The Return of Dracula was released in 1958, and it came at a real turning point in the horror monsters universe. The influential Horror of Dracula, from Hammer Horror, released just a month after this film, and it unequivocally encapsulated what audiences were looking for in a movie about the titular vampire. Unfortunately for The Return of Dracula, director Paul Landres was unable to fulfill that demand with his film, but his attempts to revitalize the Count are notable, if not completely compelling.
The Return of Dracula sees Dracula hitching a ride to America from the Balkans by way of a train, murdering an unsuspecting victim, and then assuming his identity in order to move in with a family expecting their cousin without knowing what he looks like. Dracula’s new nom de guerre is Bellac Gordal (Francis Lederer), and it seems his biggest concern is creating an army of the undead to aid him in creating more armies of the undead, or something like that. He goes after a sick blind woman (Virginia Vincent), and then turns his attentions to his “cousin” Rachel (Norma Eberhardt), who he seemingly wants to turn into his undead bride.
Pat Fielder’s screenplay is problematic, as one can see from the plot breakdown. The impetus for Dracula’s trip to America doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially since, for most of the film, Dracula-as-Bellac doesn’t even live at the cousin Mayberry residence. At best, he simply uses the real Bellac as a way to travel to America without suspicion, but the rest of the film’s centrality on the Mayberrys, especially Rachel, never quite works.
A bigger issue, though, is Lederer’s portrayal of Dracula himself; whereas Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee managed veiled menace, Lederer is pushed toward a more comedic version of the character, one that tends to undermine the sinister scenes that could have been scary in a different context. The Return of Dracula is more like a farce, where Dracula is mistaken as a kindhearted soul until the police find out about his ploy; cue the Benny Hill music as Dracula scrambles to trick everyone into believing he’s Bellac by answering questions about his past incorrectly.
Truly, there’s not much to be gleaned from this version of the Dracula mythos except for a moderately entertaining film that, at one point, includes a color insert shot of a stake being driven through a vampire’s heart to punctuate the moment in an otherwise black-and-white film. Besides this rather garish scene, The Return of Dracula doesn’t stand out now, nor did it encourage much discussion in its era; it’s a film that exists, but not as eternal as its peers.
Click page 2 for the Olive Films Blu-Ray review.