The first sequel to the Universal Dracula franchise would be released just five years after its predecessor.
In the last outing we saw the demise of the titular character at the hands of Professor Van Helsing, (played once again by Edward Van Sloan, and the only returning character to the franchise) who interestingly enough is on trial for the murder of the Count.
That in itself is something I’ve often pondered about. In a world where vampires and werewolves are the stuff of legend, if they were to exist, how would one prove it after they’ve been through such an ordeal and essentially disposed of the evidence?
Anyway, I digress.
Dracula’s Daughter is not only a sequel, but the start of a trend for Universal in order to keep their booming business going when your lead villain has been dispatched – by introducing an offspring.
We would see this repeated again with the likes of Son of Dracula and Son of Frankenstein.
In this instance the Dracula bloodline flows down to his daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska, with a suitably melodramatic performance from Gloria Holden (The Life of Emile Zola).
Her portrayal of the female vampire with a craving to be human (an act that she hopes will come true with the destruction of her father’s body) served as an inspiration to Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned.
The notion of a vampire’s desire to be human has often been looked at in films and novels throughout the years, but as far as I know, this is the first instance of it on the silver screen.
When Countess Zaleska burns the body of Dracula, with the help of her manservant, Sandor, she discovers that the curse has not been broken, so resorts to an alternate method of psychiatry instead.
In steps Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger, Saboteur) who may just have the answer she needs. Garth entices her to confront her demons head on, but her desire for blood proves too strong and she attacks a girl named Lili.
Broken and lost, the Countess feels her only option is to remain a vampire, but decides that Dr. Garth would prove a suitable companion in the after life.
So she resorts to kidnapping his true love, Janet (Marguerite Churchill, The Big Trail) and luring him back with her to Transylvania.
Dr Garth is willing to give up his life for the sake of Janet’s freedom, and all seems doomed for the Doctor, when the manservant Sandor puts a halt on the proceedings and kills the Countess in a jealous rage with an arrow through her heart.
Before he is able to exact his fury further, he too is brought down, when he is shot by a policeman.
Critics have been somewhat split in their reviews of Dracula’s Daughter, some citing its lush cinematography and praising both Director Lambert Hillyer’s work and the performance from Holden. Others say that it pails in comparison to Dracula.
I for one, found it strangely mesmerising and almost hypnotic with some of its lesbian overtones and this is in part down to Holden’s captivating presence on screen.
And like other critics, I too noticed a similarity to Sunset Boulevard in its themes, a film that I’m a great lover of and perhaps why I find myself drawn to this movie, despite it not carrying the same weight as Dracula.
I applaud its effort to push the story into a whole new direction and to offer some alternative narrative to the tried and tested monster storyline.
For this alone, I believe that Dracula’s Daughter its place alongside the movies that made Universal pictures a force to be reckoned with, and its perhaps a shame that it has been lost in the shadows of time due to the overwhelming impact that both Dracula and Frankenstein had on the industry.
– Paul Farrell