1930s, 3/4, Horror, Lambert Hillyer, Review, Universal Monsters

Dracula’s Daughter

#12 in my ranking of the Classic Universal Monster movies.

After the general boredom I felt throughout Werewolf in London, I felt like the best days of the Universal Horror output from the 30s was in the past, that the entirety of quality work came from James Whale, and that Carl Laemmle Jr. simply didn’t know how to make a movie without accidentally hiring the best talent. Well, I was happily surprised by Dracula’s Daughter. It’s more of a psychological drama than a horror movie, limiting its appeal to genre fans I imagine, but the surprisingly serious way it approached its title character combined with a fun central relationship between its male lead and his secretary, had me alternatively interested and entertained at a level I really did not expect.

Picking up moments after the end of the first entry in the whole franchise, Dracula, Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is arrested for the murder of the count and requests the help of his psychologist friend Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to help him craft a defense that he is both sane and that vampires are real. Interrupted on an outing to shoot some birds in the Scottish highlands by his secretary Janet (Marguerite Churchill), he comes to London to help his friend. Hearing the tale of the macabre that was the professors previous few days, Garth ends up meeting the Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), a Hungarian painter. Have you seen the title of the movie you’re watching? Yes, this is Dracula’s daughter. The movie makes no effort to hide this fact from the audience, and because of that it has to do something interesting with the information.

And you know what? It is actually interesting. The Countess steals Dracula’s body and burns it, invoking Satan in an effort to purge the evil hold over the dead vampire and any hold he had exerted on anyone else. She does this because she wants to be free of her cursed life as a vampire. Her familiar Sandor (Irving Pichel), is confident that she will not free herself of the urges and needs of life as a vampire. And, for a time, it seems like he’s right. She feeds on hangers on to society, those that won’t be missed, but this young psychiatrist intrigues her. He’s taken vampirism seriously enough to listen to and regurgitate the words of Van Helsing, and he talks of breaking habits and addictions with examples like drunkards. She wants to use him to break her of her own vampirism.

You see? That’s actually pretty interesting. None of it is in the least scary, though. The closest it gets is when Garth challenges her to confront her addiction (without realizing the nature of it specifically) and Sander brings a young woman Lili (Nan Grey) into their “art studio” to model. Since vampirism has always had a sexual connotation to the point where the Hays Office reportedly had bits removed from the rerelease version of Dracula of the count attacking Renfield, this makes Dracula’s Daughter a surprisingly sexually transgressive bit of film from the era that James Whale’s camp in The Bride of Frankenstein, particularly around Dr. Pretorius, seem rather tame.

The finale turns into the resolution of a love triangle between Garth, the Countess, and Janet that goes from London to Transylvania with the Countess wanting to claim Garth for herself forever. This angers her familiar, possibly the first cinematic depiction of a familiar as they have become to be known (kind of pathetic simps that are always lied to about becoming vampires someday) and leads to a conclusion that I really didn’t expect the film to take. I wasn’t necessarily expecting artistic truth, but I was expecting an effort to create a character that could continue a franchise. This was franchise filmmaking in its infancy.

The cast is capable, but they’re best when it’s Kruger and Churchill together, working off of each other. It’s a sort of proto-His Girl Friday in a way with the two throwing little witticisms at each other up to Janet quitting at one point, Garth accepting it, and then Garth simply tearing up the resignation and putting her right back to work that’s a fun little exchange. Holden manages her own as the titular character, feeling like a pseudo-Garbo well-enough to fill the part. Van Sloan is amusing once again as Van Helsing, proving to be one of the most reliable of character actors in the whole Universal Horror machine.

It’s deep enough to interest, fun enough to entertain, and brief enough to not overstay its welcome. I think the only way to really improve it would be to make it longer which would require a fair reworking of stuff to give a hypothetical extra twenty minutes the right kind of space to work. Still, it’s surprisingly solid for what it sets out to do. It’s also nice to see the most ornate of the Dracula sets come out of mothballs and put right back into giant spider webs once again.

Rating: 3/4

6 thoughts on “Dracula’s Daughter”

    1. I think there’s resistance among the horror fans because it really is more of a psychological drama than a horror film or thriller on any level.

      I was actually dismissive of it before I watched it, figuring that it would mark the early decline of the whole franchise. The franchise never reaches the early heights again, but it settles into something else, something pretty good and interesting, for a surprisingly long amount of time.

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  1. Went back and watched this last night (thank you, Russia).

    This isn’t really horror, as you say, it’s more of a drama. If you took the vampire elements out, you’d still have a story there…which makes it a pretty lousy vampire movie.

    Marguerite Churchill is adorable, but her character is bitchy, almost to the point of overpowering her looks. Gloria Holden has a killer figure and great cheekbones and eyes (respect to her makeup team, too) but her jaw and mouth are weird.
    That shallowness aside, both women put in good performances. I really bought the Countess’ inner conflict and conflicting desires.

    Otto Kruger also sells his character, even if he does kill one woman by meddling with her mind and body (without consequences, though it is brought up again, so props there too). He’s also kind of a jerk, constantly getting jerked around, in turn. He seems unable to stand up for himself while at the same time enjoying some strange elevated status in society. I can’t say he’s terrible, just a character I didn’t fully mesh with, the acting is fine.
    Hell even Irving Pichel is good, slimy but also creepy. Yes he is modeling the early vampire simp but he’s pretty defiant for a vampire slave. I’m not sure how I feel about the plot being resolved by him and his uneven archery but…it is an ending and it is set up.

    The bobby’s as comic relief didn’t work for me, in fact if the “”younger”” constable had actually been dead instead of hypnotized, I’d have preferred it. Neither did the Scotland Yard noble, though he’s amusing in his scenes with his butler, props there. There is a clash of the supernatural vs established science which was almost interested, but it was spoiled by a lot of ‘harumphing’ and ‘oh, I say’…too British. It’s like these guys would try to arrest Godzilla. (or Gorgo, I guess). It’s almost odd how Edward Van Sloan’s Van Helsing simply refused to lie, clinging to the truth when it clearly isn’t going to help him. I admire it and his performance, though he’s not given much.

    The almost-lesbian scenes were pretty good, too. I’ve seen pre-Hay’s code stuff obviously, so it wasn’t shocking but still…perky.

    But the ending was rushed, they basically bum rush Dracula’s castle with a ‘what’s all this, then?’ only with more shooting.

    I feel like the movie should have been longer and actually given the audience more supernatural elements, since that would seem to be a major theme…they just didn’t do much with it. Anyway, credit to you for making me want to go watch this.

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    1. At least you didn’t hate it!

      My objective is always just to write my opinion and write about the film in a way where I hope to give people a good idea if they’ll like it or not. Sometimes my snark gets in the way during negative reviews, but the hope is that I’m not telling people what to think but directing them in directions that they may find interesting despite my opinion, in some way.

      There are a couple of these sequels that really would be better choosing a genre and sticking with it (The Wolf Man is another), but despite the uncomfortable balance I end up liking what I see. This is one of those.

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