Dracula’s Daughter

Dracula's Daughter (1936) movie poster

(1936) dir. Lambert Hillyer
viewed: 01/05/10

Dracula’s Daughter, the first follow-up to Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931), picks up ostensibly where the prior film left off, with Van Helsing having just speared Dracula with a stake to the heart, and the madman Renfield lying dead on the floor.  Edward Van Sloan reprised his role as Van Helsing, but takes a backseat to his former student, Jeffrey Garth, a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis (our hero) and Countess Marya Zaleska (played by the fairly luminous Gloria Holden), a.k.a., Dracula’s daughter.

Filmed by B-film director Lambert Hillyer, the film doesn’t ever quite achieve true moments of heightened fantasia or toothsome horror really, but with the nearly unblinking eyes of Gloria Holden, and her throaty, tortured charm, the film holds up rather well nonetheless.

Countess Zaleska shows up in the police station with a hypnotic ring, steals the body of her father and immolates it, hoping to cast the evil from the soul of Dracula and to lift the vampiric curse from herself.  Iriving Pichel plays her very creepy assistant, Sandor, who wants her to carry on being the undying dead, while she seeks help from the psychiatrist to “cure” her illness, her bloodlust.

In the film’s best scene, Sandor abducts a young woman from the streets to “pose” for Countess Zaleska, who paints rather Surreal images, not unlike Edvard Munch.  But really, the girl, who removes her blouse, drinks the wine, and moves near the fireplace, is there to see whether or not the vampire can resist the temptation.  She cannot.

The film has been noted for some lesbian or otherwise sapphic themes or tonality, and it’s not entirely hard to read into that, especially in the scene with the artist’s model.  We never see the lips meet the throat, only a cut-away to a frightening mask (symbolic itself) and a scream is heard.  Who knows what someone like James Whale might have done with the material.

It’s a film that I had seen in childhood, but only once or twice at most.  While not a major film of the Universal Horror canon, it’s not too shabby either.  Still, much less de-clawed than the modern crop of cinematic vampires, and much more compelling than the sham of a film Jennifer’s Body (2009).

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