We’re hitting up another classic horror movie with Dracula’s Daughter. I realize the one I just did was Son of Frankenstein – I guess I am in the mood to talk about the succession on famous monsters (or I guess creators of famous monsters in Frankenstein’s case)
I have long had the secret shame that isn’t so secret that I don’t really like 1931’s Dracula. Although I would never deny its significance to horror or film history nor would I knock Bela Lugosi’s performance which today over 80’s years later is still the most recognizable portrayal of horrors most famous vampire. For one reason or another that I’m certain would be heavily contested it was never one of my favorite universal creations. Dracula’s Daughter on the other hand has always remained fascinating to me.
The creation of this film went through a lot of stages before finally ending up officially in Universal’s hands. One of the biggest problems of going forward with the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was how to have a sequel when the titular vampire had met his end in the final act of the original film. One of the solutions was adapting a film based off of the supposedly omitted chapter of the original novel that’s called Dracula’s guest. However the script went through so many changes due to 1930’s censorship that the film in question uses nothing from the works at all.
Finally released in 1936 after many changes the film stars the Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska or as she’s revealed in the film “Dracula’s Daughter”. Now it’s never made perfectly clear but my assumption is that she isn’t his biological daughter but rather someone who had also been turned in to a vampire. Kinda like the Brides of Dracula thing.
The story starts off immediately following the events of the first movie. Two police officers discover the dead Renfield and staked Dracula. (FUN FACT: Bela Lugosi wasn’t in the film but his likeness was used for the wax dummy they used for the body) The only survivor there is Von Helsing played again by Edward Von Sloan. He admits to killing the count and is arrested and to be set to stand trial for murder. He of course believes that he can’t be charged with murder because he killed someone who was already dead. He sends for an old pupil of his Doctor Garth (Otto Kruger) who’s now a psychologist to argue his sanity.
Meanwhile a mysterious woman named Countess Marya comes to London to retrieve Dracula’s body. Not to resurrect it but to destroy it. The reality is that Marya loathes that she is a vampire and wants nothing more than to be a normal person once more. Yet, every night she can’t help her cravings for blood and sets upon the city for fresh victims. She becomes fascinated by Doctor Garth and his comments he makes to her at a party about the mind being able to conquer mental illness and demands that he help him. When it becomes obvious she is the one committing the crimes he refuses her and in a desperate act she kidnaps his assistant then brings her back to Transylvania in order to lure the good doctor to her to make a choice: Save the girl or become her immortal partner.
The films high points are definitely the interaction between Countess Marya and her assistant Sandor played by Irving Pichel. While she is miserable being a vampire and longs for a normal life – he revels in the reality that she is a bloodthirsty killer and also wants to become a vampire. Really, Holden’s performance in this film is something that ahs stood the test of time. She plays a strong aristocratic woman that has an equal sense of superiority as well as a healthy does of self-hatred. It portrays the curse of vampirism as an addiction that she can’t help but fight. Even though some of the lesbian undertones were toned way down from the original script for a 1930’s audience I’m still surprised some of the scenes still played out the way they did. It’s wonderfully effective and pretty interesting considering the films age.
A few missteps were the comedy aspects of the movie. Doctor Garth has a relationship with his own assistant Janet (Marguerite Churchill) that’s something out of a romantic comedy. The scenes are so contrary to the horror elements that it almost seems cut in from other films. While Churchill’s performance is wonderfully energetic and funny with the added benefit of me personally enjoying her character I wish it was far less overbearing. Then again the first portion of the movie is so slow that without it there might be trouble paying attention.
The ending of the movie also felt very rushed. No lie that they get to Transylvania to rescue Janet and stop Dracula’s daughter within the last eight minutes of the film. I would have liked to see that portion far more drawn out with more action.
Still if you’re looking for another Vampire film from Universal’s catalog check this one out. It’s available as part of the Dracula Legacy collection or you could probably find it online.