By Doug Gibson
I avoided watching "The Return of Dracula" for a long time, mainly because it always annoyed me that Bela Lugosi was passed over for so any Universal monster rallies (except for Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein). It would have been cool, and a potential career boost for Lugosi to have played his signature role in a real Dracula sequel. But he was long dead by the time Gramercy, not Universal, made this inexpensive $125,000 "sequel" in which Count Dracula, posing as artist Bellac Gordal -- who he kills off on a train in Hungary -- to visit relatives in California who are eager to see him, consider him a dear member of the family, but apparently have never swapped photos with dear Belac!
Eventually, Count Dracula, the faux artist, behaves so oddly (He's never around during the day, you see, and spurns affection, and demands that he not be disturbed in his "room") that family teenager Rachel Mayberry, played by a sexy Norma Eberhardt, begins to suspect that her dear relative may be something more sinister. A game of cat and mouse develops between the old predator and the young teenager, and it eventually leads to a finish to the film, directed by Paul Landres.
If this has started to sound like a pallid "remake-in-everything-but-name" of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Shadow of a Doubt," give yourself 10 points because you are right. It's not nearly as good, by a mile, as the standoff between Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright, but as a low-budget 1950s horror flick, it's not too bad. The film moves swiftly and the acting is passable with one positive exception.
The positive exception is Francis Lederer, who is marvelous as Count Dracula. He blends the cold continental manners of a Bela Lugosi with the physical menace of a Christopher Lee to produce -- amazingly -- an unforgettable portrayal of the vampire. I cannot call it iconic because not enough people have seen the film. Lederer is arrogant, merciless and predatory when consumed by a thirst for blood. He is a film monster that may stay in the nightmares of viewers for awhile. It his for his portrayal that I recommend this movie.
There is a lot of hokum in this film, thanks to the low budget. Virginia Vincent, as a victim of Dracula, overacts badly as an ill shut-in, and mediocre writing contributes to a ridiculous scene in which Rachel discovers her vampire guest has painted a picture of her in a coffin! Nevertheless, this is a breezy, corny vampire flick, likely overshadowed by Hammer's Horror of Dracula, that should merit a watch by cult film fans.