Throughout the film, Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) has an unexplained bullet wound on his temple. In the original script Mora was supposed to have had an incestuous relationship with his daughter Luna, and to have committed suicide. After filming began, however, MGM deleted references to the crime (and any remaining references may have been deleted when 20 minutes of footage was removed after the film's preview). Because director Tod Browning's previous film, Freaks (1932), had been a box-office disaster, he was unable to object to any changes made by the studio.
Preview reviews list a running time of 80 minutes, indicating that considerable footage was cut prior to the film's release. This would explain why many credited actors are not seen in the final print.
Marks one of the first known examples of the "cat scare", a horror film trope in which there is a strong build-up of tension followed by a scare from a harmless cat. This occurs early in the film when Dr. Doskil and Jan are frightened by a cat hiding in a suit of armor.
Filmed January 12-February, leaving Bela Lugosi unavailable for the role of Dr. Yogami in Universal's Werewolf of London (1935), eventually played by Warner Oland. Lugosi also has no dialogue until a brief exchange at the very end.
Jessie Ralph is credited as a midwife, but does not appear in a scene with a baby. She is seen at the beginning of the film collecting firewood in a cemetery. Louise Emmons appears to play a midwife, as she is in a scene with a baby, but her role is uncredited.
This film's initial telecast in Los Angeles took place Monday 27 January 1958 on KTTV (Channel 11), followed by Philadelphia 1 May 1958 on WFIL (Channel 6), by New York City 20 July 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2), and, finally by San Francisco 30 October 1959 on KGO (Channel 7).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The actors all played their roles as though they were in a conventional horror movie, unaware of the twist-ending until the last few days of shooting. Director Tod Browning deliberately kept them in the dark because he wanted authenticity.
When director Tod Browning revealed late in the filming process that the plot dictated that the vampires were really just actors pretending to be vampires, he met with much resistance from the cast and crew. Nobody was more incensed than Bela Lugosi, who pleaded with Browning to let him play a real vampire.
There was a remarkable degree of difficulty in shooting the scene where Carroll Borland flies like a bat. A jockey initially doubled for her but became nauseated on the wires. A bar was placed down the back of her dress running from her neck to her ankles, but it took some time for her and the handlers to get this right. The single shot took three weeks to work (all of this for a scene where Borland is supposed to be an actress pretending to be flying).
An alternate ending with a second twist, in which Lionel Barrymore's character receives a telegram from the vaudeville actors apologizing for not being able to make their train for the castle assignment, was proposed, but director Tod Browning rejected it.