Directed by: Lambert Hillyer
Written by: Garrett Fort (screenplay), David O. Selznick (suggestion), from Bram Stoker's novel
Starring: Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, and Edward Van Sloan
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Look at me. What do you see in my eyes?"
Despite being the grandfather of the Golden Age of Universal Horror, Dracula was not the first film to spawn a franchise. That distinction belongs to Frankenstein, which began the sequel craze with Bride of Frankenstein in 1935. Universal had been trying to get a Dracula franchise off the ground and running for quite some time, but it took the success of Bride to convince Universal brass that sequels could be a profitable venture. The director of the first two Frankenstein installments, James Whale, was actually brought in to get the project off the ground. Things eventually didn't work out, as Universal wasn't too keen on the grandiose ideas Whale was kicking around and opted to go for something with a smaller budget (see, this stuff has been happening to horror films for decades). Thus, Whale left the project, and the film we ended up getting from the entire ordeal was Dracula's Daughter, a film that would ultimately become one of the more mediocre Universal ventures.
The film opens literally moments after the original film ended and finds Professor Van Helsing in the bowels of Carfax Abbey, having just driven a stake through Dracula's heart. Renfield's corpse is also nearby, but Jonathan and Mina are strangely absent. Two constables happen to stumble upon the carnage and are immediately suspicious of Van Helsing (and perhaps rightfully so). After being taken to Scotland Yard for questioning, Van Helsing sends for the help of his psychiatrist friend, Dr. Garth; meanwhile, the mysterious Countess Zaleska arrives in London and steals the body of her father, Dracula, which she destroys in the hopes of ridding herself of her bloodlust. The attempt is unsuccessful, as Zaleska still has an insatiable thirst for blood as she picks up where her father left off in the first film.
For obvious reasons, Dracula's Daughter had an incredible legacy to follow, so it only feels natural that the sequel feels a bit lacking. Of course, the most glaring absence is that of Bela Lugosi as Dracula, which is one of the most legendary performances in horror history. It is of course unfair to compare Gloria Holden's performance as Zaleska to Lugosi's, but it has to be said that the title character here isn't nearly as memorable as her father. That said, Holden does do a good job with what she's given, as, like her father, Zaleska is seductive and charming at her core. She is perhaps most lacking in the creepy department, as, while Lugosi was pretty suave and smooth in the original, he also had that downright eerie and penetrating gaze, which is something Zaleska lacks. Instead, the character actually seems to be a bit more sympathetic than her father, as she seems to be driven more by her cursed compulsion rather than any diabolical or evil desires. Ultimately, our main character here doesn't exactly steal the show, but she is serviceable enough to carry the script.
Tonally, Dracula's Daughter shows a marked shift from its predecessor, as the film feels a lot more light and fun. Gone are the foreboding and atmospheric moors, sunsets, and baying hounds of the original; instead, we have a film that takes itself less seriously from nearly the beginning, as there are several humorous exchanges between the constables, and the playful banter between Dr. Garth and his assistant, Janet, lighten the mood even further. This is not to say that the film is a jokefest, as there are a few nice horror sequences, including a creepy exchange between Zaleska and a young woman that has some not-so-subtle lesbian undertones (don't expect some crazy Jess Franco business, though). Also, the final 15 minute sequence takes us back to Transylvania and features some nice, moody atmospheric shots.
This final sequence represents the film at its peak, and it's one department where it's superior to the original, as it actually feels like it has an ending that's being built up to. I've always thought that the original Dracula seems to sputter out and simply end out of nowhere since I was a kid, but this isn't the case with the sequel. While the ending isn't as epic as either of the first two Frankenstein films, it's a lot more exciting than the original film's ending. In fact, as a whole, I would say that Dracula's Daughter feels a lot more cinematic than the original, as it feels a bit less staged; furthermore, the presence of a score helps matters as well. Overall, the film feels professionally done, even if it does seem to be missing some spark that would make it great. This is perhaps due to the lack of a great character on the level of Lugosi's Dracula. In fact, the entire film feels a bit far removed from the original, as Edward Van Sloan's reprisal of Van Helsing is the only element tying the two together, and even this character is pretty much wasted in favor of giving Dr. Garth more screen time.
It seems like Dracula's Daughter is destined to go down as one of the great "what could have been" films in horror history, as I will always wonder what Whale's epic sequel would have been like. We do know that Lugosi was set to be involved, as he appeared in several publicity stills (and even got paid for them). As it stands, the film is a nice little sequel that had the unfortunate fate of following one of the great performances in all of horror. Of course it isn't as good as the original, but it is worth a look, and, at 70 minutes, it's over with soon enough. Fans of Universal Horror will no doubt want to check it out for completion's sake, but vampire fans in general should find a little bit to like here.
The film has been released a couple of times by Universal. It was initially released on a now out of print double feature disc along with Son of Dracula. It was most recently re-released in 2004 as part of the Dracula Legacy Collection, which remains one of my favorite horror DVD releases ever, as it contains every Dracula film from the original to House of Dracula. Of course, most horror fans will want to own this collection, which treats all of the sequels as bonus feature films. The audio and video presentation for Dracula's Daughter gets the job done, but pretty much all of the extras on the disc are dedicated to the original film. Those of you out there that are not hardcore Universal Dracula fans will probably be better off just checking out Dracula's Daughter once, as it's not a film that really lends itself to multiple viewings. Like I said, it's one of the more mediocre offerings from the studio, but it certainly isn't awful. Rent it!
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