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Dracula's Daughter / Son of Dracula

Classic Monster Collection: Series Three

  • Dracula's Daughter / Son of Dracula
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man / House of Frankenstein
  • The Mummy's Ghost / The Mummy's Curse
  • The Mummy's Hand / The Mummy's Tomb
  • Son of Frankenstein / Ghost of Frankenstein
  • Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London

  • A look back....
  • In 1931 Universal saved its financial bacon with Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. Along with Frankenstein that same year, Dracula helped launch the studio's long line of Classic Monster movies and guaranteed that Universal's footprint in the cultural clay was permanent. So the only question arising from the possibility of a sequel to Dracula is why didn't they think of it sooner?

    Dracula's Daughter, completed on Friday the 13th in March 1936, is not merely a sequel as we're used to them today — it's a direct continuation of Dracula that furthers the story, even down to the disposal of the Count's body by the title villainess. Maybe "villain" is too strong here, at least at first. Although Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) is one of the late Count's vampiric progeny, she would just as soon be free of her curse and live "as a woman" again. Having been undead for 100 years, she yearns to be happy in the daylight instead of morose in "the shadows of the dead." She seeks release from the "horrible impulses" that drive her. Zaleska's broody manservant, Sandor (Irving Pichel), is not so convinced that the curse can be undone, nor is he at all pleased that the Countess is even considering such a reversal.

    The action begins at the moment Dracula ends, with Prof. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan again, though now it's inexplicably "Von" Helsing) having just staked his evil nemesis. Two policemen arrive on the scene, and the answer to their "What's been going on here?" lands Von Helsing at Scotland Yard, charged with murder and/or insanity. He requests the aid of his former student, psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger, six years before he was the bad guy in Hitchcock's Saboteur). Garth, the one man who can vouch for the Professor's veracity and sanity, is about to receive a first-hand education in vampirology. It's not long before Dracula's body disappears from the police morgue, and the culprit is a hypnotic (literally) aristocratic beauty, a countess recently arrived in London from Hungary. Zaleska takes Dracula's body into the forest and burns it, releasing his soul and, she hopes, releasing hers from his supernatural hold. Unfortunately, by nightfall she's overcome by her vampire nature, and the local populace is once again beset with drained bodies and jugular punctures. Desperate and lonely, Zaleska takes more than a professional liking to Dr. Garth, and hopes to turn him into an immortal like herself. Using Garth's girlfriend as bait, she maneuvers him to Transylvania and into Dracula's castle (the sets, including the famous cobwebbed staircase, from the original), where the Zaleska-Garth-Sandor triangle plays out in a final confrontation.

    Many aficionados consider Dracula's Daughter to be the best vampire movie of the '30s, and there's some credence to that appraisal. Not as slow and stage-bound as Dracula, it broadens the canvas on which Universal painted the cinematic Dracula and continues its theme of modern science coping with ancient supernatural forces. Zaleska is right at home in Dracula's fortress and refers to it as "my castle," though when she calls herself "Dracula's daughter" it's not clear whether she means that literally or figuratively. Could she have been one of the three "brides" Jonathan Harker encountered in the original? Or was she elsewhere in the castle when the Count was preparing his trip to London? No matter. Holden, dark and moody, delivers a memorable, magnetic performance in what was only her second film.

    Kruger doesn't come off nearly as well, Garth being so dull and generic a hero that Sandor is the more arresting masculine presence and Von Helsing the more interesting protagonist. There's little in the way of genuine creeps here, Daughter's impact coming chiefly from mood and the demonstrated potential of Zaleska's supernatural dangers. A sprinkling of light humor helps things along, as do a director and scriptwriter who obviously cared about the material assigned them. The geography of the Universal Classic Monsters universe, always a curiosity in these films, here reveals that Transylvania is only one quick trip by biplane from London.

