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Savant Double Bill Review:

Dracula's Daughter
Son of Dracula

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Both of these vampiric stories hang on the idea of a vampire searching for a romantic soul mate with whom to spend an eternity in the undead state. The first, is the first direct sequel to the original 1931 Dracula, right down to Renfield dead at the bottom of the castle steps, and 'Von' Helsing turning himself in for the murder of the count. The second is one of the wartime chillers of the second wave of Universal horror, where the original monster concepts were shuffled and fudged as needed to keep the Monsters comin' on.

Dracula's Daughter
Universal Home Video
1936 / b&w / 1:37 flat / 71m. /
Starring Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Nan Grey
Cinematography George Robinson
Art direction Albert S. D'Agostino
Film Editor Milton Carruth
Original Music Heinz Roemheld
Writing credits Garrett Fort, Oliver Jeffries from a story by John L. Balderston
Produced by E.M. Asher
Directed by Lambert Hillyer

This is one of the top Universal monster classics. In mood and theme it has a creepy, death-affirming attitude that only the original The Mummy can top; although it's short on action, it is long on suggestion and class.


London Psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) is determined to help save the life of Professor Von Helsing,  1 (Edward Van Sloan) held for murder in the Dracula case. Von Helsing openly admits staking the vampire king, but his predictions of an end to the vampiric murders turn out to be false when male victims begin appearing drained of blood. Dracula's daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), burns her father's corpse and approaches Garth for a psychiatric cure for her vampirism, but soon turns to other thoughts when she finds herself attracted to him. Garth's assistant Janet Blake (Marguerite Churchill) stands in her way, as does her own servant Sandor: Marya wants to bring Garth into the world of the undead - as her consort.

Dracula's Daughter has the amazing writer's credit, 'suggested by' Oliver Jeffries. If the IMDB's assertion that Oliver Jeffries is David O. Selznick is true, then the crafty agent-producer managed to get his name on the film merely by steering Universal to the source story, Bram Stoker's Dracula's Guest.

Efficient and mostly devoid of clichés, the screenplay matches Zaleska's baleful pronouncements (including, "I don't drink - wine") with a very nice relationship between a charming Otto Kruger (before he became such an obvious villain in movies like Saboteur) and Marguerite Churchill, who constantly kids the doctor and harasses him with crank telephone calls. When she meets Zaleska, Churchill simply has nothing to say - they both are so interested in Kruger, there's not a chance of any kind of reasonable conversation.


The most beautifully done part of the story is the subplot with the suicidal Lili (Nan Grey) and her 'modeling' in the Countess's Chelsea studio. This is the famous lesbian vampire encounter that's written up in all the vampire movie literature. The scene is thusly charged because Zaleska seems so erotically interested in Lili (even though she's nonplussed when later told of Lili's death). This is interesting because elsewhere her 'obsession' to commit vampiric acts seems the usual simple lust for blood. She hypnotizes her victims male and female alike with an alluring ring, not promises of sex. The scenes with Lili effectively contrast her trembling defenselessness against Zaleska's cold will. When Garth later hypnotizes Lili, Grey gets more impressive screen time, in a beautiful shot with flickering light playing on her face. This is as close as the Universal series got to the feeling of Val Lewton's string of horrors a few years later. It's refreshing to see a woman as a protagonist in a thirties fantasy film, and there's a sincerity in Zaleska's plight as a victim/victimizer. Lambert Hillyer's camera glides around her with adoring respect; one shot showing her seated is remindful of Alfred Hitchcock's treatment of Madeline in Vertigo.

Dracula's Daughter opens with several minutes of stock humor with some cops, which thankfully gives way to the prevailing tone with Gloria Holden's interesting entrance, covering her face with her cape. Late in the story, the characters relocate to Transylvania in a rather unlikely way ... a quick trio of plane rides, and the vampires, a psychiatrist, and Scotland Yard are all scuttling up through Borgo pass to Dracula's castle. But the superior mood remains unbroken. Thanks to the nice handling of the characters, we actually care what happens to Marguerite Churchill, who has been kidnapped by Zaleska's strange servant, Sandor (Irving Pichel). Sandor's abject servitude to his mistress is explained by his own out-of-control romantic obsession - he wants to be Zaleska's undead spouse. Surely Billy Wilder was thinking of this when he cast Erich Von Stroheim opposite Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard; there's really very little difference between the relationships.

