Release Date(s)1935 (October 11, 2022)
Studio(s)Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
One of classic horror’s most-discussed entries, Mark of the Vampire is also a remake of London After Midnight, one of the most famous lost films in history. As such, the back and forth between fans of the genre on whether the film’s infamous twist ending works or not has been hotly debated since the film was originally released in 1935. It’s rumored that Bela Lugosi himself was annoyed by it, campaigning for the story to be more of a straightforward vampire tale of sorts instead. How much truth there is in that isn’t all that clear, but what’s obvious is that director Tod Browning was keen on having another go at this particular story with MGM’s support.
The murdered body of Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is discovered with two small holes in its neck, cluing in the superstitious locals that a vampire is afoot. The police, including Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill), toss the notion aside as utter nonsense. Despite this, a pair of vampiric figures, Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and Luna (Carroll Borland), begin appearing at night on the foggy grounds. Believing Sir Karell’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) to be in danger, they enlist the help of Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore), who convinces the group that they are indeed dealing with something supernatural and must stop it before Irena becomes the next victim.
Despite the fact that there are inconsistencies in the plot in relation to the eventual outcome of Mark of the Vampire (revealing the ending would spoil it for those who’ve yet to experience it), it’s still an atmospheric and clever premise. The performances are quite good and, thanks in part to MGM’s meddling, the film was purportedly relieved of much of its comic relief. Even the Universal horror films of old were guilty of shoehorning in broad characters to pull faces and be generally slapstick-ish for the audience, but Mark of the Vampire thankfully has very little of that.
Bela Lugosi has very little screen time and says almost nothing, as does the pearlescent Carroll Borland, but they make for an effective pair. Hints of Luna being Mora’s daughter and that they might have had an incestuous relationship while still alive were dropped out of the story altogether, leaving the bit of blood on the side of Mora’s head unexplained. The film was also trimmed down from 75 minutes to 60 after early screenings, mostly to scale back some of the comic relief (or so it is believed). Regardless, Mark of the Vampire did well upon release, despite the criticisms laid against it. Today, it’s still a film that generates avid discussion among fans, particularly those fans of Dracula who might have expected more of an uncomplicated vampire tale.
Mark of the Vampire was shot by cinematographer James Wong Howe on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Warner Archive debuts the film on Blu-ray for the first time with a new 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative. It’s a gorgeous black-and-white presentation with thoroughly resolved grain. It also features excellent clarity and contrast with deep blacks and perfect grayscale. Detail is high in every scene, but appropriately bright and dark in the correct areas. The high bit rate sits primarily at nearly 40 Mbps. The only imperfection to be found is a minor bit of speckling, which is difficult to spot. It’s near perfection in 1080p.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a clean track with only very mild hiss, but excellent support for dialogue and score.
Mark of the Vampire on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with an insert featuring artwork from the film’s pressbook and one of its theatrical posters. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
- A Thrill for Thelma (Upscaled SD – 18:00)
- Happy Harmonies: The Calico Dragon (Upscaled SD – 7:57)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:00)
The audio commentary with authors and film historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones was recorded in 2006 for the Warner Bros. Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection DVD release. Though it’s a vintage track at this point and the two occasionally make references to things that are out of date, it’s still an enjoyable and educational listen. They watch the film together and provide their own insights into its creation, while also offering criticisms of its content. A Thrill for Thelma is an MGM short film from 1935 that was a part of the Crime Does Not Pay series. In it, a young woman and a police detective relate the events that led to her downfall into a life of crime. The film was directed by Edward L. Cahn, who helmed a number of these short subject films, but also much later directed The She-Creature and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. The Calico Dragon is a Happy Harmonies cartoon short, also from 1935, in which toys come to life in a little girl’s dream to fight a dragon. The theatrical trailer is great as it features exclusive footage of Bela Lugosi speaking directly to the audience about the upcoming film.
Seeing Mark of the Vampire in such pristine quality will be a revelation for many. It’s a problematic film for some, but none can deny the quality of Warner Archive’s restoration as presented here. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons