Saturday, 10 February 2018

Dracula's Daughter

I‘ve heard varying stories about Lugosi‘s meagre involvement with the first sequel to Dracula, which hails from 1936 and was directed by Lambert Hillyer.  One suggests that he was paid several thousand pounds to appear in publicity stills following the film’s completion, while another reports that he was actually drafted in to star until script revisions excluded his presence but contractual obligations required him to be paid anyway.  Either way, it’s not that Lugosi probably minded too much but his absence here is a shame (depending on whether you enjoyed him in the first movie or not!), and dragging someone else to ‘stand in’ for his dead body was a bit pointless (it actually looks like a dummy to me anyway).  Dracula’s Daughter takes up directly from the end of the first film, with Van (here entitled ‘Von’ in the credits) Helsing emerging from the tomb having staked the vampire, while Renfield lies dead at the foot of the stairs.  Two policemen apprehend the homicidal professor and bring him in for questioning.  After the body of Dracula is shipped back to a secure unit a mysterious Hungarian woman called Countess Zaleska appears, hypnotises the guard and minutes later the dead count’s body has vanished.  Revealing herself to be under the same curse as Dracula she cremates the corpse to altruistically release his soul, but her own soul remains tortured as she spends the remainder of the story attempting to convince the eminent Doctor Jeffrey Garth to help her overcome her major hindrance.  Meanwhile ‘Von’ Helsing maintains his innocence (argument: you can’t kill someone that’s already technically dead) to sceptical ears as the same Doctor Garth steps up to defend him, having been one of the professor’s most prized students years earlier.  Then people start showing up drained of blood…
Surprisingly this went way over budget though that probably wasn’t helped by the action quite suddenly shifting to Transylvania for the last eight minutes of the film (up until that point everything had taken place in England), requiring different sets, costumes, actors, etc.  A spattering of scenes throughout the film rely a little on typical comedy of the period but once the story gets going, alternating between V. Helsing’s legal predicament and Zaleska’s fight against the vampire curse it becomes quite interesting, if a little low-key.  There’s not a great deal of terror going on here though a few injections of gothic overtones remind us that we’re watching a genre film.  One touch I liked was the reiteration of one of Lugosi’s beautifully executed lines from the first film - “I never drink… wine” - this time spoken by Zaleska.  Zaleska herself is a confused character: impelled to carry out the horrific deeds of her bloodline whilst simultaneously begging for help to be released from her existential prison before finally resigning herself to eternal torment.  A fairly fascinating psychological dichotomy results.  Whilst I’m not one to jump on homosexuality bandwagons there’s a good chance she’s also bisexual due to her apparent disregard for someone’s gender when showing them interest (for example, at one point her servant brings back a woman to pose semi-nude for the countess).  The man she wants to settle for is clearly attracted to another woman so even when craving a normal life Zaleska seems doomed.  It’s nice that Edward Van Sloan returning to reprise his role as V. Helsing from the first film, offering cohesive narrative continuity, though he seems a little less energetic here despite a retained eloquence.

Looking a little better on DVD than the preceding film, the image from the Monster Legacy set is quite pleasing taking its antiquity into consideration - there‘s a fair amount of detail. Sound comes across well though there are no modern alterations to be had here. Despite not qualifying itself as a great movie I found Dracula’s Daughter ticked away an hour or so quite comfortably.

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