Halloween Havoc!: DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (Universal 1936)

After the success of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN , Universal decided it was time for a sequel to everybody’s favorite vampire, Dracula , with James Whale scheduled to direct. Whale opted out, putting DRACULA’S DAUGHTER in the hands of Lambert Hillyer , an old pro who dated back to silent William S. Hart Westerns, and was more comfortable with sagebrush sagas than Gothic horror. The result was an uneven film saved by Gloria Holden’s performance as the title character, Countess Marya Zaleska.

I’ll give Hillyer credit for some atmospheric scenes scattered throughout the movie. The opening scene at Carfax Abbey, cobwebbed as ever, picks up where DRACULA left off, with Edward Van Sloan’s Van Helsing (inexplicably renamed Von Helsing here) caught by constables shortly after staking the undead Count. The Countess burning the body of her vampiric father, hoping to free herself of her curse, is spooky, as is the return to Transylvania and Castle Dracula at the end. But for me, DRACULA’S DAUGHTER has too much unfunny “comic” relief in it, and way too much time wasted on romantic leads Otto Kruger and Marguerite Churchill . If the film were remade today, Churchill’s character would probably deck Kruger’s pompous ass psychiatrist.

Gloria Holden makes the whole thing worth viewing. Her exotic looks and husky voice make the Countess as creepy as Bela himself, complete with  close-ups of her hungry eyes (though they’re not quite as hypnotic as the great Lugosi). She even gets to repeat Dracula’s famous “I never drink.. wine” at one point in the film. Countess Zaleska longs to be released from her father’s deathless legacy, and she comes off as a sympathetic character at first. The scene where suicidal young Lili (18-year-old Nan Grey ) is brought to Zaleska under the pretense of posing for a portrait, with the Countess unable to resist her thirst for blood, seducing the innocent lamb before the slaughter, has definite lesbian undertones, and emphases the sexual power of the vampire over its victims. It’s the film’s scariest moment, and both ladies should be commended for their fine work in it.

I’ve written about actor/director Irving Pichel many times before, and as the Countess’s servant Sandor he turns in an equally chilling performance. Otto Kruger, on the other hand, is one of Universal’s worst horror heroes, and is totally unlikable. Van Sloan is the only original cast member from DRACULA to repeat his role, but Bela Lugosi is also seen  – as a wax figure in his coffin. Others in the cast include future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Billy Bevan, E.E. Clive, Gilbert Emery, Halliwell Hobbes, and Edgar Norton.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER was the last entry in the first Horror Cycle. The British Horror Ban, combined with a new regime at Universal taking over from  the Laemmles and a stricter enforcement of the Production Code, put the kibosh on monster movies for three long years. It wasn’t until 1939 that Universal’s Monsters made a triumphant return to the Silver Screen. Next up, we’ll take a look at that film… SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.

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