Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dracula’s Daughter – review

movie poster

Director: Lambert Hillyer

Release Date: 1936

Contains spoilers

This was a direct sequel to Universal’s Dracula and there are two things to note about this. Firstly it took the movie in a wholly different direction to the original, as we will see, and that was a brave move indeed. Secondly this follows directly on from the end of the classic Lugosi vehicle.

Edward Van Sloan as Von HelsingThe film starts with two Bobbies descending into the crypt that was the scene of the confrontation between Von Helsing. Now we should note that Edward Van Sloan reprises his role as the famous vampire hunter for this movie but Von Helsing has had a change of name, why it is suddenly Von and not Van befuddles me.

staked DraculaThey pass the corpse of Renfield and then hear a noise; it is Von Helsing dropping his hammer. He tells them that Renfield was killed by Dracula but he killed Dracula. When they ask how long he has been dead he replies 500 years. It is clearly a case for Scotland Yard. It was nice to put in the fate of the vampire killer once the deed has been done, to imagine how the authorities would react to a corpse with a stake in its chest. However, we should note that the Bobbies, who make a return soon, are comedy characters and the comedy kind of falls flat now, having aged very badly indeed.

Gilbert Emery as Sir Basil HumphreyVon Helsing is in the office of Sir Basil Humphrey (Gilbert Emery), the head of Scotland Yard. As he tells his tale, a tale the senior policeman refuses to believe, we get the back story of the previous film and some vampire rules. It was a neat way of briefing those who had not seen the original movie. Von Helsing is treated with polite deference, due to his standing in the scientific community, but Sir Humphrey is convinced he will either hang or be locked away in an asylum. Von Helsing has decided that he wishes his defence to be conducted by Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), an old student and a psychiatrist rather than a barrister.

mystic ring thingBack at Whitby the local police are waiting for someone from Scotland Yard to get the bodies. Sergeant Wilkes (E E Clive) leaves his cohort, Albert (Billy Bevan), alone as he goes to meet the train. A strange woman enters the police station, we later discover her to be Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), and demands to see Dracula’s body. The Bobby refuses and so she uses her ring to hypnotise him – though as we later learn it is not hypnosis she uses but something older and more powerful and she refers to it as a spell.

Irving Pichel as SandorMarya takes the body and cremates it, using salt and a crucifix to exorcise the Count. It is a nice moment when we see her turn away from the very cross she uses, though the fact that her companion Sandor (Irving Pichel) turns from the cross as well is a tad confusing. We later discover that he is very much human – promised eternal life for his service – thus his reaction is more psychological than supernatural. She tells Sandor that she is free and he replies perhaps. They race the dawn to London.

I do not want to go scene by scene through the rest of the film but there are moments of note, the dynamics between Marya and Sandor for one. He is clearly her servant and yet speaks as though he is her equal trying to tempt her towards the evil that she tries to deny, clearly because he wishes to be turned into a vampire.

Marya and GarthThis is important as Marya wishes to be free of her curse and hoped that the death of her father would lead her to that freedom – though she can feel his influence from beyond the grave as she later confesses. She turns to Garth, as a psychiatrist, to help her control her urges – though she never directly tells him what they are.

Marguerite Churchill as JanetGarth, in the meantime comes to the conclusion that Marya is a vampire but his realisation is too late. She abandons her hope for freedom from her curse and turns her attention to having him by her side for eternity. To do this she uses his spunky secretary Janet (Marguerite Churchill) as bait to lure him back to Transylvania.

Nan Grey as LiliThere is a scene that is generally commented on as being one of the first examples of a film portraying a lesbian vampire, when Marya takes a young girl, Lili (Nan Grey), as her victim. To be honest I don’t really see it, some have said it was subtle but I think folks are reading too much into the scene. Certainly Marya is not a lesbian anyway, her first victim is male and she wants Garth by her side for eternity.

Lore wise we are on standard Universal lore, however one throw away comment made me start. Marya is Dracula’s daughter (we assume that means she is physically his daughter and not simply a victim turned). Von Helsing said that Dracula died 500 years before but that she died 100 years before, this means Dracula was able to impregnate a woman whilst one of the undead.

We also get, in one of the comedic moments, a unique form of vampire slaying mentioned. Hobbs (Edgar Norton) comments, when Sir Humphrey says he is going to hunt vampires, that he “always understood you went after them with chequebooks”!

Speaking of which, in a scene where a dragnet is dropped around London, we get an early example of some product placement in the form of a “Guinness is Good for You” advert.

creeping out of the coffinI have heard complaints about Kruger, and his character’s unsympathetic attitude. Actually I found him, and his bickering with Janet, refreshing. The star of the show, however, is Holden. She has a strange presence on screen possibly because (according to imdb) she only actually blinks once in the entire film.

This was an atmospheric movie that showed a vampire desperate to escape their curse, rather then revel in it, which was fairly unique for the time – hence my comment that this movie took the story in a different direction. However, the film is not perfect and the biggest problems with it are within the humour that the movie could have lived without. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


mice said...

This is a great great movie. Severely over looked by almost everyone.

It comes in the Universal boxed set with Dracula. Well worth it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mice,

The box set is hat I used to review this, just son of Dracula and House of Dracula left to review from the set

The T said...

I like this film a lot, though it's a little slow. A woman fully in charge as the lead villain was not possible yet in 1936, it seems, so they had to add the aid character. I'd loved if she had been all herself.

This is Dracula's (her daughter's, actually) best moment in Universal, in my view.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T, fair comment. it was, as I put in the review, the comedy characters that let this down for me - but that was a standard in cinema at the time I'm afraid