I love the different ways that some low-budget movies come up with innovative solutions to overcome their lack of funds. One way that can be effective is to have a character imply something is there which we can’t see. This is what 1958’s The Return of Dracula does in some of its best moments.
The heroine of this picture is Norma Eberhardt, who plays an art student who works nights at the old folks’ home. It is there she reads a blind woman to sleep. But before the woman nods off, she demands to know, “Who is that at the window?” Eberhardt doesn’t see anybody and neither does the viewer. But the suggestion somebody just happens to be outside that window is effectively creepy.
When Dracula comes for her, the blind woman is unable to stop him from attacking. “Open your eyes and look at me,” orders Francis Lederer, as The Count. “You can see me if you try. You can see me with your mind.” Again, pretty effectively unnerving.
Lederer makes for a very convincing Dracula. The first time we see him, he was about to attack a man on a train in Europe. Stealing his victim’s identify, Lederer goes to that man’s intended destination in a small Californian town. There, he is welcomed into the home of the deceased’s unsuspecting, distant relations.
I found more to recommend this picture for than I would have anticipated.
The score is sparse but interesting. “Dies Irae” is used for some scenes. You might remember this from the opening credits of The Shining. One of the moments it accompanies here is where a group of men with stakes want to ensure The Count is dead, only to find his resting place empty just as the final rays of the setting sun disappear. I was wondering exactly why they waited to open the tomb until after the sun had set. I’m thinking they are fortunate it was empty.
Another piece of music precedes that scene, and I noticed there is a sound in it that was similar to labored breathing. I wondered if a bellows was employed for that. Regardless of the source, it sufficiently sets the stage for the cemetery scene.
The crisp black and white photography is perfect for this type of film. Color is used for only a few frames, and I was pleased by how much this moment caught me off-guard.
The Return of Dracula is slight in both plot and runtime, but I found myself glued to it throughout. Also, I would rather see what a movie with a small budget might do, as opposed to the big-budget ones. No amount of CGI could intrigue me as much as a woman walking alone at night, turning to hear something we don’t, and wondering aloud, “What did you say?”
Dir: Paul Landres
Starring Francis Lederer, Normal Eberhardt
Watched on Olive Films blu-ray