It is probably not hyperbole that more movies have been made with Dracula or his progeny as the subject than any other monster. What with the original Universal flick of 1931 (which wasn’t technically the first, since Nosferatu predated it by some nine years), the sequels put out by Universal over the years, the Hammer films from England, and numerous remakes of the original Dracula story, the vampire theme has permeated the cinema for decades. This doesn’t even include those non-Dracula vampire films that have popped up over the years, including the recent romantically themed Twilight.
Universal was the first to make Dracula a franchise, though. And did they ever.
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
The fact that the Universal moguls waited five years before putting out a sequel to it’s original is a mystery to me. In these days, a sequel being in pre-production before the film is even in the theaters is the norm, but the 1930s were a much different era.
Dracula’s Daughter begins, more or less, at the end of Dracula. Two policeman (E.E. Clive and Billy Bevan), investigating the area come across a dead body, which they determine has been murdered. Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) tells them the body was murdered by the person in the other room whom he, Van Helsing, had just driven a stake though the heart. Van Helsing is arrested for murder.
The policemen, who are essentially the comedy relief of the picture, are guarding the bodies waiting for the authorities from Scotland Yard. The sergeant goes to meet the authorities on the train, leaving his subordinate to guard the bodies. A mysterious woman (Gloria Holden) shows up, hypnotizes the poor souls and spirits away Dracula’s body.
This person, it turns out, is the daughter of Dracula, posing as Contessa Marya Zeleska. She wanted the body to perform a ritual sacrifice which, she hopes, will rid her of the curse of Dracula. Of course, it doesn’t, or we would have an awfully short movie.
The rest of the movie deals with the daughter trying to find another way to cure herself. Why not psychiatry? Don’t bother with the fact that most psychiatrists would have the girl committed for thinking she was a vampire. The psychiatrist (Otto Kruger) tries to help her, but she is very cryptic about what she really wants.
There is an interesting scene in the middle of this movie where the Contessa wants to see if the bloodlust has been removed. She has her faithful manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel) find a woman to bring her in, ostensibly for a painting session. There is some erotic tension there, which was obviously subdued by the censors of the time.
In the end, the Contessa accepts her fate, but decides she wants the psychiatrist to join her in eternity, and contrives a way to get him to join her. But fate intervenes in the person of her jealous manservant who apparently wanted to be the beau in her life. What a shame! We always seem to miss the real love right next to us, while out seeking perfection in the world.
Son of Dracula (1943)
Once again, seven years went by before the second sequel was released. Universal had its money maker, but apparently didn’t realize it.This time they got Lon Chaney, Jr. to assume the role of Dracula. Despite the title, there are ample indications throughout the movie that this is the real thing, not the “son.”
Chaney was on his way to becoming a fixture in the Universal horror oeuvre. He had recently portrayed the Wolf Man, the role for which he would be forever associated. He also later played the Mummy and on one occasion, the Frankenstein monster, making him the versatile horror icon he was…and the only one to play four different Universal monsters.
The movie begins with the imminent arrival of a train bringing Count Alucard (Chaney) to a New Orleans plantation. The Count, of course, does not get off the train, it still being daylight. But his baggage is on the train, imprinted with his crest. It is here that the first indication comes that ALUCARD is DRACULA spelled backwards. (Good, that saves the suspense of wondering who he really is…)
The movie then transitions to the plantation where there is a gala event awaiting the arrival of the Count. But he is delayed still. Meanwhile, Katherine (Louise Allbritton) has gone to visit an old Hungarian gypsy living on the plantation who warns her of imminent danger, but is killed prematurely by a bat. (Any guesses?)
The Count arrives secretly and kills the old colonel who owns the plantation, which was needed to initiate the reading of his will.
You will notice from the picture that the count become mist. Which brings up a question…When he enters the old colonel’s bedroom, why does he need to open the door? Just wondering…
Anyway, Katherine (“Kay”) and her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) find out from the will that Claire gets all the cash and goodies while Kay gets the plantation. Soon the reason for this is discovered as Kay secretly weds the Count. He makes her a vampire just as he is.
Kay’s former beau Frank (Robert Paige) confronts the count, and tries to shoot him, but the bullets pass through him and apparently kills Kay. Thinking he has committed murder, he ends up going to jail where the now undead Kay reveals her true plan. She married the Count in order to become undead, and now she wants Frank to kill the Count and then become her undead husband in his place.
Son of Dracula is a treat, if nothing else, for the appearance of Lon Chaney, Jr. The rest of the cast, as was usual in the Universal horror movies, were secondary to the villain. Anybody could have filled the role, and most of them you couldn’t pick out of a lineup. But in this case, I really liked Allbritton in the primary female role.
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.