Film Reviews

Mark of the Vampire: Gothic Horror Murder Mystery

People around looking at a large spider web.

A clever film about trickery than vampirism. Mark of a Vampire uses audience expectations than parodies other films. At most, it’s a remake of a lost silent film, London After Midnight (1927), originally starring Lon Chaney with some changes which are also based on the short story The Hypnotist by the director of the two films Tod Browning. It stars silver screen stars like Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi. I originally found this film on television. It’s an old black and white film that’s not that stuff to watch. It’s a bit of a mystery and comedy in a classic vampire tale setting.

An inspector in a small town investigates a murder that has a murder victim with suspicious marks on their neck. The townspeople think it’s vampires. The wait staff of the murder victim go to the station laminating their belief that Count Mora and his daughter Luna are vampires and are up to no good. The Police Inspector refuses to believe them for facts and evidence. After several attacks, the inspector calls in assistance from a professor of criminology for help. The criminologist devises a unique scheme to unmask the killer behind the series of gruesome murders.

The setting is a fictional small hamlet town near Prague in the Czech Republic with a few really large castles in 1935. There are a lot of spooky forests and unexplained fog around. At most the film is set near the fall harvest. Throughout the film, spooky moaning sounds occur, just like the sounds you would hear in a silver screen monster movie for atmospheric effect.

Screenshot of Mark of the Vampire (1935)

The townspeople and castle wait staff freak out easily. They have a theory about the occurrence. They completely believe that there’s a vampire from the way the victims have been attacked and the body mark evidence. But the townspeople believe that vampires exist. The paranoia takes over while they eavesdrop on conversations.

Lionel Barrymore plays Professor Zelen, a professor of criminology there to assist the inspector with the investigation. When he is introduced by the Police Inspector, he is an expert on the occult and vampires. He seems like he is a spin-off of the Van Helsing character. He runs around with a young bride, the barons and her father trying to solve the caper about the “vampires.”

Screenshot of Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Bela Lugosi is Count Mora who is mostly silent all the time lurking around in corners. He inhabits a bat and bug-infested house covered in cobwebs, drapes and dust. He is dressed in basic count attire in a tuxedo and cape.

The female counterpart who lives with the Count is Luna. She has long black hair to her hips and a light grey (originally lilac) dress that just drapes her body. Her face is made up to have thick black eyes and eyebrows with heavy grey eyeshadow. She just likes the Count who walks stiff and silent but she mostly looks directly into the lens breaking the fourth wall often.

GIF from Mark of the Vampire (1935)

This film is not gory at all. There’s hardly any blood in this film. This might be because of the era it was filmed with the Hays Code. It’s mostly atmospheric and more engaging than most horror films because of the mystery element. The camera work looks great. It turns, tracks and zooms into scenes.

The film is short by today’s movie length times. It’s an hour long which is good for a quick watch.

The director is a cult horror icon who also directed other films like Freaks (1932), The Devil-Doll (1936), The Blackbird (1926) and Dracula (1931). It must have been hard to direct a film you’re remaking which Bill Tuttle, majeup artist for the film stating to Richard Bojarski in the book The Films of Bela Lugosi (1980):

The crew and I didn’t like to work for director Tod Browning. We would try to escape being assigned to one of his productions because he would overwork us until we were ready to drop from exhaustion…he was ruthless. He was determined to get everything he could on film. If the crew didn’t do something right, Browning would grumble: ‘Mr. Chaney would have done it better.’ He was hard to please. I remember he gave the special effects men a hard time because they weren’t working the mechanical bats properly. Though he didn’t drive his actors as hard, he gave Lionel Barrymore a difficult time during a scene. Lugosi’s performance, however, satisfied Browning.

Richard Bojarski, The Films of Bela Lugosi (1980)

The director never disclosed the ending to the crew until the end of shooting he thought that it would of negatively affect their work if they knew the real twist.

The film slows down at the end. When I watched the film it feels like there is no real true climatic point to the story but atmosphere building. This makes sense with the type of story this is.

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Year: 1935
Duration: 60 minutes

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Two and a half out of five stars

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