    Trivia note: Had it not been for social pressures, this movie would have been much more of a scare-fest. That's a point explicated in this DVD's fine Production Notes, which include details of a proposed origin story for Count Dracula himself. What the Notes don't mention is that Dracula's Daughter was first conceived soon after the original Dracula. It was meant for director James Whale following his success with Bride of Frankenstein, which this new Dracula outing was supposed to top. Dracula's daughter was conceived as nothing less than a 1930s dominatrix with a dungeon full of appropriate gadgetry, seen at one point keeping Dracula's three vampire brides in line with a whip! Alas, the directing duties eventually ended up in the able but lesser hands of Lambert Hillyer, with the story completely restructured to keep the censors happy.

    Today, beyond the aficionados, Dracula's Daughter is best known for an effective scene wherein the Countess, operating from her artist's flat in Chelsea and stalking the fogbound streets wearing a black hooded cloak and hypnotic ring, victimizes a pretty young street girl, a scene cited for its suggestion of lesbian overtones. While that may be stretching analysis a bit, it's interesting to note that according to a message to Universal by the writer of the initial script treatment, "The uses of a female vampire instead of a male gives us a chance to play up the sex and cruelty legitimately." Ah, history.

    *          *          *

    Universal's Dracula legend deserved to have its dignity remain intact, and that would have been the case had the studio stopped with Dracula's Daughter. Instead, Dracula himself returned in the flesh (well, sort of) in 1943's Son of Dracula. Oh, despite the title and the ongoing debates this movie still sparks among genre fans, the opening credits state quite plainly that Lon Chaney Jr. is playing none other than the Count who doesn't drink wine. Now he's seeking the blood of "a young and virile race" at the American Deep South plantation known as Dark Oaks. The pretty woman who falls under his supernatural influence says point-blank that the real name of the mysterious Count Alucard (get it?) is Dracula. However, this fellow materializing out of glowing mist, turning into a bat, and either killing people or making a willing girl his vampire bride is far removed from Lugosi's Transylvanian nobleman.

    We can wish that the studio had either given the role to (as Karloff later eulogized) "poor old Bela" or echanged the vampire's name to anything else. But Dracula had become a brand name, Lugosi had fallen into disfavor at the studio, and Lon Chaney Jr., who made his mark in The Wolf Man, was the ruling Universal monster star. The previous year he'd played the Mummy in The Mummy's Tomb and Frankenstein's Monster in Ghost of Frankenstein, then in '43 he reprised the Wolf Man in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and the next year returned in The Mummy's Ghost and House of Frankenstein. Chaney Jr. had little of his father's screen gifts. Never an actor of much range or depth, he was all wrong as Alucard/Dracula, a role that only underlines and boldfaces his professional limits. He projects all the Old World charisma of a mailman and sports a flat American accent that reduces Transylvania to some town in Oklahoma.

    Otherwise, as a vampire movie Son of Dracula's story of a strange foreigner arriving at a Southern plantation (complete with vintage black stereotypes) and marrying the landowner's daughter is good, if unremarkable. There are some moments of interest, including a creepy scene that begins with Alucard's coffin rising from the depths of a swamp. One raise of the eyebrow is occasioned by the undead monster quaintly carrying his new bride over the threshhold. Son of Dracula is standard-issue vampire fare and a sub-standard Dracula entry. The sore thumb is Chaney, who will always be rightly remembered as Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man. How the Count recovered from his cremation in Dracula's Daughter, and how his staked skeleton later makes its way to the European carnival where in House of Frankenstein he becomes John Carradine, are stories probably better left untold.

    *          *          *

    This Offspring of Dracula double-feature serves up two of the best-looking prints in this wave of Universal Classic Monster DVDs. Both prints are generally free of speckling, blotches, or scratches. In each the image (full-frame 1.33:1) is crisp with good detail and fine grayscale levels. The Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural audio is almost as good. You get some pops now and then, though no hiss and the sound is clear, more than adequate for the tasks at hand. At one point Son is marred by moments of audio distortion, a minor exception on this nearly flawless disc.

    Extras include excellent Production Notes by genre historian Tom Weaver, Cast & Crew bios, and each movie's theatrical trailer. (Note: the Production Notes for Daughter are in an all-caps font that's difficult to read from a typical viewing distance. The notes for Son are better rendered.) Language tracks are in English and, for Son only, Spanish. Daughter's subtitles are in Spanish and French, and Son's are in French only. Keep-case.

    —Mark Bourne

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