TITLE: Dracula’s Daughter
YEAR RELEASED: 1936
DIRECTOR: Lambert Hillyer
CAST: Gloria Holden, Otto Kruger, Marguerite Churchill and Edward Van Sloan
Dracula’s Daughter is a forgotten gem among the many Universal Horrors that we love and cherish. The classy film does not reach the heights of say Bride of Frankenstein (1935) or The Invisible Man (1933) but there’s enough interesting scenes and themes there to make it classic horror.
Dracula’s Daughter is the sequel to Universal’s hugely-popular Dracula (1931), which starred Bela Lugosi in the title role. Only Edward Van Sloan returns from the original cast and is pretty much the only connection to the original film.
This film does not have Bela Lugosi in it. We see Dracula’s body only briefly when he is being cremated but this is a mannequin dressed to look like Lugosi. (Apparently, Lugosi was paid $4000 for this – more than he was paid for his original role!)
Originally the Dracula’s Daughter was to be based on Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker, which was a discarded first chapter of the original novel, turned into a short story. However, when the first script came out, the plot was thought to be too horrific and a newer version was adapted that bares no relation to Dracula’s Guest.
Frankenstein director James Whale was supposed to direct the film but the task eventually went to Lambert Hillyer, who directed The Invisible Ray (1936) with Boris Karloff and the first appearance of Batman on film with the 15-part serial in 1943.
Dracula’s Guest begins as Dracula (1931) left off. Professor Van Helsing (who the credits say is now Von Helsing), played by Edward Van Sloan, is arrested after killing Dracula. He is brought back to “Scotland Yard” to be interviewed by the “Head” of “Scotland Yard” about his horrendous crime. The Prof wants his former student Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) – a psychiatrist – to defend him against the charges. For a man who has only lived one lifetime, when it comes to legal matters, Professor Von Helsing is one stupid man.
(I am using quote marks around “Scotland Yard” etc because within minutes of the film beginning, it is clear that no one involved in this film has ever been to England (maybe except its London-born star Gloria Holden). It is particularly cute how the characters talk as if distance between Whitby and London is little more than a short commute.)
Van Helsing, or Von Helsing if you believe the credits, is quite calm about the fact he is about to get hanged for the deaths of Dracula and Renfield. We leave him to ponder his fate as we cut to Whitby to the only London coppers in all of Yorkshire who are waiting for “Scotland Yard” to pick up the bodies.
Here we meet a mysterious woman Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) who has come to see the body of Dracula – to see if he is dead. The woman hypnotises one of the coppers and takes off with the body.
We discover the Countess burning the body of Dracula to destroy the evil spirits that not only darkened her daddy’s life but her own. Looking on the pyre is creepy weirdo man servant Sandor, who if there was an award for being super weirdy, they would eventually have to change the rules because Sandor would keep winning it every time.
Countess Zaleska is very unhappy about her vampiric condition and hopes now that she has barbecued her Dad, everything will be okay now. But Sandor isn’t so convinced. We soon see the Countess putting the bite on some young chap and we too realise she definitely is her father’s daughter!
For most of the film, there’s nothing too spooky to speak of. Countess Zaleska is a modern, completely-self-aware woman without any particularly strange accent or habits and she chats away with people and does nothing really that creepy.
That is until she gets Sandor to procure a “model” from the street for her to do sketches. This is actually the best part of the film.
Count Zaleska’s leering over the girl is not only erotic but downright creepy. Once the girl starts getting uncomfortable, the scene cuts away to see the girl being taken from an ambulance, her eyes teary like she has been molested. It is intense for an 1930s film and it is surprising the censors let such a violent lesbian-implied scene go through.
Dracula’s Daughter for its time is a modern film that is far removed from its original.
The film is decidedly not creepy at all until the end when they arrive in Transylvania. Until then, the music wouldn’t be scary enough for a crime thriller never mind the sequel to one of the greatest horror films of all time. There’s no bats, only a brief mention of a rat and there’s no cobwebs to be seen. I did like it though but it could have been fantastically better.
The film ends within minutes of the Countess heading back to Transylvania with a plan to blackmail Jeffrey into becoming her undead lover. It’s all pretty quick and ridiculous with Transylvania seeming even closer to London than Whitby.
Despite its shortcomings, Dracula’s Daughter has a interesting, coherent story and makes as much sense as any of the other thousands of Dracula spin-offs over the years.
Imagine how great Dracula’s Daughter could have been had originally director James Whale stuck with the task. If anything, it would not have had the silly little mistakes that only an American in 1936 would make about England.
There’s lots of what ifs with this film, but the fact remains, it is good little film, Gloria Holden is very good as the Daughter and it’s definitely worth watching.