Dracula’s Daughter (1936): 80th Anniversary & Still Divine – By Baron Craze

 

Dracula’s Daughter, director Lambert Hillyer went to wonderful great lengths to duplicate the look and feel of the original film, likely since it was very successful and his customary genre had very little to do with horror as it was western films. Thereby using Universal Picture’s rights to Bram Stoker’s story, “Dracula’s Guest” as the source material, but it was screenwriter Garrett Fort’s script, who worked on Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931). This film serves as the sequel to Tod Browning’s Dracula, an often considered and immediately ignored and overlooked by horror genre lovers, but of recently the rebirth to films awakens this forgotten bloodsucker. After all staking the share acclaim of Universal more known commercial success sequel stories from the 1930s, and now achieving its 80th anniversary, the love for it becomes more apparent. The story sets right up after Dracula dies, no time jump, although in reality it took over five 5-years to create sequel for a variety of reasons, centering it on loathsome demon and his victims gave a bit of empathy for the dilemma.

As previously stated the film picks right after the stake penetrates Count Dracula’s heart, by the honor bound Dr. Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) discovered by two bumbling law enforcements of London, and discovering both the bodies of Renfield and Dracula which Helsing comfortable and calmly admits to killing Dracula, while Renfield a mere accident attributing to his death. Obviously, he’s arrested, informed to stand trial for the murder of the Count, and frustrated to convince the authorities of Scotland Yard, of the real monster calls on his old friend psychologist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger). However, this only leads to confounding problems, how to make sane and clear-headed individuals believe fantasized tales of old world beliefs and taboos subjects. Meanwhile the star of the film graces the screen with a grace, after stealing Dracula’s body the Contessa Marya Zaleski (Gloria Holden) destroys it by fire while a surrounding fog sets an eerie tone, hoping to vanquish the curse he placed unto her life after she suffered the biting death of the demon bat. Alas, the final bite delivered unto her, made her the lasting undead, for all eternity, suffering in damnation for her corruption. Her servant, Sandor (Irving Pichel) knew the actions were futile but granted them anyway, as he serves under her wishes. Soon enough the desire to feed takes over the Contessa and the hunt for fresh blood continues to her tortured soul. Then on the chance meeting with Dr. Garth her dismal outlook, gives her hope to cure herself of the curse, and herein the scenes begin to win over the horror fans to the gothic atmosphere and worthy performance for her to control the scene the drain everyone’s power with her grandstanding. The entire movie delivers a deep understanding and uncovers the tormented souls and lives affected by the existence the count’s corruptness for the centuries. Although this tends to lean more on long-winded dialogue segments, and relying more on science than religion, especially with the influence of Dr. Garth’s input. The entire scene between the Contessa and homeless girl Lili (Nan Grey) brought censors in an uproar and continues to this day as a bit contentious objection involving the illicit affair. However, the Contessa loses everything from the audience’s sympathies when she captures Janet (Marguerite Churchill), and breaks the bounds of true love by blackmailing Jeffrey. This likely occurs for a twofold reasoning in the film, the actions committed against the innocent Lili corrupting her morally and then evil must always fail against righteous.  The movie clocks in just over an hour, and yet feels like a full 90-minutes and that includes the hokey and silly segment of Janet’s prank phone call teasing which ideally has zero place in the film, and lessens the richness of suspense, and Gothic overtones.

As mentioned previously, the movie is not without controversy especially with the suggestive lesbian undertones between Lili and Janet concerning her love for Jeffrey. For example, Contessa telling Lili only needed to model and encourages to dine, and lures to remove her top, exposing much of neckline a scene that contains an undeniable undertone of sexuality (which might the film first lesbian vampire movie). A possible share of a long suggested kiss between the Contessa and Lili might occur, though the camera drifts upward leaving the sinful act beyond. This also alludes to the act as damnation, for if down under the camera’s lens and it ascends to the righteous of the heavens for all decency exists never to show the act and prevent young minds from being corrupted. However, the publicly marketers in London use the tagline “Save the women of London from Dracula’s daughter”. This extends to the scenes between Contessa and Janet acted without dialogue but express with facial expressionism to illustrate the longing for closeness and warmth. Recalling it is 1936, even the mere suggestion that a screen character might be anything but a ‘normal’ god-fearing individual – unthinkable, and the fact that this scene went unchanged seems in retrospect shockingly astonishing.

Hillyer and his experienced crew, especially with the assistance of cinematographer George Robinson’s approach of more fluid camera operating and movement, made Dracula’s Daughter work seamless better than its predecessor, thereby creating an atmospheric and entertaining film that works well as both a sequel and its own independent film.  Although some critics will consider the movie lazy, and tediously slow, it does wonderful in telling more vampire folklore, and share gothic styles, long since forgotten in a world of slickness and over exaggeration , nevertheless the primary interactions between Kruger, Churchill and of course Holden provide a solid entertaining film. Purely an odd point of reference for an unknown reason Van Helsing’s name changes to Von, for this movie.

Simply stated, whether a vampire fan of modern day malarkey or a lover of classic age old horror films this movie is definitely worthy of investing  in the briefest amount of your precious time and especially when you venture back to Universal Monsters birth announcements reigning supreme.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0027545