Tod Browning’s 1935 remake of London After Midnight gives us the horror movie as it used to be done, and Bela Lugosi as a vampiric Count not named Dracula
Title: Mark of the Vampire
Available as part of the “Legends of Horror” collection from Amazon.com
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Tod Browning.
Lionel Barrymore as Professor Zelin
Elizabeth Allan as Irena
Bela Lugosi as Count Mora
Lionel Atwill as Inspector Neumann
Jean Hersholt as Baron Otto
Henry Wadsworth as Fador
Donald Meek as Dr. Doskil
Carroll Borland as Luna
Leila Bennett as Maria
Full Cast and crew may be found here.
Count Mora and his daughter Luna, who haunt the village’s crumbling castle, have been blamed for the death of Sir Harold and a local farmer. Despite the skepticism of Inspector Neumann, locals enlist an eccentric Van Helsing-like professor to help.
Most prone to vampiric attack is beautiful young heiress Irena, who hears the haunting voice of Luna the Vampire Girl and thinks she sees her own late father walking about. Eventually, we learn the truth….
The film plays like a walk through a small-town haunted house at Halloween (all proceeds go to….), complete with crumbling, web-shrouded rooms, medieval armor, a clutching hand, twisted trees, aged tombstones, an empty coffin, dry bones, mysterious gypsies, a gratuitous gnarled hag, rubber spiders, giant bats, scuttering rats, staring owls, creeping shadows, nocturnal screams, secret passages, an olde legend, and, of course, prowling vampires. If you want to see the stuff the traditional horror movie is made of, this film will show you, and it has a sense of humour about itself.
The plot twist, absurd in the original, becomes more convoluted and far-fetched in this remake. The investigators’ vampire plot doesn’t even work; at best, it contributes to the hypnotism of the suspect, by which means they learn the truth. The actors portraying the vampires rig horribly complex supernatural effects (which are never explained) and maintain their charade when no one save the audience is watching. Browning kept the twist ending from the actors as long as possible, and Lugosi and others reportedly requested a second twist be added: the Count and Luna would be real vampires pretending to be actors pretending to be vampires. This would have explained a lot, and couldn’t really have made the ending any more confusing.
Originality: 2/6 Mark of the Vampire remakes a film from 1927 and raids every major horror film from the years between. It deserves one extra point for creating the default icon of the female vampire. Caroll Borland’s Luna is the model for Vampire, Morticia Addams, and that Goth girl you knew back in ’90.
Story: 3/6. Adding to an already complicated, twisted plot is the choppy editing; the studios cut the film significantly. This has several consequences: Lionel Barrymore’s character, for one, appears seemingly from nowhere.
Effects: 3/6 The female vampire flies to the ground, bat-like, in a nice, old-style mechanical effect. However, the bats and spiders look fake and likely did in 1935.
Acting: 4/6 We’re early in the era of talkies, when stage-and-silent-screen influenced acting remained the norm. We’re also watching a film which nods towards two genres (horror and farce) known for overwrought performances. We shouldn’t be surprised to see hammy acting, but current audiences may find it very hard to take. Barrymore manages the most satisfying performance, scenery-chewing but compelling.
Production: 4/6. Production quality varies. Despite the presence of some major stars, this isn’t one of MGM’s big-budget films. Settings resemble soundstages; the castle is clearly a matte painting
Emotional Response: 4/6.
Overall: 4/6 Mark of the Vampire represents an early era of horror cinema, and indicates that other studios took part in this genre, known now mostly through Universal’s contributions. It represents one of the very few times Lugosi played a vampire, the mythic creature with which he is now identified. The film has made its mark and, if you’re interested in the era or the history of the genre, this makes an interesting companion to Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man.
In total, Mark of the Vampire receives a score of 24/42.
Other vampire films present holy water, crosses, garlic, or wolfbane as repellents. This film gives us—Holy Icons!—Bat-thorn!