THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (Tod Browning, 1935)

Lon Chaney, the “man of a thousand faces,” contributed two of these to his legendary, apparently lost silent, London After Midnight (1927), about Scotland Yard’s unraveling of a posh murder. Hypnosis is used to make the suspected criminal re-enact his crime; the victim’s doppelganger is also employed in the plot. The film is based on a story, “The Hypnotist,” by the film’s director, Tod Browning.
     Browning’s sound-era remake, The Mark of the Vampire, is a truly terrifying horror film, but also an elegant, twisting mystery, a witty spoof of the vampire genre, and a lovely theatrical postmodernist exercise. Although bare-bones abbreviated (the version we have is twenty minutes shorter than the preview version), it is an intermittently brilliant film.
     For some, the plot is something of a cheat; but this is not the case. Just as the doctor’s explanation at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is insufficient to explain the depth of horror of all we have witnessed at the Bates Motel, Professor Zelen’s explanation of all the doings at Sir Karell Borotyn’s London mansion is insufficient to erase the film’s impression of supernatural horror. The film “plays fair,” by showing us the plot to trap the murderer, who is human and alive, not a vampire, rather than springing this on us only at the end; but the ham actor playing Count Mora, the alleged vampire: this chap that we see at the end: is he really the Count Mora who earlier appears in “human”-form after a bat flies in through a window, towards the camera, in a gust of fog? How might an actor in a threadbare traveling troupe have created this illusion? Just when does the “plot” kick in?
     Bela Lugosi, briefly, is feral and ferocious as Mora.

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