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The MARK OF THE VAMPIRE lies heavily upon the terrified
inhabitants of a lonely European manor house.
In 1935 director Tod Browning set about the remaking of his 1927 silent Lon Chaney shocker LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. The final result was rather an odd film for the MGM roster, but it benefited by being given the Studio's first class production values and casting. It is a tremendously entertaining film to watch even now, full of chills & suspense.
However, at a running time of barely one hour it has been obviously heavily edited. This does not help the already ludicrous plot, many of whose elements simply do not make the slightest sense. It is perhaps just as well to enjoy what the film does have to offer and not to harp about the incongruities of the storyline. The ending will come as a surprise to many viewers - some will be delighted at the turn of events, others will feel betrayed at the final fadeout.
The cast is excellent. Lionel Barrymore is at his most eccentrically watchable as the elderly vampire stalker. And who could play the Undead better than Bela Lugosi? Although he speaks not a word until the final seconds of the film he is pure menace throughout, stalking along cobwebed corridors, associating with giant bats and radiating pure evil. Lionel Atwill as a stern police inspector and gentle Jean Hersholt as a befuddled baron complete the quartet of leading actors.
Elizabeth Allan is lovely as the menaced young lady, while Carol Borland is properly mysterious as Lugosi's vampiress. Various members of the supporting cast are allowed moments to shine - Donald Meek as the frightened local doctor; Ivan Simpson as the manor's old butler and Leila Bennett as a rather hysterical maid. Movie mavens will spot an unbilled Christian Rub as a deaf peasant at the coroner's inquest.
The film's editing sadly left several very fine character actors on the cutting room floor, including Robert Greig, Eily Maylon, Zeffie Tilbury & Jessie Ralph (whose name still appears in the credits).
James Wong Howe's excellent cinematography should be mentioned, as should also the creepy special effects which add immensely to the atmosphere.
This was one of the best vampire films of the classic black-and-white
era. Essentially a composite remake of "Dracula" and an earlier film
called "London After Midnight" with some bizarre twists, in terms of
ghoulish settings and atmosphere, particularly the cemetery scenes, and
Lugosi and Borland wandering in the night, this film is second to none.
There is no doubt that Bela Lugosi was the classic Dracula of the early
sound period. If I were to make a list of his best 10 films, this would
be one of them along with the 1931 "Dracula", the 1943 "Return of the
Vampire", the 1940 "The Devil Bat" and others. Carol Borland's role as
"Luna"sets the standard for "Vampira" of the 1950s and "Elvira" of the
1980s as well as "Morticia" of the Addams Family on TV. She does an
excellent job in the role of a "creature of the night". And of course,
Bela Lugosi as Count Mora is without peer. The entire cast including
Lionel Barrymore, Lionel Atwill, Elizabeth Allen, Jean Hersholt, and
others do an excellent job.
Tod Browning easily is one of the most important directors who ever lived.
Sure, he might not enjoy the same post-mortem status as a Stanley Kubrick or
a Alfred Hitchcock but he single-handedly was responsible for some of the
most important and genre-forming horror films. In a period of barely 5 years
he brought us: Dracula (the mother of all vampire-movies and THE film that
made Bela Lugosi immortal), Freaks (still amazingly scary after more than 70
years), this Mark of the Vampire and Devil Doll in 1936.
This film more or less is the first accomplishment that `plays' with the rules of the genre and creatively adds some very ingenious twists. A prominent citizen of a small community is killed and the superstitious population are convinced that the bizarre, vicious Count Mora is responsible for this act of terror. Count Mora and his freaky daughter Luna are believed to be vampires and the village's curse. Since the victim's beautiful daughter obviously is the next target, professor Zelin sets a trap the bloodthirsty killer red-handed. Mark of the Vampire is an eccentric horror effort and definitely ahead of its time! The opening sequences are atmospherically frightening and the nightly noises still have the ability to scare you. The illogical but extremely dared twists near the end easily guarantee this film an honored spot in the horror annals. Please see it for yourself and you'll agree that this film is tough to review! Personally, I thought Lionel Barrymore overacts terribly .then again, the development of the film provides him with an excuse for this! I am certain about one thing, though! Bela Lugosi gives away an outstanding performance. Naturally, his role here is overshadowed by his starring in Dracula but I dare to say he's equally chilling here. Lugosi almost has no lines to say, but his grimaces speak for themselves. Check it out!!
