Vampire offspring Universal double feature
For the 2001 crop of Universal Monsters classics on DVD, they appear to be getting down to the “B-squad” titles. Thus, they’ve generously decided to give our wallets a slight break and combine this wave into double features, with the deluxe treatment now downgraded to a few simple features, such as some notes and trailers. I look forward to next year, when we will no doubt see a triple feature of all three Paula the Ape Woman movies on one disc.
Until then, I for one am enjoying the chance for some of these lesser-known sequels to share some of the limelight. Dracula’s Daughter was in the works at Universal for years, ever since Dracula became the studio’s biggest hit. Originally, it was planned as a much more lavish production. James Whale is said to have been interested in directing, before Bride of Frankenstein got the horror bug out of his system. Early drafts of the script called for a lavish costume prologue featuring Bela Lugosi as the evil Count, detailing how he came to be cursed as a vampire. As time passed, a general backlash against the horror business, which eventually included the censorship laws passed in the UK, caused Universal to curtail their plans.
Despite this, Dracula’s Daughter manages to be a class act, one of the most intellectual horror films of the 1930s, full of rich atmosphere and depth. Gloria Holden, in her debut film role, stars as Countess Marya Zaleska, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who, like her infamous father, never drinks… wine. She manages to steal the corpse of Count Dracula right out of the police station. Destroying the body, she believes herself to be free of the ancient vampire curse. However, the bloodlust persists, and she becomes the first film monster to seek help through psychiatry.
Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) just happens to be involved in the defense of his mentor Prof. Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) – who is being held by the police for the murder of Dracula – when he happens to meet the Countess and agrees to help her. His jealous secretary Janet Blake (Marguerite Churchill) thinks his interest is less than professional, and tries to keep the pair apart. For her trouble, Janet gets herself kidnapped by Marya and her creepy familiar Sandor (Irving Pichel) in an effort to get Garth to join the ranks of the undead, after all plans to beat the curse are abandoned.
Holden’s performance as the conflicted Countess is still spellbinding, affecting the walking dead look with her posture – and by never blinking. Nan Grey is also memorable in a small role as a victim. Kruger’s grumpy shrink is the perfect antithesis to the undead, bringing a lot of life into the picture.
Casting was not the best aspect of the companion feature. By 1943, Universal was going all-out to promote Lon Chaney, Jr. as their new king of horror, casting him to play any monster or fiend they had handy. Though lent a sense of evil menace by George Robinson’s cinematography, the stocky Chaney is totally miscast as a vampire in Son of Dracula. Aside from this, Son is a novel monster thriller, highlighted by its unusual plot, fog-shrouded sets and a few dynamic special effects.
Louise Allbritton co-stars as Southern Goth-belle Kay Caldwell. Having met the undead Count “Alucard” in Hungary, Kay invites him to visit the old family plantation. Dracula (junior or senior is a matter of title) thinks he’s using Kay to expand his hunting ground to the New World, while Kay secretly plans to acquire the vampire lifestyle for herself and beau Frank Stanley (Robert Paige). Both their plans encounter obstacles, mostly in the form of open-minded family doctor Frank Craven and imported vampire expert J. Edward Bromberg. Universal scream queen Evelyn Ankers is wasted, used only for marquee value in the traditional role of “alternate” – a ’40s stock character meant to wait in the wings while the hero’s romance sours.
As testament to its digital upgrade, Son of Dracula ends with a title card selling war bonds. Both films have been remastered from original elements, looking ages younger than the Realart reissue prints we’ve seen for years on TV. For evidence, the reissue trailers (also subtitled!) are included – it seems Universal’s original trailers are mostly lost. The mono soundtracks have also been nicely cleaned up, lacking that distracting hiss and crackle.
Both features seem to have been initially prepared for separate release, as evidenced by their separate menus. Once one of the handsome feature menus has been chosen from the main menu, the only way to switch to the other is by pressing the “title” button, or re-inserting the disc.