Friday night at the home drive-in: The Return of Dracula (1958)

Poster for The Return of Dracula (1958)The Return of Dracula (1958) by #PaulLandres

w/ #FrancisLederer #NormaEberhardt #RayStricklyn

A vampire murders a Czech artist, assumes his identity, and moves in with his cousins in California.

“There is only one reality, Rachel: Death. I have come to bring you Death.”

#Horror #Vampire #Dracula

I just can’t seem to get out of 1958. Last week I commented on the fact that I have been watching a lot of movies from 1958 (or thereabouts). After finishing that blog post, I turned to my horror library behind me and grabbed a double feature DVD that I have been having a hankering to revisit. The first movie in the set was The Return of Dracula (1958), and part of what attracted me to it was that it was a bit of a departure from the movies about giant monsters that I have been watching as of late. The Return of Dracula is about, well, Dracula; a vampire. 

What I didn’t notice is that it’s another movie that was released in 1958.

What are the odds? The late 1950s were dominated by movies about giant bugs and the like. Dracula, on the other hand, had his heyday back in the 1930s, with Dracula (1931), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), and Son of Dracula (1943) – okay, that one was a little late to the party. But Dracula was part of the first wave of big screen movie monsters. By the 1950s, he was a little, well, old. He had already become the subject of comedies like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – yes Dracula is in that movie (and is arguably a more central character than Frankenstein’s monster). 

Someone at Universal Pictures must have decided that it was time to resurrect Dracula for the younger generation – in spite of the fact that movies like The Fly (1958), The Blob (1958) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) were more typical of the times. 

Incidentally, Hammer Films in England had the same idea, and released Horror Of Dracula (1958) around the same time. It would go on to great success and admiration, spawning a whole series of Dracula films starring Christopher Lee. Aside from Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee is the actor most associated with the character.

The Return of Dracula (1958) stars Francis Lederer as the famous bloodsucker. I think it’s fair to say that just about no one thinks of Francis Lederer when they hear the name Dracula. In fact, almost no one thinks of The Return of Dracula when they think about Dracula movies. Horror Of Dracula definitely won the showdown in 1958. Or should I say suck off? No, I probably shouldn’t.

The funny thing is, The Return of Dracula is a pretty good movie – and Francis Lederer does a good job of portraying Dracula. It’s very different from other Dracula movies, in that it’s not a period piece, and it does not take place in ancient castles in Europe and/or England. it’s set in modern day (1958) suburban California. The vampire assumes the identity of one of his victims, a Czech artist named Bellac Gordal, and moves in with Bellac’s cousins. 

In some ways, The Return of Dracula feels like it anticipates one of my all time favourite movies from the 1980s, Fright Night (1985)… A vampire living in the suburbs, a teenage boy next door who is suspicious of him, etc. They are very different movies. And this one doesn’t quite reach the heights of brilliance that Fright Night does. Still, it’s interesting to see the similarities. 

The Return of Dracula (1958) is a forgotten chapter of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that deserves to be better remembered than it is. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a fun, creepy vampire film that could be a welcome addition to any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.