Son of Dracula 1943 is an highly-enjoyable original spin on a familiar genre, says guest writer RICHARD MARKWORTH
TITLE: Son of Dracula
DIRECTOR: Richard Siodmak
CAST: Lon Chaney Jr, Louise Allbritton, Robert Paige, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Craven
Review of Son of Dracula 1943
The success of Universal’s Dracula 1931, starring Bela Lugosi as the eponymous vampire, along with the same year’s equally iconic Frankenstein, meant sequels were inevitable as the studio full-bloodedly embraced the new craze for horror.
Unlike the later Hammer cycle, where star Christopher Lee was begrudgingly cajoled into continually reprising the role, the first follow-up to Universal’s Dracula did not feature Lugosi but rather introduced audiences to Dracula’s Daughter 1935, portrayed by glacial beauty Gloria Holden.
The third entry also eschewed the great Bela and featured another member of the undead family, Son of Dracula 1943. On this occasion, the title character was played by Creighton Chaney, re-christened Lon Chaney Junior by a studio anxious to capitalise on his famous father’s name.
Chaney Jnr is best known for his role as tortured Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man. But his portrayal of Dracula, along with Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy, meant he had the honour of being the only actor to play all of Universal’s classic quartet of monsters.
The change of lead in the vampire role is not the only departure from the 1931 original. This story does not begin in the environs of old Europe among crumbing castles and peasant villages but rather is set in contemporary New Orleans, where the Count has his sights set on the new world and its ‘virile’ population.
Director Robert Siodmak appears to revel in the juxtaposition of the old world and the new.
The film opens to a screen of cobwebs, representing the past, cleared by an anonymous hand to reveal the opening credits.
We are introduced to Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) and Dr Brewster (Frank Craven) who are awaiting the arrival of one Count Alucard (probably the most transparent alias ever concocted) an expected visitor to the area. The Count is nowhere to be seen but his ‘luggage’ consisting of several large crates, instantly identifiable to any horror fan worth their salt, arrives by train. There is no rickety coach or ship-wrecked Demeter here, the transport mode of the vampire is wholly modern. The dead travel quickly indeed.
We next meet elderly Colonel Caldwell (George Irving), owner of the plantation Dark Oaks and daughters, town-dwelling Claire (Evelyn Ankers) and occult-obsessed fiancée of Stanley, Katherine (Louise Allbritton). It’s revealed Katherine has been communicating with Alucard and invited him to America. But for what purpose? What follows is a Gothic-tinged tale of intrigue as Katherine’s true machinations are revealed.
Siodmak, later renowned for his film noir movies, displays his genre sensibilities to great effect employing a striking use of shadow, particularly in the scene where Brewster investigates the contents of Dark Oaks’ cellar whilst stalked by Dracula.
Katherine, the antithesis of the usual vampire film victim, surely holds claim to being one of cinema’s ultimate femme fatales, demonstrating her willingness to sacrifice her family and manipulate Dracula himself to achieve her objectives. Even Phillip Marlowe would have struggled to cope with this lady!
The weak ‘Alucard’ alias jars somewhat, especially as everyone involved appears to have heard of Dracula, and Chaney cannot match Lugosi’s sinister charisma. However, he provides a restrained performance of icy menace which serves the film well and Siodmak creates some haunting scenes amidst the New Orleans swamp.
The director illustrates Dracula’s supernatural nature admirably, particularly when confronting his scientific adversaries, Doctor Brewster and Professor Lazlo. The movie is also notable for displaying the first on-screen man to bat transformation.
While not perfect, Son of Dracula 1943 remains a highly-enjoyable entry in the Universal series and should be commended for attempting an original spin on a familiar genre.
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