It's interesting, given that Bela Lugosi has a face instantly recognisable worldwide as that of the infamous Count Dracula, that he only ever portrayed a vampire in three movies. It of course began with his casting in Universal's original 1931 "Dracula", a role he gladly reprised almost twenty years later in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein". "Return of the Vampire" was the only other occassion on which he donned his fangs for the silver screen, although he would often play Dracula on the stage.
The movie opens with Lugosi rising from the grave with the assistance of his loyal werewolf servant, Andreas. He has been preying upon the young women of a particular English family, but unfortunately it is the family of a genius scientist who soon begins to suspect what's going on. He hunts down the lair of the vampire and destroys him, rescuing the werewolf servant from slavery in the process and restoring his humanity. But that's not the end of the story, or it wouldn't be called "Return of the Vampire", would it? The vampire does, indeed, return when German bombs dislodge him from his tomb and the stake is unlodged by a couple of unwitting workers. It isn't long before he sets about continuing with with his ungodly plans involving the family ...
This movie updates the vampire myth and mixes it with a very real horror ... that of world war two. And there's some great dialogue in this war-time movie. Little boy: "We've been playing war, Nicki was a German and I killed her." Mother: "Well I hope you didn't kill her too much, darling." Nice. This movie isn't quite on the same level as much of the Universal horror saga, but it's an awful lot better than most of the other awful b-movies that were being churned out at the time in order to cash in on that franchise. It does contain moments of brilliance, for instance the scene where Andreas the Wolf Man is confronted by Lugosi's vampire and unwillingly brought back under his curse is particularly memorable. And it's indescribably great to see Lugosi playing a vampire again. The way he delivers lines such as "how great must be your satisfaction to realise how well you cured him" is just priceless.
For any fan of Universal's horror movies, "Return of the Vampire" is pretty much essential viewing. It doesn't quite match up to those movies at their finest, but it's probably the closest we have to a "Dracula Meets the Wolf Man".
The werewolf here plays a vital part in the story, and is introduced right at very beginning as the vampire's servant. It does kind of make sense that the vampire would have a werewolf servant since Dracula was shown to be master over the wolves and such in the original. But largely it was just an attempt to cash in on "The Wolf Man".
The actor portraying the werewolf in this movie is Matt Willis who does a very good job of basically channeling Lon Chaney Jr in order to create a sympathetic and recognisable Wolf Man character. He is the unwilling servant of the vampire since his mind has been enslaved, and after the vampire is killed then his humanity is restored only to be snatched away again when the vampire returns. Eventually he overcomes the vampire, though, and becomes the hero of the story.
Unfortunately the makeup isn't particularly good and the cross-fade transformations are nowhere near as good as those in the Universal pictures. In werewolf form Andreas can talk and is very fluent and rational, which is odd. He is shown to shift back and forth seemingly at the will of the vampire. In human form he is given away at one point by his hairy hands. Oops!