After the commercial failure of his controversial masterpiece "Freaks"
in 1932, director Tod Browning found himself in serious problems to
find new projects. Browning was a man of proved talent, being the
director of some of the best silent films starring Lon Chaney as well
as the mind behind the 1931 horror masterpiece "Dracula". However,
"Freaks" proved to be too ahead of its time and sadly suffered the
prejudices of audiences clearly unprepared for the tragic story of a
midget in love with a full grown woman. In this state of disgrace, the
studio rejected his projects and instead gave him the job of directing
"Fast Workers", a melodrama with former silent superstar John Gilbert.
Fortunately, luck was still on his side as in 1935 he was allowed to
direct a remake of his successful silent "London After Midnight", a
movie that would reunite Browning with Dracula himself: Bela Lugosi.
"Mark of the Vampire" is the story of the tragedy surrounding the wealthy Borotyn family. The patriarch, Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) has been murdered under mysterious circumstances, and soon everyone in town suspects it was the work of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland), as these two deceased nobles are rumored to awake by night as vampires and wreak havoc in the small superstitious village. Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) doesn't believe in this, as he suspects there is a more mundane motif for the murder of the rich old man, however, when Sir Karell's only daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) becomes the vampires' new target, Insp. Neumann will have to join forces with a strange scientist specialized in the occult, Prof. Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) to solve the mystery before someone else gets killed.
As written above, "Mark of the Vampire" is essentially a remake of the now lost classic "London After Midnight", although this time Browning enhances the horror elements of the story by focusing on the couple of vampires and their actions instead of the mystery of the plot. The story is pretty convoluted and very clever for its time, with a nice use of black humor (some even see it as a satire of horror films of it's time) and very surprising plot twists to keep the mystery a secret until the end. Sadly (and like always happened to Browning), the film suffered approximately 20 minutes of cuts by the studio, who disliked Browning's idea of incest as background for Count Mora among other things. Unable to fight the studio (as they were still mad at him for "Freaks"), Browning had to let them cut the film, leading to the creation of many plot holes in the already convoluted story, ultimately destroying most of its effect by enhancing its flaws.
As in most Browning's films, the power of the movie is in the haunting visuals conveyed by this master of silent films, images so powerful that in a way make up for the messed up and disjointed storyline. In fact (and like "Dracula"), most of the best scenes in "Mark of the Vampire" come when nobody talks and only the images are what carry the story. Taking his expressionist influences to the max, Browning makes the figure of the vampire to embody the ultimate vision of irresistible evil, as their unnatural shining in complete darkness makes them diabolically attractive. Browning always struggled with the use of sound, and this problem shows again in "Mark of the Vampire", although the high quality of his cast manage to improve Browning's direction in this "talkie".
Lionel Barrymore is very good as the eccentric Prof. Zelin, and while he receives some bash for giving an over-the-top performance, I think his acting is right on the money, as he is not a serious Van Helsing, his character seems to be wicked, almost as wicked as the monsters he fights, so his hammy touch is, in my opinion, very appropriate. Lionel Atwill shines as Insp. Neumann, bringing a sense of dignity to the film as the stoic hero who is forced to work with what he considers as superstitious fools in order to fulfill his mission. Borland and Luogsi are simply wonderful as the almost silent vampires, relaying mostly on gestures to convey their emotions. Jean Hersholt, Donald Meek and Ivan Simpson have nice turns in supporting roles, with Meek and Simpson delivering some nice comedy that seems to parody stereotypes of horror films of its time.
Sadly, the film (or what was left of it) suffers from many flaws that effectively make the brilliant parts of it look bad, leaving the final product as simply a slightly better than average 30s movie. Not only the cuts done by the studio ruined the storyline, as being honest, Browning's talent wasn't as fond of talkies as it was of silents. Browning was a genius of black comedy, but this skill couldn't translate well to sound movies and often his attempts of comedy look too over-the-top for the overall mood of the movie. To make things worse, the performances of Elizabeth Allan and Henry Wadsworth (the main romantic couple of the movie) are atrociously poor, paling in comparison to the work of the rest of the cast.
"Mark of the Vampire" is a very good film of Browning's short post-"Freaks" career, as despite being plagued by many problems, it still works as a nice tale of mystery and horror. It is definitely not the typical vampire movie, and a number of factors make me to be willing to believe that Browning intended this to be a satire than a proper horror (for example the fact that vampires are silent and humans are very talkative for example). While certainly not a masterpiece, it is a fine film to watch despite its troubled upbringing. 7/10
Tod Browning's return to the genre that made him famous brings along Bela
Lugosi to reprise his role as a sinister Count. This vampiric tale is
in with a murder mystery. I found the end results to be very
unusual and entertaining. What I thought was going to be a routine horror
story has a very funny twist. To give it away would be telling. If you're
the mood for something different then by all means watch.
