IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) might be forever stuck in the shadow of Universal’s more famous classic monster sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and there’s a reason for this. BRIDE isn’t just the superior sequel. It’s one of the best horror movies of all time.
But DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, while admittedly not as good a movie as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, is still a damn fine little flick, one that certainly shouldn’t be ignored.
The movie opens right after the events of DRACULA (1931). The police discover the dead bodies of Renfield and Dracula and promptly arrest Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) for the crime, as he admits to driving a stake through Dracula’s heart. Van Helsing seeks the help of his friend and colleague Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) with his legal defense. He wants to argue that vampires exist, that Dracula was a vampire, and that he shouldn’t be sentenced to prison for destroying Dracula. Garth wants Van Helsing to hire a lawyer instead, and he doesn’t really believe his mentor, but he does trust Van Helsing, and so he tells his friend that he will be there to support him.
Meanwhile, the police’s case against Van Helsing takes a hit when Dracula’s body disappears from police custody. That’s because it’s stolen by Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who just happens to be Dracula’s daughter. She and her very creepy manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel) cremate Dracula’s body in a large bonfire, in one of the movie’s more memorable images.
You might wonder why the Countess simply didn’t try to resurrect her undead daddy, and the answer might be that all was not well in the Dracula family. It turns out Countess Zaleska isn’t happy being a vampire, and she turns to Dr. Garth for help, telling him she wants to be treated for an “obsession.”
With Van Helsing’s help, Garth comes to the conclusion that the Countess is a vampire, Dracula’s daughter to be exact, and that doesn’t sit well with him. It doesn’t do much for the Countess, either. She kidnaps Garth’s beautiful and feisty girlfriend Janet (Marguerite Churchill), who also happens to be his assistant, and threatens her life if Garth doesn’t help her.
The Countess flees to Transylvania, taking Janet with her. Garth pursues them, as does Van Helsing and the police, and they all arrive at Castle Dracula for the film’s conclusion.
DRACULA’S DAUGHTER has an excellent cast. Gloria Holden is OK as Countess Zaleska, aka Dracula’s Daughter, and the argument can be made that of the main cast, she’s the least effective. That’s not saying she’s a disappointment in the role, but that everyone around her is that much better.
Leading the way is Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, reprising his role from DRACULA (1931). Along with Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Dwight Frye as Renfield, Van Sloan was excellent as Van Helsing in DRACULA, and these three men dominated that movie. Only Van Sloan is back for the sequel, and he’s just as good here, although the role of Van Helsing is reduced to a supporting player this time around, as he takes a back seat to Otto Kruger’s Jeffrey Garth.
Still, Van Sloan has his moments. My favorite is when the police inspector tells Van Helsing that Garth has taken a flight to Transylvania in pursuit of the Countess, news which causes Van Helsing to exclaim, “Stop him! He’s going to his death!” It’s a fine moment by a very talented actor, my second favorite film Van Helsing, behind Peter Cushing, of course.
Otto Kruger is also excellent as Jeffrey Garth, making the psychiatrist very heroic. He more than holds his own against the Countess, and he’s one of the more memorable screen heroes from the classic monster movies of the 1930s.
And Irving Pichel, who would go on to enjoy both a productive acting and directing career, is perfectly creepy as the Countess’ servant Sandor. He’s certainly the main villain in this movie, as he’s far more sinister than Countess Zaleska.
But my favorite performance in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER belongs to Marguerite Churchill as Garth’s assistant and love interest Janet. She’s kind of Garth’s version of Pepper Potts. Churchill is full of energy, feisty, funny, and terribly sexy in this movie. When I think about the women roles in the 1930s monster movies, there aren’t a whole lot that stand out. Churchill is the exception. She’s great in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, so good in fact, I wish there were other movies with her character and Kruger’s Garth. They’re fun to watch and share genuine chemistry. I would have liked to have seen them tangle with other Universal monsters.
As I said, Gloria Holden is okay as Countess Zaleska. She’s at her best when seeking her victims. Her best scene is when she seduces a young model under the premise that she wants the young woman to pose for her. Of course, the Countess is only interested in one thing, the girl’s blood. It’s a sexually charged scene, a welcomed sight in a 1930s movie.
Holden is less effective in her scenes with Kruger’s Garth, as she comes off as stagey and forced, although she does get to utter the famous “I never drink— wine” line.
Director Lambert Hillyer is not known for his genre work. He was mostly a B movie director, although he did direct the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi flick THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936). He also directed the BATMAN serial from 1943, the better of the two Batman serials from the 1940s.
I enjoyed Hillyer’s work on DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. He creates some atmospheric scenes and successfully captures the eeriness of Transylvania in the film’s conclusion. He also gives the film some much needed sensuality. The sequence where the Countess seduces the attractive young model, for instance, is beautifully shot and full of sexual tension. And then there’s the playful sexual energy throughout the movie between Kruger’s Garth and Churchill’s Janet.
Garrett Fort wrote the screenplay, and it’s a nice follow-up to DRACULA. He creates likable characters and tells a logical story (Van Helsing is arrested for murder, for instance), although I wish the Countess was a bit more sinister like her father. She spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself and wishing she wasn’t a vampire. Fort also worked on the screenplay for FRANKENSTEIN (1931), as well as the play on which the Lugosi DRACULA was based.
When you think of classic 1930s monster movie sequels it’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that comes to mind, and rightly so. But DRACULA’S DAUGHTER is an excellent sequel and horror movie in its own right.
Attending some family gatherings this summer? Be sure to visit DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. I hear she does a pretty mean barbecue. What’s that in the bonfire? Is that a body?
If you enjoyed this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038. It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today. Thanks!