This week in From the Vault we are taking a look at Dracula’s progeny in two of the lesser known Universal horror films. Rather than making just more Dracula films with Bela Lugosi, Universal featured the Count’s offspring in two films, one for the first cycle of horror films of the 1930s and one from the second cycle during the 1940s.
Studio & Year: Universal 1936
Cast: Gloria Holden, Edward Van Sloan
Running time: 71 Minutes
It took five years for Universal to produce a sequel to 1931’s Dracula and the script underwent numerous changes over time. Originally the story called for Professor Von Helsing (Van Sloan) returning to Transylvania to destroy Dracula’s trio of vampire brides seen in the original film but overlooking the coffin containing Dracula’s daughter. She tracks Van Helsing back to London to get her revenge.
That was completely changed so that the film opens mere moments after the events in Dracula as two English constables enter Carfax Abbey and find the body of Renfield lying at the bottom of the stairs after being killed by Dracula. Van Helsing emerges from the crypts and admits to driving a stake through Dracula's heart. Lugosi was supposed to have a cameo but instead a wax dummy stands in for Lugosi.
Countess Zaleska (Holden) arrives on the scene with her manservant, Sandor. Zaleska is the daughter of Dracula and also a vampire. She seeks to be freed from the curse of vampirism. She and Sandor steal Dracula’s body and burn it, believing that will end her curse. Alas, it does not work. She then enlists the aid of a psychiatrist to try and help her overcome her bloodlust. When that too fails, she kidnaps the doctor’s fiancée and lures him to Transylvania where she plans on making him a vampire to become her immortal lover.
Holden reportedly hated playing the role fearing she’d be typecast like Lugosi. But give her credit, as the Countess Zaleska she was every bit as mysterious as Lugosi with her aristocratic look and penetrating eyes. Despite her apprehension she was well-cast for the role. While Dracula’s Daughter doesn't have the gothic atmosphere of the original, Director Lambert Hillyer infuses it with more sexuality including a rather controversial (for the times) sexually charged lesbian scene where Zaleska invites a prostitute to her studio to pose provocatively and ends up killing her.
Van Sloan is relegated to a minor role this time and most of his scenes bookend the film. Irving Pichel plays the very creepy servant Sandor and famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper has a minor role as well. This is really Holden's movie, however. How exactly she is related to Dracula isn't explained but one can surmise that she isn't his daughter in the literal sense since she's mentioned to have died only one hundred years ago while Dracula had been dead for five hundred years. Holden gives a moody and mesmerizing performance in this vastly underrated sequel. And in a note of trivia, this film would be the last of the original horror cycle as new rules of the Product Code Administration would end horror films at Universal until 1940.
Son of Dracula
Studio & Year: Universal 1943
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers
With 1943's "Son of Dracula" the Dracula series officially became “B" movie fodder as most of Universal’s horror films of the 1940's were. I’ve always felt a little sympathy for Lon Chaney, Jr. (born Creighton Tull Chaney). He would forever be in the shadow of not only his silent film era star father, but also in the shadows of both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. While Chaney Jr., lacked the ability to command the screen like Karloff and Lugosi could, he was always a reliable performer who generally gave his best. And he’s the only one of the trio to play each of Universal’s big four horror icons: The Mummy, The Frankenstein Monster, The Wolfman, and Dracula. His career spanned some 40 years and included nearly 200 films and TV appearances.
Son of Dracula opens with Count Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards) coming to stay at the southern home of a wealthy and rather morbid heiress Katherine Caldwell (Louise Albritton). Katherine has become smitten with the Count and after he kills her father, she asks only to be given the estate known as “Dark Oaks” while all the rest of the inheritance can be given to her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers).
Katherine slips away to a nearby swamp as the Count's coffin rises from the depths of the swamp and he emerges in a cloud of mist which was a very effective special effect in its day. The two are married and when Katherine breaks the news to her jilted fiancé Frank, he confronts them and tries to shoot the count. However, the bullets simply pass through him, killing Katherine who was standing behind. Soon Professor Brewster realizes that Alucard is Really Count Dracula and contacts a Hungarian Professor for assistance to help destroy the vampire.
Son of Dracula does have some things going for it. This film would feature the first time that Dracula’s transformation into a bat is show onscreen. The effect was the work of special-effects wizard, John P. Fulton. In addition the film also features the Count turning to mist and levitating across a swamp. Son of Dracula doesn't have the gothic trappings of the original but the set pieces are still fairly effective. And of course any movie with 40’s scream queen Evelyn Ankers is always a treat.
Unfortunately a major drawback is Chaney Jr. himself. While he was fine playing the tortured Larry Talbot in the Wolfman, Dracula is a role that requires much more charisma and presence, particularly sexual presence in which Chaney was sorely lacking. He comes off too stiff and monotone when delivering his lines and there's not even an attempt at a Hungarian accent.
While the film may be titled “Son of Dracula” that was more figurative than literal. He proclaims himself as Dracula with no explanation on how he was brought back to life. But then, Continuity was never much of an important factor to Universal back in those days. Chaney Jr., would hand off the role of Dracula to John Carradine for the next couple of films in the series: House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945).
Mania is the premiere online destination for fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and anime entertainment. It is the largest community offering profiles, video, science fiction movies, sci fi TV, art, sci fi comics, photos, cheats, blogs, science fiction books, forums and feedback. Mania offers insider entertainment industry info and original content for science fiction, fantasy, and horror entertainment genres including: video games, comics, gadgets, movies, television, toys, music, books, DVDs and more.