Retro Review: ‘Dracula’s Daughter’
When it comes to the sequels spawned from the original Universal Monster films, everyone is always quick to bring up the Bride of Frankenstein. And while Bride is an absolute masterpiece of the horror genre (and my personal favorite movie of all time) everyone forgets about the 1936 sequel to Dracula, the cult classic Dracula’s Daughter. While not the most famous of the Universal Horrors, it has earned a spot in the hearts of classic horror and in many ways was ahead of its time.
Picking up immediately after the events of the original film, Edward Van Sloan returns to the role of Professor Van Helsing who is arrested for murder when the remains of the Count is discovered with the stake driven right into his heart. Before the investigators at Scotland Yard can build a case against him, a mysterious black clad woman arrives and burns Dracula’s body. Van Helsing turns to his friend Dr. Jeffery Garth for assistance in dealing with the legal repercussions of slaying vampires. All of this coincides with the mysterious Countess Marya Zaleska arriving in England from Hungary. As you may have guessed she is a vampire sired by the legendary Count who hopes to cure her lust for blood. Countess Zaleska does have a fascination with the doctor which grows throughout the movie. She turns to Dr. Garth to aid in purging the darkness within her despite the wishes of her manservant Sandor. When she attacks a woman who is modelling for her, Zaleska accepts that she will never be free of Dracula’s curse and matches wits with Garth. She hopes to turn him into a member of the undead as well to spend the rest of eternity with him.
When Universal finally obtained the rights to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest” work began on the sequel to their 1931 classic. During pre-production Dracula’s Daughter passed through the hands of several screenwriters who had grandiose plans for a story which would never pass with film censors. Famed playwright John L. Balderston, who brought Dracula and Frankenstein to the stage, wrote a treatment which really played up the sexuality of the character with heavy S&M elements. Eventually it was veteran screenwriter Garrett Fort who crafted the story of a morally conflicted Countess.
Despite the desire of the studio to have the legendary James Whale helm this flick, the job eventually fell onto Lambert Hillyer. While Hillyer does a solid job, he does not bring the iconic gothic and melodramatic atmosphere the Universal Monster movies are famous for. I do give him props for his handling of the lesbian elements of this movie, which could not have been easy with the growing power film censors held.
Though she was reluctant to take on the lead role, actress Gloria Holden was absoltuely perfect for the role of Countess Marya Zaleska. Holden has an amazing screen presence which draws all eyes to her as soon as she enters a screen. Not only does she project power, but she also has a vulnerability which comes from her battles with the vampirism within. Unfortunately the supporting cast does not have anyone that truly stands out the way Dwight Frye did in the original film.
Dracula’s Daughter never gets the credit it deserves among people outside of horror circles. But it is one of the better entries in the Universal Monsters franchise and has earned acclaim with people in the know. The story is a compelling one and Gloria Holden does a fantastic job carrying the film as the Countess.