering stigma and discrimination the concept of bomb-happy galaxy-trotting vampires gleefully bleeding Earth-men dry is already treading on very thin ice. While likely more than enough on its own to incite an uproar among victims’ rights groups, Crystalized Corpuscles takes the issue one step further in its physical depiction of the Spell Aliens in their native form:

In retrospect it’s easy to see why the appearance of the Spell Alien – a gargantuan pallid figure with a sinister, expressionless face, covered in glowing keloid scars (lingered upon in close-up, no less) and raving about his desire for the blood of children – proved offensive. Even with my Western sensibilities firmly intact I find the presentation a bit tasteless, though it’s done nothing to lessen my innate personal revulsion to censorship, self-inflicted or otherwise. To that end I’m not entirely positive that the word “banned” is even appropriate to this case. Tsuburaya Productions have certainly pulled the episode from domestic circulation, but that appears to have been of their own volition – an effort made, no doubt, to avoid or mitigate a possible scandal. Crystalized Corpuscles was still made available to foreign markets, and well after the domestic moratorium went into effect. And moratorium be damned, even the original Japanese version is but a few clicks away anymore.

With words like “infamous” and “banned” weighing so heavily upon it, it’s easy to neglect the episode itself, which is second to none as an example of the heady ambition and audacious absurdity that mark the best of classic tokusatsu television. The premise is as ludicrous as they come, concerning a nefarious alien scheme to harvest the blood of women and children with wrist watches, but director Akio Jissoji (Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis) delivers not just a rollicking pulp actioner, but an oddball satire of romantic cinematic convention as well! Even the compulsory episode-ending Ultra-fight is handled with unexpected artistry, the battle cast in rich sunset color and depicted in a bizarre freeze-frame style complete with audible shutter clicks. It’s as surprising a 24 minutes as has ever been produced for Japanese genre television, and with an intriguing cultural significance as well. One only wishes it were more officially available…

 

Fright Night

Year: 1985  Company: Columbia Pictures   Runtime: 106′
Director: Tom Holland   Writer: Tom Holland
Music: Brad Fieder   Cinematography: John Kiesser
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans, Stewart Stern, Nick Savage, Ernie Holmes, Heidi Sorenson, Irina Irvine
Disc company: Twilight Time   Video: 1080p 2.41:1   Audio: DTS HD-MA 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH   Disc: BD25 (All Region)   Release Date: 12/13/2011
Fright Night is now officially SOLD OUT
Reviewed from a screener provided by Twilight TIme

“What would you do if you accidentally discovered the house next door was occupied by something not human… something horrifying… something unspeakably evil? No one believes you – not your mom, not your girlfriend, not even the police. It knows that you know. You’ll do anything to protect yourself, but it’ll do anything to protect it’s secret…”

It’s not often that one can rely on a theatrical trailer to give an honest description of the film it represents, but in the case of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror opus Fright Night the advertising makes such excellent work of it that I feel no remorse in letting it do that part of my job for me. With inspirations ranging from Hammer to Hitchcock, a smart script, and a superb cast of players, Fright Night ranks as one of the very best of the ’80s genre revivals and a damn fine film in its own right. In theme it recalls the distinct brand of sci-fi terrors Universal’s B-picture department specialized in some thirty years before (epitomized by 1955′s Tarantula!), in which all manner of fantastic horrors were visited upon small-town America, though in practice it’s a different beast all together. Standing in for the Cold War paranoia of then is a sexual anxiety fitting of Fright Night‘s teen leads, while the usual atom-born menace is lost in favor of one of the oldest fantasy threats of all – the vampire.

Taking place in an anonymous slice of Reagan-era suburbia, Fright Night follows the exploits of veritable every-teen Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), a high school kid with a beer light in his room, porno mags shoved between his encyclopedias, a doting single mother, and a girlfriend named Amy (Amanda Bearse) who loves him to bits even if she’s horrified to go “all the way“. Charley idolizes his local horror icon Peter Vincent, washed-up host of the late-night schlock marathons from which the film takes its name, stumbles through his trigonometry homework, and oh yeah – he has a vampire living next door who knows Charley knows about him and wants to kill him for his troubles. With no one believing his story, not even Vincent, Charley rightfully fears for his life, but things get even more personal when the suave bloodsucker next door takes a shine to his virginal girlfriend…

