Monday, November 18, 2019
The Return of Dracula (1958)
Who's in it?: Francis Lederer (Pandora's Box), Norma Eberhardt (Problem Girls, Live Fast, Die Young), and John Wengraf (The Thin Man Goes Home, Wake of the Red Witch)
What's it about?: Dracula (Lederer) flees Transylvania in the 1950s, pursued by a vampire hunter (Wengraf), and assumes the identity of an artist in order to hide among the man's family in a small, California town.
How is it?: Shockingly great. I always have a fondness for black-and-white films from the '50s and '60s, so I expected to enjoy it visually, but I'm surprised at how well-acted and actually scary The Return of Dracula can be.
The Dracula-in-Smalltown-USA concept could have been cheesy, but everyone plays it straight and gives honest performances. Lederer is a darkly handsome and sinister Dracula; the kind of person you want to like even while fearing that you're disappointing them with everything you do. And that's exactly the situation that his "family" finds themselves in. Greta Granstedt is the widowed head of the family, raising her teenage daughter Rachel (Eberhardt) and young son Mickey (Jimmy Baird) on her own. They all want to welcome their cousin Bellac into their home and he seems pleasant enough, but he also keeps strange hours and is reluctant to communicate or get close to them.
The story follows the Dracula formula by having a friend of Rachel's become Dracula's first victim before he begins focusing on Rachel herself. It's about that time that Dracula's pursuers catch up to him from Europe, replicating the Van Helsing role. Wengraf is competent as the main hunter, but Eberhardt excels as the terrified daughter. I felt her fear. Baird is also very good as the little brother, nailing his own emotional scenes. There's also a neighbor boy (Ray Stricklyn) who's more or less dating Rachel and their relationship feels authentic. They argue just enough to be realistic without ever making me question why they like each other.
The film gets bonus points for setting the story at Halloween, including a procedural detective story as Dracula's pursuers try to locate him, and inserting a startling, sudden splash of color when Wengraf drives a stake into the heart of Dracula's first victim.
Rating: Four out of five Minas