Directed by Tod Browning [Other horror films: The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight (1927), Dracula (1931), Freaks (1932), The Devil-Doll (1936)]
Having seen this twice now, I wish that I could like it more. The problem is, though, that the finale seems to come out of nowhere, and there’s a certain incoherence when it comes to the ending of the film. Many comment that it seems some scenes where removed, and it’s easy to see why.
Ignoring that for now, the rest of the movie is decent. The atmosphere is solid, what with a decrepit mansion (it doesn’t look too dissimilar from the mansion in Dracula, from four years earlier), some mystery, a village afraid of vampires, and all that stuff.
The cast is solid, but generally unmemorable. You have big names such as Lionel Barrymore (1926’s The Bells and 1936’s The Devil-Doll), Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Black Cat, and many others), Lionell Atwill (Doctor X, The Vampire Bat, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Secret of the Blue Room, and others), and a few unknown names who did decent also, such as Elizabeth Allan, Henry Wadsworth, and Carroll Borland.
Problematically, because of the mess of the plot, I don’t really think many of these actors really get to shine. Lugosi, of course, is good, but while I appreciated Atwill and Barrymore, neither really blew me away.
Apparently this film was originally an hour and 15 minutes, but 15 minutes were cut, which was, from my understanding, mostly comedic additions. If, instead of an hour, this had been 75 minutes (with the additional 15 minutes being plot-orientated, finale information), Mark of the Vampire wouldn’t feel as disjointed as it sometimes does. Make no mistake, this isn’t as bad as Vampyr, but most definitely this could benefit from some explanation, given how the ending, again, seems to come out of nowhere, and felt utterly convoluted.
A final note, this is generally considered a talkie remake of the unfortunately-lost London After Midnight from 1927. That film, too, had something of a surprise ending, but I suspect it was probably laid out better than it was here. There was a reconstruction using still photographs by TCM, released in 2002, so in some form, the original story is out there.
As for Mark of the Vampire, I appreciate some of what it was going for, but otherwise, having seen it twice, I find it underwhelming.