THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944). Director: Lew Landers.
Columbia studios made this Universal-style horror film but couldn't use the name Dracula, so Bela Lugosi plays not the infamous Count, but Dr. Armand Tesla, who wrote about vampires in the 17th century and then became one himself. His antagonist is not Van Helsing, but Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort), whom he particularly hates because she helped to kill him once. (An interesting aspect, that reminds one of Dracula's Daughter, is that Lady Ainsley is nearly threatened with prosecution for her part in Tesla's impalement.) Tesla is assisted by Andreas (Matt Willis), a mentally-enslaved manservant who is also a rather talkative wolf man. Taking on the identity of Dr. Hugo Bruckner, Tesla sets his sights on Nicki (Nina Foch), a young lady who is engaged to Ainsley's son John (Roland Varno). Lots of fog and atmosphere can't quite disguise the fact that the script is weak, and Inescort gives a surprisingly cold and perfunctory performance under her perfectly modulated speech. The Return of the Vampire is entertaining but old-fashioned, far below the creative level of Son of Dracula made two years earlier. There are some good scenes, however, and the film is fun. Bela is effective as Tesla even if his gestures are a touch hammy.
Verdict: Not all it could have been. **1/2.