“We must all die. There's nothing terrible about death, but to live on after death, a soul earth-bound, a vampire. You don't wish any such fate for your beloved.” – Prof. Zelin
Here’s a film that I’m including here out of pure self indulgence. I love this movie.
I’ve been a fan of Bela Lugosi ever since I saw Dracula for the first time – and if truth be told, I have always preferred the Universal Studios version to that of Hammer. There’s something about Lugosi’s performance that’s captivating. Lugosi was Hungarian by birth, and so with his heavy accent was perfect for the role. As legend has it, he spoke very little English during the 1930 production and learned his lines phonetically.
Tragically, the accent that won him the iconic starring role would ruthlessly typecast him for the rest of his career as a horror movie villain in a series of roles in films with ever decreasing budgets. During the times horror went out of vogue for a few years, he barely worked at all. Eventually, he featured in poverty row productions for fly by night companies until the end of his life, shortened by an addiction to medically prescribed morphine, in 1956.
But here, in Mark of the Vampire – he’s in his prime in one of the best Universal horror movies that Universal never made. It looks and feels like an Universal film, Lugosi’s there front and centre, but nope – this is an MGM production, with Lugosi on loan to them in those far off days of studio exclusive contracts, directed by Tod Browning who also directed Lugosi in Dracula.
Okay, another thing to note here is that this is a remake of London After Midnight (1925), a silent film starring the first real horror movie star, Lon Chaney. London After Midnight is one of the most famous and sought after “lost” films. No prints are known to exist – but it is my hope that one day, someone, somewhere will open up a vault or a box or an old film can in a forgotten storage space and find a print. Hey, it happened with Nosferatu and how many times has Metropolis been reissued on DVD with newly discovered footage? It really is the holy grail of lost horror movies, and as far as I’m aware the last of the real classics yet to be found.
So, the closest we can watch to the original is this remake, except (and this makes my blood boil) it’s one of a lengthy list of titles that have yet to be released on region 2 DVD. So it’s unavailable in the UK hence no Amazon link I’m afraid. (My print is an imported region 1 disc.)
To make up for this, let’s take a look at the sheer showmanship and melodrama of the trailer from 1935.
So, we’re in Prague, in a film that starts with travellers at an inn being warned by the local peasants not to continue their journey because there are vampires around. Basically, it’s a carbon copy of Browning’s Dracula opening of four years earlier. Even down to the comic relief servants with broad Bronx accents.
One passive defence (that is passive in as much as it doesn’t involve decapitation, which is also mentioned) against the vampires is to place sprigs of a plant around – now it didn’t look like garlic and they referred to it as bat’s bane, so who knows what it was? There seems to be plenty of it around, because they refer to it and use about half a ton of it through the film.
The vampires are Count Mora (Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carrol Borland) – possibly the prototype goth with her overly pale skin heavy dark lipstick and eye makeup and long hair. Now, in scenes cut from the release print, the legend of Count Mora was revealed. He was damned to walk the Earth as a vampire because of his incestuous relationship with his daughter. He shot himself in the head out of guilt, but naturally under the circumstances, rose again. It’s understandable why, in 1935, this would be deemed unacceptable and was cut, but it explains why Lugosi’s walking around for the whole film with a hole in his head.
Anyhow, a local nobleman, Sir Karrel Borotyn is found dead in his stately home with small puncture wounds in his neck and it is thought that this is the work of the evil Count Mora. A year later, his daughter Irena, heiress to his fortune suffers a similar attack. But all isn’t what it seems, as a Van Helsing type (Prof Zelin played by Lionel Barrymore) is brought in to investigate and suspects that a more earthly form of evil might be afoot.
As the movie is so damn old and is unavailable anyway – I’m going ahead with a spoiler on this one. It turns out that Sir Karrel’s best friend Otto Von Zinden wants Irena for himself and becoming her legal guardian on her father’s death could stop her marriage to her hapless fiancée and of course, get his slimy mitts on her money.
So, under hypnotism by Zelin, Zinden (ya gotta love these names) recreates his crime of murder.
In a real Scooby Doo type ending, it turns out that Mora and Luna are just performers hired by the police to lure Otto out into the open. It’s right at the end that Lugosi has his only lines of dialogue. “This vampire business, it has given me a great idea for a new act. Luna, in this new act I will be the vampire. Did you watch me? I gave all of me. I was greater than any real vampire.”
Even though he’s a fake vampire, before we, the audience know he’s a fake – Lugosi’s stately and silent walks through the graveyard sets, the cellars and the halls remain in the memory long after the film has finished. If this ever turns up on late night TV, I urge you to watch it. It’s a blast.
Next up - The House of Long Shadows
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