Dracula's Daughteron DVD must have come from a mix of film sources, as if the original elements had not survived for a few minutes of the film. There are a few grainy passages, but most of the show looks pristine. Again, it's important to stress how superior these DVDs look in general, when compared to the older television prints we used to see. For extras, there's the expected Realart trailer, and some interesting production notes and cast bios. The delightful Marguerite Churchilll, we are told, played opposite John Wayne in the 70mm 1930 The Big Trail, when she was just a teenager.

Son of Dracula
Universal Home Video
1943 / b&w / 1:37 flat / 79m.
Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Louise Albritton, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Craven, J. Edward Bromberg
Cinematography George Robinson
Art Direction John B. Goodman, Martin Obzina
Film Editor Saul A. Goodkind
Original Music Hans J. Salter
Writing credits Eric Taylor from a story by Curt Siodmak
Produced by Ford Beebe
Directed by Robert Siodmak


Under the name of Count Alucard, Dracula (Lon Chaney Jr.) sends his boxes of Earth to a small Southern town, and soon appears at the plantation-like Caldwell estate. Katherine Caldwell (Louise Albritton) is an occultist and entertains big plans to marry Alucard/Dracula and make herself as immortal as he; but her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) just wants peace in the family. The Prince of Darkness is soon up to his old tricks in Dixieland. Local Doctor Brewster (Frank Craven) gets hip to the vampire jive, thanks to the able assistance of visiting Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg), and together they face off against the undead vampire.

Made right in the middle of World War II, Son of Dracula has its good points as a Universal 'meller, but too many weaknesses to register among the more notable horror fare of the time. The story is simply too obvious and transparent, starting with the Alucard/Dracula non-puzzle and proceeding to an array of characters who just don't seem to be able to figure out much of anything for themselves. Done inexpensively on mostly interior sets, the movie never appears to be set in the American South or anywhere else, because of the lack of accents. It's also supposed to be a small town, but the Caldwell women dress exclusively in lavish, broad-shouldered gowns that only people in movies seem to wear.

But the biggest detriment is Lon Chaney Jr., who is perhaps the worst Count Dracula ever. Lumbering and chubby, there's not a thing about him that comes off as aristocratic (Lugosi), foreign (Lugosi), cadaverous (Carradine), or verminous (Schreck). He just looks overfed, puffy, and in a bad temper. It doesn't work for a moment. Even Chaney's colorless mummies are better.

The basic production may be cheap but the effects are very interesting. Dracula transforms into a bat, and wisps of smoke, and his coffin at one point magically surfaces in a pond.

The best aspect of the movie is the Louise Albritton character, a woman who consciously wants to become one of the living dead. Just the hint of this perverse attitude makes her scenes interesting, even though the story neither makes the subplot all that clear, nor pays it off in any satisfying way. All of the Universal monster movies are entertaining, but this is one that Savant sees no great need to revisit.

On DVD, Son of Dracula is a marked improvement over its laser incarnation from 12 years ago. Some fans have noted subtle imperfections in the audio track, 'motorboat' sounds that appear to be in all track masters of the film, and may well have been in the original film release too. The picture is very clean and has excellent contrast.

Universal will hopefully continue bringing out its Monster library, and move on to its Science Fiction classics too. Although most of their Sci Fi's already released on video and laser look just dandy, it would be great to see titles like The Incredible Shrinking Man and Tarantula!, which need to be remastered in widescreen. And Tarantula! was far too dark on laserdisc. Most critically in need of remastering is the classic This Island Earth, a film with beautiful color that has never been seen properly on video, not even on its early DVD, licensed to an outside company (Image?). The space opera would look great properly framed in 1:78 or so; the original Variety review claims its Aspect Ratio to be 2:1! Savant only hopes that the MST3K mangling of This Island Earth hasn't dimmed its importance in the eyes of Universal.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dracula's Daughter rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good, with fair sections
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer, production notes
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: September 10, 2001

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Son of Dracula rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Excellent
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer, production notes
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: September 10, 2001


1. It looks as though Van Helsing has become 'Von' Helsing, somewhere between Dracula and Dracula's Daughter.

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