|Dracula's Daughter/Son of Dracula|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 27 April 2004|
Some horror historians think "Dracula's Daughter" is a better film than the original "Dracula," directed by Todd Browning. While "Dracula's Daughter" is a good film for what it is, it completely lacks the bizarre intimations of the supernatural that infuse "Dracula" like the fog in both movies infuses London. As stagey as it is after the Transylvanian sequences, "Dracula" still suggests a world of supernatural darkness lying just beyond ours, partly due to the baroque, unforgettable performance of Bela Lugosi.
"Dracula's Daughter" is a far more conventional film, somewhat awkwardly directed by Lambert Hillyer, who otherwise spent most of his long career in B Westerns. John L. Balderston wrote the story that was filmed (a different one was originally planned, to be directed by none other than James Whale), and Garrett Fort penned the intelligent if stodgy screenplay.
The movie begins immediately after the end of "Dracula;" Professor Van (here, Von) Helsing (Edward Van Sloan again) is arrested for the murder of Count Dracula. He thinks only psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) can help him, but Garth doesn't believe in vampires. Meanwhile, Dracula's daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), has destroyed her father's body in the hopes that this will free her from her own curse of vampirism. Her cynical but devoted follower Sandor (Irving Pichel, made up to resemble Lugosi), assures her that she always will be one of the Undead. And this proves to be true.
When she meets Garth at a party, Zaleska begins to believe that perhaps he can help; the term is not used, but she thinks analysis will cure her. Garth's assistant, slumming noblewoman Janet Blake (Marguerite Churchill), thinks little of Zaleska (but a lot of Garth; we know they're in love before they do, a common 30s plot gambit). This leads to Zaleska kidnapping Janet and fleeing back to her father's castle in Transylvania (some of the same sets from "Dracula" are re-used, or carefully duplicated).
"Dracula's Daughter" is reasonably entertaining, and seems to have been popular in its day, but today it seems as dated as "Dracula," albeit in a very different manner. There are trace elements of screwball comedy (Janet as a madcap heiress), but they're extraneous. Scenes of Kruger sternly offering Holden psychiatric advice to cure vampirism (though at that point he doesn't know what her problem is) seem a little absurd. There's little sense of urgency, even at the climax, which is badly handled by Hillyer.
The performances vary widely; Kruger is professional, but doesn't seem very romantic, nor much like a psychiatrist. Marguerite Churchill is cute and spunky, but it's as if she's in a completely different movie from Irving Pichel (later to direct "Destination Moon"). Gloria Holden was a relative newcomer, and tends to overact much of the time. The character is memorable, but conceptually, not for Holden's performance.
The film has struck a chord with some feminist critics, and it's understandable why this would be. There are elements of lesbianism in Zaleska's attack on a would-be model, and in how she looks at Janet when she's under vampiric control. But this kind of criticism is historic/cultural, and not particularly relevant to the quality of the film itself. It's worthy of this kind of study, but that approach won't tell the average viewer if they're likely to enjoy the film.
The transfer is from an excellent, nearly flawless print, though the contrast is a little weak -- the blacks are not as strong as they might have been. The 2.0 soundtrack is, especially for a 1936 medium-budget film, well presented, though of course it lacks the dynamic range that movie sound developed later on.
"Son of Dracula" is a very different kind of film. Fast-paced, beautifully photographed by George Robinson mostly on soundstage sets, and extremely well directed by Robert Siodmak -- his only horror movie, and the only time he worked with his writer brother Curt on this side of the Atlantic.
Somewhere in Louisiana, Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) returns from Europe to her family plantation, Dark Oaks. Meanwhile, we see a vampire (Lon Chaney, Jr.) arrive and kill the father of Louise and her fair sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers). Eventually, Katherine surprises and hurts Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), who's loved her all his life and expected to marry her, when she reveals she intends to marry European Count Alucard, whom she met in Europe.
Alucard, no surprise, is the Son of Dracula of the title, a sleek and suave foreigner with a not-quite-hidden streak of brutality. Frank is shattered, sure there's something behind all this. Meanwhile, local Dr. Brewster and Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg), his movie's Van Helsing, begin to suspect that Alucard is indeed a vampire.
Katherine does have a plan, but it's surprising and darkly romantic; it's worth watching the film just to find out what she is really up to.
Curt Siodmak wrote the screen story and Eric Taylor the final script, a very fine piece of work. Taylor manages to work in almost every aspect of vampirism and to come up with new ones; not only does Alucard turn into a bat and a mist (to seep under doors), but he hides his coffin underwater in a bayou, and rides it ashore like a surfboard for the Undead. That's a flippant description, but the moment in the film itself plays out very well; it's eerie, unexpected and, like much about "Son of Dracula," mystically romantic.
Some have complained that the round-faced Chaney was ill-suited to play a lean and hungry vampire, but those outside the circle of horror fandom are likely to think that he does a fine job. His physicality brings a new dimension to the role of a vampire which didn't recur until Christopher Lee donned the cape 15 years later. In addition to displaying a real sense of power -- the scene in which he throws Paige through a closed door is still startling -- Chaney seems satisfactorily regal, and even slightly tragic.
Louise Allbritton and Robert Paige, however, have the central roles; Alucard is a supporting player to their romance, though he doesn't realize this. Both were studio players, but could rise to the occasion, as they do here; Paige is occasionally a bit much in his fits of near-psychotic despair, but his last scene has the needed aura of bitter tragedy.
Again, the print used for this DVD is very good; Robinson's beautifully-composed photography has never looked better on home video. And while the sound is 2.0, it was well-recorded in the first place. It's a very nice presentation of a surprisingly good film, just a shade below the level of true classic.