MARK OF THE VAMPIRE
(director: Tod Browning; screenwriter: Guy Endore/ Bernard Schubert; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Ben Lewis; cast: Lionel Barrymore (Prof. Zelen), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Neumann), Bela Lugosi (Count Mora), Carol Borland (Luna), Elizabeth Allan (Irena Borotyn), Baron Otto (Jean Hersholt), Holmes Herbert (Sir Karell Borotyn), Henry Wadsworth (Count Feodor Vincenty), Donald Meek (Dr. Doskil), Ivan Simpson (Jan), Leila Bennett (Maria); Runtime: 61; MGM; 1935)
“This amusing B&W film, with photography by James Wong Howe, captures the eerie atmosphere befitting a horror film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is a creaky horror film, with plenty of fun moments in its wobbly story. It’s a remake of Tod Browning’s silent “London After Midnight,” which starred Lon Chaney in dual roles as Professor Zelen and Count Mora. It is played mostly as a spoof on vampires, but has a nifty murder mystery going for it. Plus it has some gimmicky camera work, featuring an apparition and a scary dark castle filled with strange sounds, cobwebs, spiders, bats, and rodents.
When Sir Karell Borotyn is found murdered in this remote Czechoslovakian village with the two marks of a vampire on his neck and his blood drained, the skeptical Inspector Neumann (Atwill) investigates the crime and tells the frightened Dr. Doskil (Meek) to find the real cause of death and not to tell him about this vampire nonsense. When the doctor can’t, still believing the superstitions that persist in the village, the inspector calls for help from Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore). He’s a specialist in the occult.
The professor and the inspector are baffled by the case as a year passes with no results, and decide to try a radical plan by hiring vaudeville performers, Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carol Borland), to act as vampires and smoke the real murderer out. Luna is a chalky-faced apparition and Lugosi plays a vampire. Lugosi steals the picture by hamming it up, even though he only has one line in the film. But the biggest ham is Barrymore, he makes every line into a stage-like performance.
The inspector questions everyone in Sir Karell Borotyn’s castle, after he had been murdered. He learns that Karell’s pretty daughter Irena (Allan) is to marry within two weeks Count Feodor Vincenty (Wadsworth), someone not of the same wealth and status as she is. He also learns that in case of Karell’s death, his closest friend Baron Otto von Zinden (Jean Hersholt) is to be the executor of the estate. The servants Jan and Maria are also questioned and are asked to look after Irena, who fears the vampires are going to attack. The servants are ordered to put bat-thistles in all the rooms as a deterrent to the vampires, who only come out at night.
This amusing B&W film, with photography by James Wong Howe, captures the eerie atmosphere befitting a horror film. It’s a classic horror spoof, well worth seeing for either nostalgia purposes or lighthearted fun.
REVIEWED ON 11/25/2000 GRADE: B