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.

Halloween Havoc!: Vincent Price in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (Universal 1940)

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Horror movies vanished from the screen in 1936 due to two factors. One was the ban on horror by British censors, closing a major market for the films. The other, a regime change at Universal, in which the Laemmle family sold the studio. The new owners attempted to reinvent the company’s image, but instead almost ran it into the ground. It wasn’t until 1939, when an enterprising theater owner exhibited a revival of the classics FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and KING KONG, that Universal decided to plunge forth with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. The third sequel was a success, and the floodgates opened for the second horror cycle. Universal brought their monsters back from the dead, and cast a young contract player named Vincent Price in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, putting Price on a career arc that would build to a long career as a horror star.

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Geoffrey Radcliffe is scheduled to hang for the murder of his brother. Family friend Dr. Griffin is allowed to visit Geoffrey in his cell at Langley Prison, while the condemned man’s fiancé Helen and his cousin Richard wait at home for a reprieve. Griffin leaves the cell, but when the guards go to check on Geoffrey, nothing remains of him but a pile of clothes! Inspector Samson is called in to investigate, and he recalls hearing the name Griffin somewhere before….

Samson goes to Griffin’s lab and tells the doctor he knows his brother was Jack Griffin (pulling out a file with a picture of original INVISIBLE MAN Claude RAains). Geoffrey was given an injection of duocane, the late Jack’s invisbility formula, and is now free to search for the real killer. But the drug has a dire side-effect: it slowly drives the user insane. Can Geoffrey, aided by Helen, find the culprit before he loses his grip on his sanity?

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Joe May was a pioneer German producer/director who, like many of his countrymen, fled Europe during the Nazi regime. His career in America wasn’t long or particularly successful, and he became a Hollywood restauranteur. Screenwriter and fellow ex-pat Curt Siodmak did much better in Tinseltown (see my post on  THE WOLF MAN for more on him). The cast was stuffed with fine character actors, including Sir Cedric Hardwicke as  cousin Richard (and with Hardwicke in the role, any doubt on who the real murderer was??). Nan Grey (Helen) earned her horror wings in 1936’s DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. Cecil Kellaway (Inspector Samson) was the charming Irishman with the twinkle in his eye in far too many films to mention here. John Sutton (Griffin) played in fright films RETURN OF THE FLY and THE BAT with Price later in his career. And Alan Napier’s (drunken foreman Willie Spears in this) credits stretch from CAT PEOPLE and ISLE OF THE DEAD, to THE MOLE PEOLE and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, but will forever be remembered as Alfred the butler on TV’s 60s smash BATMAN.

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS is a welcome return to the H.G.Wells-inspired theme. The movies don’t have a recurring character, it’s a different Griffin in every entry, which is probably why they weren’t as popular as Universal’s other monster series. It’s not particularly scary but enjoyable, and a chance to see Vincent Price in his first starring horror role. Errr… well, we don’t actually SEE him til the end of the flick. So it’s a chance to HEAR Vincent anyway. Uhhh, you know what I mean!