Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

DRACULA'S DAUGHTER


DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936). Director: Lambert Hillyer.

This first sequel to the Bela Lugosi Dracula has Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloane) trying to explain why he drove a stake through Count Dracula's heart and in danger of either being put on trial for murder or institutionalized as insane. [A similar situation occurred in Columbia's entry into the vampire sweepstakes, Return of the Vampire.] Otto Kruger plays Jeffrey Garth, a psychiatrist who tries to help his friend Van Helsing, and Marguerite Churchill is his busy-body secretary. But the main attraction is Countess Marya Zaleska, who claims to be Dracula's daughter, and is played by one of the most fascinating screen presences of the period, Gloria Holden. Holden is very effective as a tormented woman who hopes that Dracula's death means she is free from his curse of vampirism, which turns out (luckily for the audience) not to be the case. Irving Pichel, who also directed many films, plays Sandor, the countess' major domo. Nan Grey is effective as a pretty young would-be suicide, Lily, who becomes a victim of the she-vampire, and Hedda Hopper appears as a high society acquaintance of Garth's.

[Some have seen a supposedly "sapphic" tone to Dracula's Daughter because of the scene in which she hypnotizes Lily and then drinks her blood. But she also hunts and attacks a man earlier in the film, and wants to turn Otto Kruger into one of the undead so that he can spend eternity with her. Besides, in the Lugosi Dracula his victim Lucy, once undead, stalks children, which doesn't necessarily make her a pedophile.] The film doesn't quite make it clear if Holden is actually Dracula's daughter (can the undead impregnate?) or simply someone he turned into a vampire via his curse of blood. In any case, it seems clear that the countess wants to be cured so that she can enter the world of light and laughter, not because she cares about her victims, making her selfish and ultimately unsympathetic. Dracula's Daughter is an entertaining picture, but there's too much comedy and romance in the film, and not enough horror. Even so, it's better than the original. Although Holden appeared in quite a few films after Dracula's Daughter, and played the wife of Emile Zola, her promise was never fulfilled.

Verdict: Flawed but fascinating. ***.

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