It is with that last point that Fright Night, a terrific horror film on its surface merits alone, reveals what’s really on its mind – sex. Some (including Julie Kirgo, who contributes the excellent liner notes for this release) have read homosexual undertones into the vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon as the ultimate in sensual and be-sweatered yuppie menace) and his relationships with troubled young outsider “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys, who made a career of gay porn in the ’90s) and his live-in familiar Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), but the most overt of the film’s sexual substance is of the straight variety. Indeed, Holland pushes the subject from the very start, opening with a bit of intercourse that is not to be between Charley and his beloved. The vampire attack witnessed by Charley that starts all the trouble is an overtly sexualized affair and a later encounter between Dandridge and Amy (the spitting image of Jerry’s long-dead lover) is even more so, with Amy cooing in orgasmic bliss as blood trickles down her back. In this context the growing conflict between Charley and the dastardly Dandridge becomes less about survival than about who will collect the sexy spoils, and control the fate of Amy’s freshly-awakened sexuality.

Fright Night may have sex on the brain, but it’s still out for thrills and chills, first and foremost. Holland and company don’t disappoint. Though bolstered by terrific practical effects and creature design from Randall William Cook and Richard Edlund (Oscar-winning alumni of such productions as Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark), Fright Night‘s most effective moments remain its simplest, like Charley investigating suspicious noises in the night, Dandridge suddenly appearing in the corner of a darkened bedroom, or “Evil” Ed running into the stalking menace in a misty alleyway. Holland shows a keen understanding for the genre throughout, both in his taught direction (this, his debut as director, remains his best work in that regard) and in the intelligence of his screenwriting, and never neglects the horror of the situation. Much more importantly, he never neglects the characters who make that horror tick.

To that end it’s impossible not to discuss Fright Night without also discussing its cast, perhaps the best in practice of any of the decade’s revival horrors. Roddy McDowall gives the performance of his later career (one he would reprise in Fright Night Part 2 three years later) as down on his luck horror icon Peter Vincent, whose career as cinema’s preeminent vampire killer has collapsed into a low-pay hosting gig on a late night television film show. Initially paid to help cure Charley of his vampire delusions, Vincent soon finds himself the unlikely ally of the child, and forced to summon the courage of a role he’d played so many times before to combat an evil all too real. McDowall balances Vincent’s tremendous charm and ego (his reaction to discovering Charley and his friends don’t want his autograph is priceless) with underlying insecurity and, ultimately, courage, and practically owns the picture in the process.

At the more malignant end of the spectrum lies Chris Sarandon as the devilish Jerry Dandridge, who, along with Kinski, Schreck, Lugosi, and Lee, exists as one of film’s most memorable vampires. Dandridge – who eschews the traditional cape for snazzy cable knit sweaters and has a taste for fresh fruit (fruit bat?) just as strong as his taste for the supple necks of prostitutes – is every bit a product of the decade in which the film was made, an upper crust yuppie bloodsucker with a penchant for remodeling homes and antiquing. He keeps up with the pop music scene, looks perfectly adept in the neon haze of a discotheque, and keeps a dark, wry sense of humor about himself that makes him seem all the more dangerous (“What’s the matter Charley? Afraid I’d never come over without being invited first?”). But Dandridge is more than just yuppie trappings and a handsome smirk, whistling “Strangers in the Night” as he stalks his prey. Sarandon’s ace performance lends the character an attractive outsider mystique and a feral magnetism that’s difficult to ignore. He’s a perfect villain, made all the more effective by just how tempting he makes the evil he represents appear.

Like Dandridge, Fright Night itself is very much a product of its time, though it’s no less successful a picture today for the polka dotted linoleum on its floors or the Ian Hunter on its soundtrack. It remains the best film of writer and director Tom Holland’s career (is that really The Langoliers I see in your filmography? Oy.), and easily makes my short list for most satisfying genre efforts of the ’80s. Among its often lamentable brethren Fright Night manages to be something different, something special, and for those keen on horror it’s an absolute must-see.