In a small village of Prague, dignitary Sir Karell Borotyn is found
murdered and the police put it down to "unknown circumstances". The
whole village knows the cause though and the consensus of opinion is
that he was killed by the legendary vampire Count Mora. This belief is
dismissed by the authorities but seems to be backed up when Mora
appears to Borotyn's daughter Irena. Enter Professor Zelen, who plans
to save Irena and bring an end to the rule of terror that Mora has
brought to the village.
I have been watching several horrors from the first half of the last century recently mainly because I am tired of the "shock 'em with gore" school of thought that seems to have replaced atmosphere and creepy direction that should always make up a part of a horror film. With this film the story is actually quite interesting, albeit based on the usual "vampire hunter" storyline but it still works and has a certain amount of mystery to it. This is supported by a good sense of atmosphere and period not just all dark shadows and so on but a feeling that this is a real place and that the evil is only a few steps away at any time; hard to describe but it looks good. Of course it is dated and modern horror fans will scoff at it, but it does have some genuinely unsettling moments and the slow movement of Mora and the zombie-ish Luna is effectively used once or twice it was only a shame that they had surprisingly little actual time on screen.
The cast are impressive on paper and they do a good job on screen. Lugosi may just be doing his usual stuff in a supporting role but both he and the Count are probably the main draw to this film and he provides his usual ham with relish. Likewise the rest of the cast overact a bit but it suits the film and works pretty well since this film doesn't seem to be taking itself too seriously. Barrymore is good and is well supported by Allan, Atwill and Borland. They all play it up a bit and it works without taking away from the creepy atmosphere.
Overall it is hardly the most frightening thing you'll ever see, nor does it even come comes but it is still enjoyable and a little creepy if you meet it on its terms rather than with a modern eye. It is creaky and you might get a laugh out of it but viewed as a film it has enough going for it to stand up with some of the more "classic" horrors of the period.
There are some excellent scenes in this film -- when the
peers in the window & sees Carole Borland "landing" --
surrealistic! Also, when the father & Bela are in the cemetery,
motionlessly watching the people looking into the
crypt -- creepy sound effects!
Also, Donald Meek is excellent as the superstitious doctor.
What's wrong with it is that you hardly ever see Lugosi, and Lionell Barrymore REALLY hams it up in the "Van Helsing" role! He moves & speaks so slowly, so deliberately, that one would think that HE'S of the Undead, too! He tries for a dramatic effect, but fails miserably.
You may notice the (bullet) wound in Bela's temple; the original storyline had him killed for having an incestuous relationship with his daughter (Borland). That whole scenerio was cut from the film.
Even so, this a VERY "odd" & interesting "vampire" film; must see!
Norm had Lug
This is a nice re-working of the lost classic "London After Midnight" which
tragically perished in a fire, never to return. More a murder mystery than a horror story, "Mark of the Vampire" still has some very nice creepy moments and a fog-drenched atmosphere throughout that will make the twist ending
Irena Borotyn's father has been found dead, his body drained of blood through two small holes found upon his neck. Is it indeed the work of vampires, as the rumors through the isolated countryside insist? Or is it something else? A year after the murder, the dead man is seen wandering through the night in the
company of two hideous ghouls. Strange things begin to happen and Irena
seems to be the new target. Can Lionel Barrymore save her and solve the
mystery once and for all?
There are some absolutely gorgeous shots in this film featuring giant spider
webs, furry arachnids skittering up walls, wolves howling mournfully in the
distance and the silent presence of both Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland,
walking in perfect sync together through the misty graveyards and the crumbling castle ruins, he in his cape and she in her burial shroud. There's also a GREAT scene where Miss Borland descends from above on giant bat wings! The plot
doesn't always make a lot of sense, and at films end you discover you've been duped, but this is one of those films that should be watched for its atmosphere alone. It's so saturated with shadows and cobwebs and creepy Gothic splendor that it makes even the sunniest day feel like Halloween night.
Well this film is well acted and well directed. I've came to the conclusion that Tom Browning is a brilliant director. If he had the resources of today's crappy directors there's no telling what this man could've accomplished. It's sad that a man this talented made such few films. This is moody, atmospheric, and has a knockout ending. You won't see it coming. Great "vampire" movie has a cast that isn't cold and entertain you throughout. A great film.
I haven't seen this film in quite a while but I found it very satisfying.
take issue with those especially who disliked the ending which I
found absolutely right. Yes, Lionel gives his usual
scenery-chewing performance as the "Von Helsing" character but
it seems appropriate here.
*** out of ****
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