Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE RETURN OF DRACULA. Gramercy Pictures/United Artists, 1958. Francis Lederer, Norma Eberhardt, Ray Stricklyn, John Wengraf, Virginia Vincent, Gage Clarke. Director: Paul Landres.

   This one has been on my radar for sometime, but I never got around to watching it until now. Which is surprising, given my general fondness for the Dracula legend, B-horror films, and the late Francis Lederer as an actor.

   I’m glad I finally did. Simply put, The Return of Dracula does low-budget horror right.

   Directed by Paul Landres, who also directed a movie with the unelaborate title, The Vampire (1957), the storyline of The Return of Dracula is absurd on its face. The infamous Carpathian count flees Eastern Europe for sunny California in order to reboot his vampire empire. So, if you can suspend even more disbelief than you’re ordinarily expend in watching a vampire movie, you will get the chance to see Dracula (Lederer) as he takes on the identity of a man he kills and shacks up with a California suburban family. All the while pretending to be the family’s exotic cousin. Dracula’s naturally got his eye on his supposed second cousin, the beautiful and innocent Rachel Mayberry (Norman Eberhardt). Well, that’s the case until she decides to start wearing a cross around her neck.

   So with a plot like this, what’s there to like? The answer: plenty. What the movie lacks in terms of a compelling storyline, it more than makes up in atmosphere and mood. There are numerous camera shots that aren’t particularly elaborate, but work extraordinarily well in creating a general sense of uneasiness for the viewer, provoking an otherworldly sense that something just isn’t right, of a world off kilter.

   The film is likewise well served by a minimal and eerie soundtrack that heightens the tension at the right moments. And while Mayberry may not have been the most skilled of actresses, Lederer, in one of his late film roles, more than holds his own in his portrayal of one of literature’s best-known monster villains.