Director: Paul Landres

Sometimes I can believe that studios like MGM are actually reading online fan requests after all, for here are two of my personal favorite horror movies from the 1950s, paired perfectly together like I'd always hoped they would be. This bloodsucking Midnite Movies double feature makes for the perfect Saturday Night Chiller Theater experience! Director Paul Landres shot both of these vampire-oriented features for Gramercy Films back in the late 1950s, and they come highly recommended for nostalgia buffs. The films are both contained here on one double-sided, single layer disc.

THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958) presents European Francis Lederer as a "contemporary" version of the legendary Count, who outwits a posse of dutiful vampire hunters in his homeland by boarding a train headed for America. Once on the move, Dracula kills a Balkan foreign artist named Bellac Gordal who is occupying the same compartment, and assumes his identity. Arriving in a small Mayberry-esque community in California, "Cousin Bellac" is met by an estranged American family who haven't seen him since he was a boy. He is especially fond of the young and fetching Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) who in turn seems very captivated by her long-lost relative and takes a keen interest in him and his art renderings. Dracula is pursued by a Van Helsing-like replacement (John Wengraf) who is hot on his trail and knows how to deal with the unnatural series of events which are piling up following Bellac's dubious arrival.

Lederer is very impressive as the seemingly affable cousin who in reality is an evil and manipulative monster. With curly hair, piercing eyes, and a large black overcoat draped over his shoulders to cleverly suggest a cape, his calculated vampire stalks the night with evil authority. Director Landres lifts the humble black and white B production up several notches with his misty atmosphere and trick photography shots... for example, there is a chilling sequence where Dracula emerges from his foggy coffin in a bizarre and unearthly fashion through use of a double cranked camera. There is also a momentary color insert shot of red blood gushing from the chest of an impaled vampiress as she receives a wooden stake pounded through the heart.

THE RETURN OF DRACULA (sometimes known as CURSE OF DRACULA to you older folks) makes for an effortless 77 minutes of terror, and it is presented anamorphic here in a matted 1.85:1 format, which duplicates the original theatrical presentation. The print is very nice, and there are no visual distractions. The audio is presented in English stereo and mono, and subtitles are available in English, French, or Spanish. To be fair, while viewing the film I felt that perhaps there was too much hiss on occasional "sss" sounds, but that may be just me. There are no extras this time around (pity too, since THE RETURN OF DRACULA has a nice trailer with extra narration spoken by Francis "Dracula" Lederer). But for those who are wondering, the aforementioned color insert shot is intact.

THE VAMPIRE (1957) was actually known on television as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (not to be confused with the Bela Lugosi film of the same name) and it's the story of small-town physician Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal) who obtained some experimental pills from one of his colleagues who died while trying to perfect them. The goal was to try and revert the human mind back to its primitive urges (for whatever purpose) and the serum utilized just happened to have been taken from vampire bats (bingo!). Once Beecher accidentally ingests one of the tablets he finds himself hopelessly addicted, but also unknowingly transforms into a crusty-faced predator who runs about the neighborhood sinking his teeth into not only his own patients, but anyone else in his path. His dedicated nurse (Coleen Gray, whom you may also watch in Universal's THE LEECH WOMAN) is the woman who stands by him and tries to keep him at bay. As routine and juvenile as this synopsis may sound, John Beal actually turns in a strong and highly sympathetic performance as the tormented doctor and elevates the picture.

Like its co-feature, THE VAMPIRE is presented anamorphic in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture quality is excellent, and perhaps even nicer than THE RETURN OF DRACULA. Like with THE RETURN OF DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE has been given a new High Definition transfer in preparation for this DVD release. As with the Dracula film, this also contains no extra features, but there are English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The English audio is very good, and it is featured in both stereo and mono.

MGM has done it again with this welcome release of favorite vintage Creature Features at an affordable price, and it's only one in a recent line of several other highly anticipated shockers. One hopes it won't be very long before the next batch arrives (and I'd like to cast my vote for 1956's THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT and THE BLACK SLEEP as two of the main contenders).
(Joe Karlosi)