Fright Night proved a surprise success upon its release, becoming the second highest grossing horror film of 1985 (behind A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge), but times have clearly changed. Though still a popular cult item Fright Night has become just another among many victims of waning big-studio confidence in deeper library titles, however successful they may have been initially, and the lackluster returns of the recent remake (also to be released on Blu-ray today) have sealed its fate as far as owners Columbia / Sony are concerned. With no interest on the part of the owners to release the film to Blu-ray themselves, niche label Twilight Time have stepped in to take up their slack. While many may find the arrangement less than ideal, with Fright Night released as a limited edition of 3000 at a price point higher than might be expected of a wider issue, you’ll hear no complaints from me. If this is the future of library titles on Blu-ray then I’m in full support of it, and those wishing to see more marginal big-studio properties available on the format would do well to do the same.

But what of the disc, eh? Fright Night arrives on Blu-ray with an honest 1080p transfer in the original Panavision ratio that serves the intended aesthetics of its modest production quite dutifully. From the neon-drenched interiors of the discotheque and a beer-light illuminated teenage bedroom to the starker, more natural exteriors, the latest Sony-produced master of the title looks very good throughout. Damage is minimal, limited to some baked-in white marks and a bit of minor dust and debris, and while the level of detail can vary greatly from scene to scene the end results never appear unfaithful to the original photography. There’s a lovely layer of natural grain in evidence throughout, and though the modest encode (single layer AVC at an average video bitrate of 21.5 Mbps) results in some (very) minor artifacts there’s nothing here that’s so dramatic as to distract from viewing. This is another strong showing from Twilight Time, and fans of Fright Night should be very pleased.

Blu-ray screenshots were taken as uncompressed .png at full resolution in Totem Movie Player, and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 95% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Originally a Dolby Stereo show, Fright Night‘s visuals are served well by a new lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Those expecting directional effects to be bouncing about like ping-pong balls will be out of luck – what you get is occasional LFE umph and some minor separation, but a track that remains faithful to the overall aesthetics of the original recording. The moody synth score, dialogue and effects all sounded excellent to these ears, and appropriately vintage for a film now in its 26th year. I dig it. The most robust addition to the contractually-limited supplemental package (which otherwise includes only a pair of theatrical trailers, both in HD with lossless audio) is the isolated Brad Fieder score in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo which, though lacking the notable pop songs included in the film (I assume they were omitted due to the lofty expense of licensing them), sounds quite robust. Twilight Time leave very little to complain about here, and even include a set of optional English SDH subtitles in the mix.

In the short period Twilight Time have been active in the Blu-ray market expectations have already grown quite high for them, and Fright Night does not disappoint. Another excellent set of liner notes (remember when these were included with practically everything?) from Julie Kirgo round out the package, and even include the URL for a pair of Fright Night ‘pirate’ audio commentaries (available from Icons of Fright) featuring much of the cast and crew. Awesome stuff! Whatever your thoughts on these limited edition niche releases, the bottom line is that you won’t find Fright Night looking or sounding better than it does here, and isn’t that what really matters? Fans and genre junkies are heartily encouraged to indulge.

in conclusion
Film: Excellent  Video: Excellent –  Audio: Excellent
Supplements: Isolated Brad Fieder score track. two theatrical trailers in HD, liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case with booklet.
Fright Night is now officially SOLD OUT

The Horrible Sexy Vampire

a.k.a. El Vampiro de la Autopista / Le Mania di Mr. Winninger Omicida Sessuale
Year: 1970   Company: Cinefilms / Fida Cinematografica   Runtime: 90′
Director: Jose Luis Madrid   Writer: Jose Luis Madrid   Cinematography: Francisco J. Madurga
Music: Angel Arteaga   Cast: Val Davis (as Waldemar Wohlfahrt),  Barta Barri, Anastasio Campoy,
Susan Carvasal, Victor Davis, Kurt Esteban, Luis Induni, Patricia Loran, Jose Marco, Luis Marugan
Available in the Undead: The Vampire Collection bargain-bin DVD set from Mill Creek Entertainment.

As a prime example of the boring and under-achieving co-produced European horror cinema of four decades past, 1970′s The Horrible Sexy Vampire is, well, boring and under-achieving.  Funded with pocket change forked forth by Spain’s Cinefilms and Italy’s Fida Cinematografica and filmed in Germany, Vampire is a pulse-free skin flick that tries to excuse itself with a tiresome Gothic horror framework.  The only noteworthy aspect of the production is its own inherent awfulness, for which the title gets things at least partly right – it’s certainly horrible.

