Directed by Tod Browning
Produced by E.J. Mannix
Screenplay by Guy Endore & Bernard Schubert
Photographed by James Wong Howe
Film Editor: Ben Lewis
Music by Herbert Stothart & Edward Ward
Cast: Lionel Barrymore (Prof. Zelen), Elizabeth Allan (Irena Borotyn), Bela Lugosi (Count Mora), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Neumann), Jean Hersholt (Baron Otto von Zinden), Carroll Borland (Luna Mora), Donald Meek (Dr. Doskil), Henry Wadsworth (Fedor Vincente)
With Mark Of The Vampire (1935), Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi set out to make their Dracula (1931) lightning strike twice. But since they were at MGM this time around, not Universal, a proper sequel wasn’t to be. Instead, Browning returned to his silent Lon Chaney picture London After Midnight (1927).
When Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is found murdered, the local physician (Donald Meek) notes a pair of small wounds on his neck and decides a vampire did it. The mysterious Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his creepy daughter Luna (Carroll Borland) are suspected of being the undead, though the local police inspector (Lionel Atwill) doesn’t believe it.
When Sir Karell’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) falls ill with the same sinister marks on her neck, an authority on the occult and vampires, Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore), is summoned to save Irena and destroy the vampires.
The working title for Mark Of The Vampire was The Vampires Of Prague, but the setting might as well be Transylvania. The plot is a pretty direct lift from London After Midnight — which like most humans alive today, I’ve never seen. (It’s a lost film.) But the picture’s visual style and having Lugosi onboard as the vampire puts Mark Of The Vampire squarely in Dracula territory.
Lugosi really doesn’t have all that much to do, but Lionel Barrymore has a field day as Professor Zelen, a standard Van Helsing kind of role. He’s all over the place, and he’s wonderful.
Scenes that hint at an incestuous relationship between the Count and Luna, and the Count’s suicide, were removed from the script. (The suicide accounts for the unexplained wound on the side of Lugosi’s head.) The finished film runs only 61 minutes. But what glorious minutes they are, with only the trick ending (Spoiler Alert) — with the vampires being actors employed to root out the real killer — threatening to spoil things. (Scooby Doo would do the fake-monster copout in every single episode, which infuriated me as a kid.)
But real vampires or not, the atmosphere here is very real, thanks to Cedric Gibbons’ art direction, the haunting “score” — which seems to be made up of ghostly moans and groans, and the masterful camerawork of the great James Wong Howe. Howe takes the mood of Dracula, which was shot by the incredible Karl Freund, to an entirely new level. Nobody lights a run-down castle, a rat or an armadillo quite like those two! Howe keeps his camera moving quite a bit, which was really difficult on these early sound films. After all, the camera was the size of a refrigerator! There are tracking shots along the castle’s staircase that will knock you out.
It’s these visuals that truly benefit from the exquisite new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. They’ve worked their magic again on this one. We have an idea of what a film from 1935 should look like, influenced more by the shoddy ways we’ve seen them over the years. Now, it looks like it was shot yesterday. It’s flawless, letting Howe’s work really shine. There are frames from this movie I’d love to hang on my wall.
The Blu-Ray’s extras include a commentary, a short and a cartoon, but the real jewel is the original trailer. It makes great use of Lugosi, who speaks directly to the audience. He has 10 times more dialogue in this trailer than he does in the actual movie!
I love 30s horror pictures, and seeing them look like this is a real blessing. A big thanks to Warner Archive for all the work that went into this Mark Of The Vampire. It blew me away. This one’s essential, folks!