Many actors have that one famous role. You know, the part everyone thinks of when they think of that actor. Take Sean Connery, he’s played many different parts, but everyone still thinks of him as James Bond. When we think of Bela Lugosi, of course, we think of Dracula. Lugosi pretty much defined the role, after all. Many probably don’t realize that Lugosi only played the part on film twice…in “Dracula” and “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein.” However, he did play many other parts which were very closely modeled after the famous bloodsucker. In today’s film, Lugosi appears as a very Dracula-like vampire, in a film directed by “Dracula” director Tod Browning. From 1935, “Mark of the Vampire.”
There has been a bizarre murder in a Czechoslovakian village. Sir Karell Borotyn has been found slumped over his desk in the study of his creepy castle home. On his neck are two puncture wounds and his body is drained of blood. This sparks talk in town of the legend of Count Mora the vampire and his equally blood-thirsty daughter Luna.
The local detective, Inspector Neuman (Lionel Atwill) soon begins his investigation. Under suspicion is Fedor Vicente (Henry Wadsworth) who stands to inherit a ton of money due to his engagement to Sir Karell’s only daughter, Irena (Elizabeth Allen). Also getting a close look is Baron Otto (Jean Hersholt), executor of the estate.
Many in the village are convinced about the vampire legend. Some even claim to have seen the count and his daughter lurking around in bat form. This leads an expert in the occult, Professsor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) to join in the investigation. Meanwhile, the evidence of vampires continues to pile up. When Fedor returns to the castle in a daze, bite marks are found on his neck. Then there is an attack on the maid, Maria (Leila Bennett). It doesn’t take long for the actual Count Mora (Lugosi) and Luna (Carol Borland) to start making actual appearances in the house. Flying in as bats, scaring the help, that sort of stuff.
The craziness continues when Irena is found sitting out in the garden on one gloomy night. Zelin then decides to take all sorts of anti-vampire measures, including spreading the spirit-retardant bat-thorn all around the house. Plus, Zelin, Neumann and Otto set out to find the resting place of the vampires and lob off their heads while they sleep through the daylight hours. Not only do they find the lair of the undead, but also what appears to be the walking corpse of Sir Karell. This all sounds like classic horror movie material, don’t it? Problem is, and I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a different explanation to the whole thing that ends up making the whole movie one big letdown.
It is said that “Mark of the Vampire” is a remake, of sorts, to Tod Browning’s legendary lost silent film “London After Midnight,” starring Lon Chaney. There are many areas where the film succeeds. It has a fantastic creepy atmosphere. You got your fog, you got your cobwebs, you got your giant creepy castle. Just what you’d expect from the director of “Dracula.” But best of all, you’ve got Bela Lugosi. Even though he doesn’t speak a word of dialogue until the final scene, he does so much by doing so little. It’s an eerie performance, especially with the extra-added creep factor provided by Carol Borland by his side. She creates a lot of chills on her own, and is downright sexy, too. Supposedly, the film was originally about 15 minutes longer than the version we see today, but it was cut down due to somewhat incestuous overtones between Lugosi and Borland’s characters.
Now then, even though the film has some great atmosphere and performances, the story does start to wear a bit thin as the film progresses. It begins to turn too much into a detective story than a horror film. And then we reach the end. Again, I don’t want to spoil it, but it is absolutely groan-inducing and pretty much negates the rest of the film. I basically had to make an effort to remind myself of how much I enjoyed the earlier parts of the film because the ending is so disappointing.
So, in the end, it’s hard for me to recommend “Mark of the Vampire.” Fans of Lugosi, Browning, and classic horror films in general, will want to give it a look. Just try not to let the last 5 minutes ruin the whole thing for you.