The story, credited to director Jose Luis Madrid (7 Murders for Scotland Yard), is as generic as they come.  Bleached Count Oblensky (Val Davis, The Lustful Amazons) inherits a spooky German mansion around which a series of strange murders have been taking place, and begins to suspect that his ancestor Baron Winninger, long thought dead, may be responsible.  A crusty old inspector investigates the murders, badly, while Oblensky tries to save his similarly bleached lover from becoming a footnote in a case file.

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Robo Vampire

Year: 1988   Company: Filmark International Ltd.   Runtime: 90′
Director: Joe Livingstone  Writers: William Palmer   Cinematography: Anthony Mang
Music: Alan Wilson   Cast: Robin Mackay, Nian Watts, Harry Miles, Joe Browne, Nick Norman,
George Tripos, David Borg, Diana Byrne, Alan Drury, Ernst Mausser, Sorapong Chatree
Available on OOP DVD from BCI / Eclipse. Product link: Amazon.com

Confession time.  I’ve been slacking off on my Wtf-Film duties as of late, content with letting the movies come to me by way of screeners or the odd pre-order.  That’s not to say that I haven’t covered some good stuff, with Phenomena and The Beyond arriving from Arrow Video or Shout! Factory’s latest MST3K box, but all of those properties fell right into my lap (or mailbox, rather).  The simple sad fact of the matter is that I’ve been lazy, satisfied to bask in the relative comfort of review discs while this site’s purpose fades into the ether.

Well no more, I say!  I long for that elusive high, the blissful intoxication of chancing upon a film of mind-altering strangeness.  It’s high time that the hunt was on again, and I’ll be damned if today’s find didn’t get the dopamine a-flowing.

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The Playgirls and the Vampire

a.k.a.: L’ultima preda del vampiro
Year:
1960    Runtime: 83′   Director: Piero Regnoli
Writer: Piero Regnoli, Aldo Greci    Cinematography: Aldo Greci    Music: Aldo Piga
Cast: Walter Brandi, Lyla Rocco, Maria Giovannini, Alfredo Rizzo, Marisa Quattrini, Leonardo Botta

The bus carrying a group of five showgirls, their manager (Alfredo Rizzo) and their driver comes to a stop on a blocked road during a storm while traversing a nameless Central European country. The next town is far away, and the last town holds an angry hotel owner, so our heroes are only too happy when they stumble upon a castle. Having never seen a single horror film in their lives, everyone thinks it a grand idea to ask for shelter there.

At first, the place’s owner, Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi) is quite displeased by the group’s appearance, but as soon as he lays eyes on Vera (Lyla Rocco), one of the girls, his demeanour suddenly changes and he is willing to let them stay the night. But the Count has a few rules for his guests. Chiefly, he doesn’t want to see them leave their rooms at night under any circumstances, and urges them to lock their doors from the inside. Nobody seems to think this the least bit suspicious, and so not everyone does what the Count asks.

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Nightmare City – Trailer

Released in the United States as City of the Walking Dead in 1983, Umberto Lenzi’s (Cannibal Ferox) 1980 non-zombie action shocker is shameless pulp madness from start to finish and must be seen to be believed.  Scientists investigating an accident at a nuclear power plant return to an anonymous metropolis as murderous, misshapen vampiric supermen who go after the local population with axes, chains, and even the occasional automatic weapon.  Reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz, Cyclone) must fight for the survival of both himself and his wife (Laura Trotter, The Last House on the Beach) amidst all the schlock.

Though filled to the brim with tasteless nudity and bottom-dollar gore (including breast amputations, eye-ripping, throat slashing and a variety of exploding head shots) the real draw of Nightmare City is the absurdity of it all, from the first sight of the army of mud-faced vampire madmen to the predictable circular ending and everywhere in between.

Note: This trailer contains violence and some nudity, not to mention a lot of awfully written dubbed dialogue.  You have been warned.

La Dinastia Dracula

Year: 1980    Runtime: 91′   Director: Alfredo B. Crevenna
Writer: Jorge Patino    Cinematography: Javier Cruz   Cast: Fabian Aranza, Silvia Manriquez, Ruben Rojo, Magda Guzman

In Ye Olden Times of cheap school play conquistador costumes, the inquisition gets rid of the rather nasty noble vampire Duke Orloff who likes to transform into a dog and disregards the cultural and churchly rules about keeping one’s shirt buttoned in public. But woe! The men of the church completely ignore the vampire’s female partner and witch lover, despite her wearing a shirt with a flame imprint that can only come from the future.

