Like Scream Blacula Scream, I have written about The Return of the Vampire before. But like the former title, I was praising the vampire (Armand Tesla) rather than any specific scene.
Released by Columbia, a studio not particularly known for horror, ROTV was intended to be a sequel to Dracula, but due to copyright disputes (this is awfully familiar, isn’t it?), the names were changed and the plot given a quick face-lift. What results is a much better movie than Universal’s original (even though Lugosi was rather obviously ill throughout the filming), with an ending that packs a real punch, even with some tacked on comedy relief.
Throughout the movie, Andreas the werewolf had been the slave of the vampire, though with a brief reprieve when Dr. Lady Jane Ainsley assisted in staking Tesla, about ten minutes in. The Blitz returns the vampire to “life” such as it is when the stake is removed from his heart by two well-meaning chaps who put the churchyard back together after it is bombed. In a horrifying turn of events, Tesla murders and impersonates a Holocaust survivor from the Continent to gain entrance into society, and to get revenge on Ainsley for staking him.
For a while, it looks as if he might be successful because Ainsley is the only one to still believe in vampires. Tesla and Andreas kidnap her daughter-in-law, Nicki, and take her to Tesla’s new hiding place. But in the process, the werewolf is seriously wounded– to the point that he knows he will die when he turns back into a human. He begs the vampire for help, but Tesla, annoyed that he is being delayed in biting Nicki, kicks him and tells Andreas that death is of no concern to him. The werewolf thinks on his time with Ainsley and attacks Tesla.
But then there’s another air-raid, and the building they fought in is bombed (a nice bookend for Tesla– brought back by the bombs, destroyed by the bombs). The vampire is trapped under a cross-shaped beam and the werewolf knocked out. By the time he wakes up the sun has risen, and he’s human again. With his last strength, he drags Tesla up into the sunlight where the vampire disintegrates (somewhat graphically) in the sun.
But this time, he’s gone for good, and the werewolf had the chance to redeem himself and die a hero’s death. In a way, this foreshadows the Renfield (Jack Shepherd, who is downright tragic) in the 1977 BBC Count Dracula (my personal favorite adaptation). Though The Return of the Vampire is not particularly well-known or received, but it seems to be rather influential and forward-looking. And no one else has really done anything that explicitly modern, even though the World War II setting is/was controversial.
Continuing, this was the first time a vampire dissolved onscreen. It beat House of Frankenstein by a few months. The special effects are so good that I’m glad the movie wasn’t in color. As usual, there’s no video, but my DVD was only about $2 before shipping. If you’re interested.