This black-and-white mystery thriller sees Dracula flee his native lands. He comes to a small American town, pretending to be a distant European cousin of the Mayberry family, in whose house he is staying as a guest.
Two worlds collide, as Dracula does not really fit into the 1950s small town setting. He is a fish-out-of-water in this small town – too smart, too smug, too shady – but his eccentricities and his otherness are attributed to the fact that he is an artist, or to the fact that he has previously lived under an oppressive Eastern European regime. This is a 1958 film after all, and although the contrast between Stalinism and freedom is not directly mentioned in the film, it is clearly being alluded to more than once.
In placing Dracula in this small town setting, the film becomes devoid of any kind of Gothic atmosphere. Francis Lederer’s Dracula may be a fish-out-of-water all right, but in all his otherness seems more like an out-of-town conman, a sex offender, or a mobster-in-hiding. There is very little vampiric vibe about him.
There are shades of Stoker in this film, especially a young woman succumbing to vampirism, and a team investigating her case and watching her tomb, etc.
There is not much of a plot in The Return of Dracula, other than us witnessing Dracula adapting to his new surroundings while we are wondering when and how the characters in the film will find him out. Some of the dialogue is not very well thought through, and many lines serve as exposition and background info rather than being realistic conversations people in real life would be having.
All in all the film falls rather flat. There is no tension, no suspense. Every piece of “action” is telegraphed way in advance. The final scenes create a little bit of suspense, but not much, and they contain some 1950s special effects in order to pimp up the ending a bit.
Talking of which…: several special effects of the day are used in this film, such as artificial fog, or the fading in of a character through several stages of “see-through” existence until they finally manifest themselves in the frame. I do not believe that any of this was revolutionary, but the UK title for the film, The Fantastic Disappearing Man, suggests otherwise. But choosing this title also highlights the fact that there is little else of interest about this film, and that it has very little to do with a vampire film, or with Dracula.
The Return of Dracula seems to have been produced rather cheaply, with a limited number of sets all shot repeatedly with the same kind of camera angles. It all resembles television much more than cinema. The score music is also limited and repetitive, but at times rather effective. The same goes for the opening credits: very cheaply made, but effective in a value-for-money kind of way. They are made to look artsy, in an attempt to cover up the fact that they cost basically nothing.
Stylistically, the film also borrows some elements from 1950’s espionage films, including a hidden ultraminiature camera.
The film is relatively short, with merely 77 minutes running time. Apparently, it was originally released as part of a double feature, with 70 minute SciFi shlock The Flame Barrier.
The Return of Dracula is not a totally horrible film, it is just pretty damn boring. I can see absolutely no reason why anyone should watch this; it is therefore strictly for completists only. Roughly 4.0 out of 10.