Three hundred years later, in Ye Not Quite As Olden Times of school play late 19th century costumes, witch woman goes under the name of Madame Kostoff. She seems to have been absent from Mexico for the last few hundred years, but now returns to her former home with a coffin in her luggage and a revivification plan in her mind. She’ll just need to buy the mansion that stands close to the place where her vampire lover was buried, and everything will be set. It’s just a wee bit unfortunate that the Solórzano family living in the mansion now doesn’t want to sell.

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Let Me In

Year: 2010   Company: Hammer Film Productions, EFTI, Overture Films   Runtime: 155′
Director: Matt Reeves   Writer: Matt Reeves   Cinematography: Greig Fraser
music: Michael Giacchino   Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas
Currently out in wide release

Young Owen hates Los Alamos, where he lives with his disaffected and divorced alcoholic evangelical Christian mother and is constantly abused by his school’s resident bullies. One night he meets Abby, a girl his age only recently relocated to his apartment complex and with whom he quickly becomes friends. Living with her is an old man Owen assumes is Abby’s father, a man with a tendency to slink off into the night with an over-sized Duffle bag in hand.

Soon bodies start turning up, with all of the victims killed in brutal ritualistic fashion. The detective in charge of investigating the crimes assumes that the culprit is a member of some backwards religious sect, but Owen soon pieces together the truth. It is the old man and his ‘daughter’ who are really responsible, killing the good citizens of Los Alamos to sate the bloodthirst of Abby, an ageless vampire in the body of a child. Of course, Owen never liked Los Alamos anyway, so what are a few gruesome murders between friends?

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Daybreakers

rating:
company: Lionsgate
and FFC Australia
year: 2010
runtime: 97′
directors: Michael Spierig
and Peter Spierig
cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe,
Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman,
Vince Colosimo, Sam Neill,
Isabel Lucas, Paul Sankkila
writers: Michael Spierig
and Peter Spierig
cinematography: Ben Nott
music: Christopher Gordon
order this film from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray | DVD

Playing a like a belated companion piece to the troubled 2007 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Daybreakers brings audiences face to face with the dystopian world of 2019, in which a recent plague of vampirism has turned society topsy-turvy with the monsters in the majority and humanity on the verge of extinction.  Dastardly Mr. Bromley (Sam Neill) heads a blood-farming corporation that’s running dangerously low on supplies, driving the price of blood sky-high and leaving a good many law-abiding vampires hungry and disenfranchised, their hunger transforming them into toothy winged miscreants who run amok in the darkness feeding on one another.

His civilization on the brink of collapse, Bromley hires a consortium of brilliant vampire minds to devise a viable blood substitute and save the day.  Among the scientists is one Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire not so keen on the facts of his newfound biology as most of his fellow citizens.  Though working on a blood substitute as he is paid to do, Edward is more interested in finding a cure to the vampire condition all together – a cure to which human ‘Elvis’ Cormac (Willem Dafoe) and his few living friends may hold the key . . .
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The Return of the Vampire

company: Columbia Pictures
year: 1944
runtime: 70′
country:
United States
director:
Lew Landers
cast: Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort,
Matt Willis, Nina Foch,
Roland Varno, Miles Mander
writers: Griffin Jay, Randall Faye
and Kurt Neumann
cinematographers:
L.W. O’Connell, John Stumar
music: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
order this film from Amazon.com



Armand Tesla, (Bela Lugosi) vampire has a grand old time sucking the blood of the British and ordering his mind-controlled, talking werewolf slave Andreas (Matt Willis) around, until the fearless vampire hunting duo of scientist(!) Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) and her mentor, Professor Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery) put a stake through his heart.

About twenty years later, during World War II, Saunders dies, leaving behind a manuscript describing his and Lady Jane’s legally dubious adventures in staking a man in his sleep. It could really get the good Lady in trouble with her copper friend Sir Frederick Fleet (Miles Mander), who quickly arranges the exhumation of Tesla’s body after reading the manuscript and having a little talk with the scientist. Before that wonderful event can take place, the combined unhappy circumstances of an especially unluckily falling bomb and a gravedigger who likes to pull stakes out of corpses revive Tesla.

