Sir Karell Borotyn appears to have been killed by Count Mora, a vampire believed to haunt the local village. Now his daughter Irena is the count's next target. Enter Professor Zelen, an expert on vampires who's sent in to prevent her death. At the same time, secrets are revealed surrounding the circumstances of Sir Karell's death.
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“Mark of the Vampire” (also known as Vampires of Prague) is a remarkable horror film directed by Tod Browning and stars Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, and Jean Hersholt. Today the film is considered a remake of 1927 silent film “London After Midnight,” also directed by Tod Browning. This film is four years after “Dracula” (1931) also directed by Browning and stars Bela Lugosi.
Infused with a spooky Dracula approach, “Mark of the Vampire,” takes place in mid-Europe and involves the murder of patriarch Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert). His death is believed to be caused by vampires, Count Mora (Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland) because he was found drained of blood and marked with a well-defined bite mark on his neck. A year later Inspector Neumann (Atwill) and a Van Helsing-esque Professor Zelin, (Barrymore), investigate the murder. Suspects are Fedor Vincente (Henry Wadsworth), who stands to benefit a large sum of money because his fiancé Irena Borotyn (Allan) was Sir Karell Borotyn’s only child, and Baron Otto Von Zinden (Hersholt), Irena's guardian and soon-to-be executor of her estate.
Count Mora and Luna make a nuisance of themselves by turning into bats and terrorizing everyone around Borotyn castle. Fedor obtains bite marks on his neck that are identical to the ones found on Sir Karell. Luna frightens the maid Maria (Leila Bennett) by walking eerily in the midst by the old castle. Irena is attacked as well and Sir Karell comes back to life. Inspector Neumann, Professor Zelin and Baron Otto form an expedition into the depths of the castle to find the vampires graves and kill them. Then the plot progressively reveals an interesting unexpected twist because Professor Zelin and Inspector Neumann have a huge secret. Lugosi's biography notes that neither of the actors knew how the film was going to end until the final days of production.
“Mark of the Vampire” is campy by today’s standards, but it coincides with the humor element of the film. The scenes with the Three Stooges-esque butler, Jan (Ivan Simpson) who is very nervous about the vampires are memorable. He stays loyal to the Borotyn’s, even though he is deathly afraid. Lionel Barrymore goes for a dramatic effect and is eccentrically watchable. His mannerisms are so slow and deliberate that one could think he is “undead.” Lugosi and Borland are exceptionally eerie, especially when they are walking silently almost as if hypnotized through the castle. Lugosi still has his famous malevolent leer, a reminiscent of “Dracula,” and Borland has the essence of a gothic vampiress. She set the standard for "Vampira" of the 1950s "Morticia" of the "Addams Family" in the 1960s and "Elvira" of the 1980s.
Throughout the film, Count Mora has an unexplained bullet wound on his temple. In the original script, Count Mora was supposed to have had an incestuous relationship with his daughter Luna and committed suicide. “Mark of the Vampire” was originally around 80 minutes, but MGM cut it back 60 apparently because of the incestuous relationship (Hays Code). One of director Tod Browning's previous films, Freaks (1932), was a box office failure and was unable to protest any changes made by the studio. Despite the flaws from the heavy editing, visually this film is creepy with moderate special effects which add greatly to the atmosphere. “Mark of the Vampire” is certainly not the typical vampire movie, but rather an intentional satire of a horror film.