Mark of the Vampire (1935)

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*. This is one of the most ridiculous movies ever made.
*. It’s a remake of London After Midnight, a silent (and now mostly lost) film also by Tod Browning, based on a story that he wrote. Apparently he quite liked the idea because he thought it worth doing again with sound.
*. As with Freaks, this one was cut to pieces by the studio. Kim Newman and Steve Jones on the DVD commentary talk about how uncomfortable MGM were with the horror genre. Reports are that Browning’s version had some twenty minutes taken out of it, leaving parts of the film mysterious (like the bloody wound on Count Mora’s temple).

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*. But even without the cuts I doubt it would have made sense. The story goes that Browning kept the twist ending a secret even from the cast, and that they were not happy about it. Newman thinks this unlikely because they would have known the original story from London After Midnight, but I’m not so sure. Perhaps they thought they were doing something different? In any event, the ending here has the effect of rendering almost everything that has gone before absurd.
*. I guess the big question then is: How big a joke/mess was this intended to be, and how much of its absurdity was a result of the cuts? Put another way: is it pre- or post-modern?
*. For example, take the line by the Inspector near the end: “We all thought our vampire scheme was so simple!” This is usually met with hilarity by audiences, but was it intended to be funny? Or is it just a really dumb line that misfires?
*. Personally, I think the whole thing was meant to be a Dracula parody from the start, though MGM might not have been in on the joke. A lot of early American horror films refused to take themselves seriously. Think of The Cat and the Canary and the monster movies of James Whale. Newman thinks Whale might have influenced Browning in this respect, but I don’t think he had much to learn.

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*. Car(r)ol(l) Borland as Luna is this movie’s Elsa Lanchester, giving her role a memorable, iconic look (Newman feels she may have been the inspiration for Charles Addams’s Morticia). However, unlike Lanchester, Borland had no further career. I don’t know how strange this is, as there’s no evidence here of her doing any acting. Like Lugosi, she’s really just a prop.
*. Is that Helen Chandler? No, actually it’s Elizabeth Allan. But I dare you to tell them apart from a distance. This may have been incidental, but it’s more likely Browning was trying to make the movie look as much like Dracula as possible.
*. Do you think there was a pun in the title, with the vampire story being used to dupe the killer, thus making him a “mark” of the vampire? Probably not, but it’s possible.
*. Given the odd concept, and its mangling, this remains one of the real curiosities of the 1930s horror boom. One struggles to think of any part of it that’s particularly well done, and yet despite all of its deficiencies, and studio mishandling, it makes a mark.

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