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The Return Of Dracula (Blu-ray Review)

Return-of-DraculaAfter Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had a run in with the famous Count himself (In a return to the role by the seminal Bela Lugosi), Dracula pretty much laid dormant in the cinema landscape.  Vampires would still be around, but the main antagonist of them all took about a ten year break.  Then in 1958, he made an interesting set of returns.  History has been stamped with the Hammer film Horror Of Dracula (or just “Dracula” for most territories), but that film wasn’t alone in resurrecting the Count.  As a matter of fact, the appropriately titled The Return of Dracula was the other.  And its interesting how completely opposite the two films are.  One inspired a legacy and countless sequels, also spawning other monsters.  Return pretty much came and went and has been forgotten.  But not today, we’ll be taking a look at this film as Olive Films will be giving it a Blu-ray debut on October 18th.

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Film 

Count Dracula, using the pseudonym Bellac Gordal as he travels from Transylvania home to the United States.  In the guise of being a distant relative on vacation, the count takes up residence at the home of the Mayberry family in sunny California.  The Count is up to his old nocturnal tricks and comes under the scrutiny of young Rachel Mayberry whom he has set his sights on, which may be her undoing .

Its interesting to see where this movie took Dracula as opposed to Hammer that same year.  For the record, that Hammer film is leaps and bounds above this, but this is still an interesting and fascinating entry into the lore. Its made even more interesting by the fact of comparison to its Hammer counterpart.  In some obvious differences, this one takes place in modern day and seems to be aiming at trying to recapture some of that Universal Classic Monster feel.  Its also shot in black and white as well.  The acting, performances and such are bit more of the era and feel like Dracula entered a Donna Reed episode.

As silly or family friendly as the film comes off, it does manage to find its perfect sense of dread and actually drums up some intense scenes and scary imagery.  Dracula visits a friend of our lead’s in the hospital and its a rather unsettling back and forth between the two as he works to make her a vampire.  Later, when she is a vampire, there is a member of the vampire hunting team at a train station and he manages to glimpse her in a white gown hanging around the woods.  Something about this is really haunting and scary.  Its my favorite moment or part in the film by far.

While it is black and white, there’s an interesting choice made later on in the film.  When a vampire is staked in the heart, the close up is actually done in color.  Its a quick switch, but gushing blood is shown and its a bit surprising if you don’t know its there.  They could have made a much more interesting film had they chosen to do things like this at different intervals with red, or even a different color, to signify some key moments or just generally add to the abstract or art nature to a relatively static film.

Dracula himself is actually pretty good.  Christopher Lee still wipes the floor with him the same year, but this guy is more traditional.  This one pays a bit of homage to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in the way they structure the narrative and put Dracula into the story.  He antagonizes Norma Eberhardt quite well, and is able to balance the devious and cousin roles with ease.  Francis Lederer is actually able to turn on a dime, making them feel like two completely different people.  The actor is a benefit to the film and really lifts every scene he’s in and everyone in a scene with him improves with his presence.

The Prince of Darkness returned twice in 1958, yet this is the only one that actually titled it as such.  The Return of Dracula is a decent piece of classic horror entertainment that takes the more classic route (for the time) and tries to bring the character into modern times while respect its roots and holding up some tropes.  Its a solid, fun watch that never overwelcomes its stay and does feature some haunting moments in a relatively not so much scary horror feature.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-25

Clarity/Detail:  After a rough start during the credits, The Return of Dracula winds up being a quite impressive looking image for an almost 60 year old film.  Details run rampant, especially on the men’s suits and sweaters, showing up fuzzes, textures, patterns and loose fabrics.  The lining inside of Dracula’s coffin looks pretty gorgeous.  Its a crisper image and looks rather fresh and new considering its even in black and white.  It keeps grain intact, yet looks quite clear and clean.  Fans of the film will be pretty happy with this transfer.

Depth:  For a film of its age and assumed quality, The Return of Dracula really impresses in its dimensional work.  There are good, well rounded looking objects and characters that feel fully detached from their environments, and free to move.  Said movements look very filmic and smooth. Foreground and background relationships work quite well with impressive amounts and quality details coming through in background objects/textures/surfaces.

Black Levels:   Blacks are deep and rich.  They also provide some very nice shading and use of shadows.  Details are pretty good in the makeup of dark fabrics, masks, hair and surfaces.  There is some pretty bad crushing during the opening credits sequence, but that is an overall problematic reel and not at all representative of what the film overall looks like.

Color Reproduction: There is one shot in this movie, lasting all of 3 seconds that is in color.  Its red on white.  A stake gets hammered into a vampire.  The white looks a bit eggshell colored and the red is a very pink infused red.  Its okay, but its only a couple seconds.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones maintain a consistent white/gray look for the duration of the film’s runtime.  An impressive amount of detail is made out in the medium closeup shots.  You can see wrinkles, makeup-lines, stubble, rough face textures and lip texture.

Noise/Artifacts:  The film features a decent layer of grain for most the proceedings. Some parts of it feature it heavier than others.  Also, the opening credits of the film is either super heavy or its just full of some really bad noise.  Once that reel or section of the film ends, there is a drastic shift upward in overall image cleanliness and quality.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This mono mix really does the trick here.  Its a well blended sound that has vocals and effects sounding crisp and loose in the mix.  The score sounds find, but is a bit more of a monotonous tone in the mix without much intricacy.  Its fine, and likely cannot be improved because that’s how the source is, but that’s really the only moment of weakness here.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and clear.  Every piece of diction sounds well articulated and caputred in this mix.  No real analog hissing or anything is noticeable, impressively.

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Extras 

Trailer (HD, 2:13)

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Summary 

The Return of Dracula proves to be an interesting capsule of time and study in the history of our greatest fanged foe.  Olive Films resurrects this film on Blu-ray to strong results in picture and audio quality.  No bonus features is a bit of bummer, but really what’s possibly available for this 60 year old forgotten movie?  You could have some historians or critics come talk about it, but then again you have the internet and can easily look up those kind of thoughts on your own if you’re truly interested.  On the film and strength of the presentation alone, taking price into account, this is a decent pickup for classic monster horror collectors.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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