Look out! She'll get you!
The more things change, the more things stay the same. After a summer of sequelitis, it's interesting to remember that the disease is nothing new to Hollywood, and certainly no stranger to the horror genre. Universal hit it big with the 1931 release of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, then went on to produce a string of well-known monster classics. It was inevitable that the studio would revisit their tested franchise, but it's surprising that they waited five years. When they did put out the first sequel, Universal made it clear that good 'ol Dracula had been sucking a little more than just blood. Dracula's Daughter and Son Of Dracula make their DVD debut as a double feature from Universal.
Facts of the Case
Dracula's Daughter picks up right where the original film left off. Professor Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) stands over the wooden stake-impaled vampire Count Dracula (a wax sculpture filling in for our beloved Bela Lugosi). The bobbies from Scotland Yard arrive and take Von Helsing into custody for the murder of Dracula. Naturally, the cops don't believe that Dracula was a bloodsucker and that Von Helsing was actually doing them a favor. Von Helsing calls on the help of Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), his former pupil, a brilliant psychologist. Garth doesn't believe Von Helsing's tales about vampires but vows to do everything in his power to keep his old friend from the gallows. Meanwhile, the beautiful and mysterious Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) hypnotizes a bumbling policeman and steals the body of Dracula, her father. With the help of her creepy assistant Sandor (Irving Pichel), Marya destroys the body, intending to escape her own curse of vampirism. But Marya still has the hunger for blood and feeds accordingly on both the men and young women of London. Marya consults with Dr. Garth about her obsession and she begins to fall in love with him, desiring his eternal companionship.
Son Of Dracula has less direct correlation to its predecessors. Kay Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), the daughter of a wealthy American landowner invites Hungarian Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) for a visit to her father's Southern plantation, Black Oak. The very night that Alucard arrives Kay's father mysteriously dies. Though she's engaged to Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), Kay begins to see Count Alucard at night, despite the warnings of her younger sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) and their concerned family doctor, Harry Brewster (Frank Craven). When Frank hears of Kay's involvement with the Count, she assures him she has a plan. It's not long before Count Alucard and Kay are married in a late night ritual, and Alucard is the new master of Black Oak. Frank confronts the couple and when Alucard attacks, Frank accidentally shoots Kay. Convinced he's killed his fiancé, Frank turns himself into the police. But at the plantation, Dr. Brewster finds Kay to be alive and well. Frank and Dr. Brewster, with the help of Hungarian folklore expert Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg) begin to suspect that Alucard is actually a vampire, the offspring of Dracula. They must learn the secret behind Kay and Alucard's unholy alliance before Kay's soul is damned forever.
Dracula's Daughter premiered in 1936. After a run of horror hits, including Dracula and Frankenstein at the beginning of the decade, Universal received harsh criticism from parents' groups and religious organization over the content of their fright fests. In response to this criticism, Universal altered the original script of Dracula's Daughter and made a very tame vampire film. Indeed, even the antagonist is merely a lonely woman who wants to escape her lifestyle, not evil personified like her notorious father. Despite this, Dracula's Daughter is a chilling and moody entry to the Universal Monster Classics series. The film hinges on the performance of Gloria Holden as Dracula's female offspring. Aside from being hauntingly beautiful, Holden is enigmatic and vulnerable. Edward Van Sloan's return as Von Helsing lends a valuable continuity to the sequel. Otto Kruger is a bit less impressive, though the sexual tension between him and his assistant Janet (Marguerite Churchill) is very fun. Probably the best scene of the film, and the most risqué, is one in which Marya convinces a young street woman to pose for a portrait. Marya has the young woman partially undress before the inevitable attack. The lesbian overtones are undeniable, especially for 1936, but, hey, lesbians and vampires have always gone hand in hand, right?
That being said Dracula's Daughter could've been more. The concept of a female vampire attacking male victims has several implications socially and sexually that the film shies away from exploring. Bela Lugosi is sorely missed, of course, in the role that made him famous. Apparently the original script called for a prologue starring Lugosi, detailing how Count Dracula became a vampire in the first place. That may have pushed this film a little closer to the mark of greatness. As is, it's a fun sequel, if not a worthy film on its own.
1943's Son Of Dracula is much less impressive. Despite an interesting and fairly original story element in which a woman is actually seeking the eternal life, which is the blessing or curse of vampirism, the story is much more convoluted and less enjoyable on a whole than Dracula's Daughter. Though it is Alucard's plan to discreetly move to America to enjoy fresh victims, he absurdly reverses the order of the letters in his name (Alucard spelled backwards is "Dracula" in case you didn't get that. This brings back memories of Ed Wood's equally idiotic plans for a film called Dr. Acula.). So much for protecting his anonymity. On the other hand, Alucard, as played by Lon Chaney Jr., fits right in in the Deep South, with his vaguely southern twang and hillbilly looks. Frankly, Chaney has no business in this role—he's not even vaguely European and barely scary without any monster makeup. Bela Lugosi was interested in the role, and would've brought a weight to the role sorely lacking here. But as Chaney was the horror star du jour at Universal at the time, he snagged the role. He's a detriment to the series. Unlike, Dracula's Daughter, Son Of Dracula isn't continuous at all with the original film. In fact, it's never adequately explained whether Alucard is the son of Dracula or actually Dracula himself and if he has any relation at all to Marya. It's almost as if the title of the film was an afterthought.
There are a few fun things about Son Of Dracula. The special effects are very good, particularly the utilization of the gas vapor as a means of vampire transit. I believe this introduced a new element to the vampire lore. Another creepy sequence occurs when Alucard's coffin literally emerges from the bottom of a murky swamp. Alucard seeps out of his bed and then glides across the swamp to the waiting arms of Kay. That sequence gave me the chills but, unfortunately, just that once.
Dracula's Daughter/Son Of Dracula is part of a new line of classic
horror double features by Universal. Whereas Universal's more popular monster
classics were given full-fledged special edition treatment, the draw of these
discs is getting two films for the price of one.
Both features are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality of these prints is very impressive, especially considering both films are well over fifty years old. Both films have solid black levels and are mostly free from grain and other defects. There are some instances of deterioration, but overall, the video presentation is very pleasing to the eye.
Dracula's Daughter/Son Of Dracula are both presented with the original English mono audio tracks. Here the presentations differed a bit. During chapters 8 and 12 of Son Of Dracula the audio track was noticeably deteriorated, with loud rumbling pulsing throughout much of the scenes. Aside from these instances both films audio presentations are better than one could expect of such old films. Dracula's Daughter/Son Of Dracula contains English, Spanish and French subtitles, and Son Of Dracula features a Spanish mono audio track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, these discs might've benefited from some more special features, but that seems like sour grapes. Universal has a huge catalogue of monster titles and cannot realistically be expected to give each one special edition treatment. So instead, Universal's goal is to give the consumer more for their money, and should be applauded as such.
Though I definitely have a preference when it comes to the two films, Dracula's Daughter and Son Of Dracula make an appropriate duet on DVD. Neither film can be considered a true classic, but Dracula aficionados should be very pleased with the quality and price of this set of lesser-known titles.
Not guilty! Keep 'em coming, Universal!
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