Not surprisingly, the vampire has revenge on his mind. Quickly he has brought Andreas – who is now working as Lady Jane’s servant – under his control again and uses the hypnotized wolfman to acquire a new identity from an unlucky scientist Andreas was supposed to help smuggle into the country. Tesla uses his new name to get close to Saunders’ granddaughter Nicki (Nina Foch) and Lady Jane. It doesn’t take the good lady too long to figure out that the so-called Dr. Bruckner isn’t exactly what he seems, but it will take all her determination to save Nicki and the young woman’s fiancée John (Roland Varno), who just happens to be her own nephew, from Tesla’s revenge.

After wading through half of the terrible movies which make up the Universal Cult Horror Collection I had nearly given up hope for so-called classic horror beyond the obvious films. Fortunately, The Return of the Vampire has come along to restore my faith. It’s just too bad that it’s a Columbia production and not part of Universal’s crappy horror set, so there’s still nothing in that one worth the money I paid for it.


Be that as it may, this film is of a whole different calibre than my last expeditions into 30s and 40s filmmaking. While it’s obviously done on the cheap, Return’s director Lew Landers (not usually praised for being all that competent) uses much of what could have been learned from the first and second generation of Universal’s horror films. There’s the shadow play that harkens back to expressionist silent movies, the gothic sets, the (after my last experiences surprising) gliding camera work, the fog – in short all the visual elements one can hope for in a film of this vintage, brought together with not inspired but expert hand.

Return is also quite pioneering in its use of a very contemporary wartime London as backdrop for its gothic trappings in a time when many horror movies – and especially vampire movies – still tended to take place in the past, as far away from the daily experience of their audience as possible.

We don’t see that much of the Blitz or of ruined London, but Landers puts in enough of it that the viewer can hardly ignore the subtext of a modern horror taking its part in reawakening an older horror.

What the contemporary audience of 1944 made of this aspect of the film is anybody’s guess.

The script doesn’t always fare as well as Landers’ direction. Some of the film’s ideas, especially Andreas the talking wolfman are a bit too silly for their own good and would fit much better into a monster mash than into this comparatively serious film. I also found it hard to swallow that Lady Jane doesn’t recognize Tesla at once. You’d think she has staked so many people in her career that she just forgot this particular one.

Fortunately, the script also has its good sides, first and foremost casting Lady Jane as a competent and determined chief vampire hunter, as far as I know the first time we witness a middle-aged woman put into that place. Even in this post-Buffy age this kind of female lead is not exactly a matter of course, so it is all the more surprising how normal this much older film treats her and her position. Of course and alas, the film doesn’t keep its surprising brand of feminism up all the time, and Lady Jane and her policeman assistant are relegated to waiting in the sidelines when it comes to actively dispatching the vampire.


The finale is not worth all that much. There’s too much hand of fate and too little planned action in it. Worse, the actual mechanics of Tesla’s demise are based on a character arc of Andreas the film doesn’t build up believably enough.

The ending could probably have been saved if only Matt Willis’ acting as Andreas would have been a bit more subtle and/or his wolfman make-up less cuddly and cute. The latter is very much a problem not just of this particular movie, but of the whole cycle of early wolfman films. As it stands, Willis is also the most whiny wolfman around. In his way, he fits perfectly to Nina Foch, who does look very nice indeed but really should have piped down the melodramatics.

Both Willis and Foch are further hampered by having to play most of their scenes alongside the two dominant actors in the film in form of Lugosi and Inescort.

Dear Bela must have had a very good week while filming this. Lugosi’s remarkable screen presence is always a given, even in the late phase of his career, but the subtlety he was capable of was often drowned out by his love for grand gestures (and really, the shabbiness of most of the productions he worked in). Somehow, the great man managed to find a very fine middle path between grand theatricality and subtlety for this film, and his performance is all the better for it.

Frieda Inescort is Lugosi’s perfect adversary here. Where Lugosi is all menace and slimy charm, her Lady Jane radiates the perfect mixture of calmness and steely determination while never overplaying it to become an insufferable blowhard, like so many elder vampire hunters (before Peter Cushing) often became.

For more bizarre movie goodness, be sure
to visit Denis’ excellent review blog The Horror!?