Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Director: Tod Browning

The imposition of the Production Code in 1934 meant difficult times ahead for the horror genre, and this film kind of unhappily exemplifies that in various ways… this is Browning’s own remake of his 1927 London After Midnight, relocated to eastern Europe (it was originally called Vampires of Prague, apparently) but still revolving around the same story: man is murdered, a preposterous scheme involving fake vampires to catch the killer is put into action (though apparently there was originally a twist in which they were found to be real after all). And while LAM was a sizeable box office hit in its day and is still one of the most sought-after lost silent films, the remake has never fared nearly so well. Indeed, MGM themselves probably had no real faith in the thing either, horror not really being Louis B.’s favourite genre; apparently it had anywhere up to 20 minutes cut from it (including comedy relief and the back story of the “vampires”) before release. Still, as Wm. Everson observes, even something they probably viewed as a piece of worthless shit had to be given the MGM treatment, and if Mark of the Vampire is basically nonsense it’s nicely produced nonsense (the first shot of the “vampires” in the castle is actually kind of amazing). And, as the DVD commentary observes (also David J Skal in The Monster Show), the film also seems to cop more than a few moves from Dracula, which was, of course, directed (putatively) by Browning as well: Bela Lugosi, useless male lead, no music score, dodgy rubber spider, same innkeeper, etc. As for the whole “it’s a trick” aspect to the plot, this is still a point of contention; the whole “explained supernatural” goes all the way back to Ann Radcliffe, of course, but it still feels like a cheat… there is the theory, advanced by Messrs Newman & Jones on the commentary, that the film is at least partly parodic in nature (counting the slightly overdone acting as actually part of the story), but I’m not overly convinced. Just too many things that don’t make a damn bit of sense. I’ll give this more credit than I probably did when I first saw it many years ago—at least the production values and visuals are far better than I recall and should be credited accordingly—but I still find it enormously unsatisfying and hard to really like; the sixty-minute run time is, perhaps, a blessing…

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