Tod Browning's Mark of the Vampire was never really a lost movie, but it seemed to be misplaced for a long time. I used to see stills from the movie in the genre history books, but it never seemed to show up on the Creature Feature/Shock Theater shows I adored as a boy. I recall an old MGM videotape floating around, but I never got my hands on one. I believe I saw it on cable at some point in the 90s.

Mark of the Vampire still isn't readily available on DVD or Blu-ray. Thankfully Amazon has it up for streaming and I watched it last night.

This one is a mixed bag. There are some absolutely brilliant scenes of horror, and Bela Lugosi and Carroll Borland (billed as Carol Borland) are delicious as a pair of vampires stalking around a cobwebbed castle and through mist-shrouded landscapes. But the story is a featherweight mystery that almost but doesn't quite descend into foolishness.

Mark of the Vampire is an example of the "Old Dark House" subgenre. You get a group of people at a mansion or castle. Supernatural shenanigans ensue, and the guests react with various degrees of fear and hysteria. This sort of thing was intended as light entertainment. Which makes the evocative vampire footage a bit incongruous.

Just four short years after his triumphant role as Dracula, Bela Lugosi merely gets third billing. His dark star fell far too quickly. Lionel Barrymore is the star of this show, and he is pretty good as a goofy vampire expert. Lionel Atwill is also a standout as a stoic police inspector.

Tod Browning was trying to regain his footing after his disastrous, nearly career-destroying experiences with Freaks. His most active years as a film director were in the silent era, and Mark of the Vampire is an uncredited remake of his own London After Midnight, starring Lon Chaney, Sr.

Mark of the Vampire isn't exactly a genre masterpiece, but it's a fun little treat that, at only an hour running time, doesn't wear out its welcome. If nothing else it's worth seeing for the choice vampire scenes. Cheesy fake bats and all.

Written by Mark Sieber

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