Dracula’s Daughter (1936) Entertaining Universal Horror Sequel
It’s unlikely that a modern audience will find anything genuinely horrifying in the vintage chillers churned out by Universal Pictures during the monochrome era. Watching late at night with the lights turned low can help a little, but nowadays, the appeal of these Gothic fairytales doesn’t depend upon their ability to frighten. Today’s viewer can either dismiss them as hopelessly outdated, or accept their limitations and make allowances.
The use of Swan Lake excerpts over the titles of several early Universal offerings serves to set the mood perfectly. These films generally take place in an enchanted world of mittel-European villages, fogbound studio forests, glass shot castles and reliable, recurring character players, a setting comfortably removed from everyday life. Hammer would later duplicate this house style with its own stable of familiar performers and oft-used studio sets.
James Whale Originally Assigned to Dracula Sequel
The sequel to Tod Browning’s Dracula was originally allocated a more generous budget and entrusted to director James Whale of Frankenstein fame. Lugosi was to have been involved, and even Karloff’s name was mentioned. But Whale’s ideas for the film proved too ambitious for the studio execs, not to mention problematic in the tightened up post-1934 censorship climate. Various scripts were penned, rewritten and rejected until finally the production was scaled down considerably. However, Dracula’s Daughter does bear at least one Whale hallmark — a cavalier disregard for period.
Solid Work from Director Lambert Hillyer
Unlike Whale or Browning, Lambert Hillyer was not known as a horror genre specialist. A prolific filmmaker with an output consisting largely of Westerns, he directed Dracula’s Daughter and the Karloff/Lugosi sci-fi vehicle The Invisible Ray in the same busy year. To both productions he brings a solid, workmanlike efficiency. As film historian William K Everson notes, an experienced director of Westerns would have been well used to working rapidly and economically and squeezing the most from a meagre budget.
However, Hillyer’s handling of the obligatory, rather clumsy comedy relief — dimwitted cops and a bumbling butler — stands as further proof that, of Universal’s horror cycle directors, only James Whale really knew how to pepper his films with genuinely amusing bits of business.
Gloria Holden Plays Dracula’s Daughter
As the eponymous Countess Maria Zaleska, London-born Gloria Holden is as striking a presence as Lugosi. With an otherworldly aura not unlike that of Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Holden is a reluctant vampire who succeeds in evoking sympathy to the point where the viewer can hardly be blamed for wishing that she had returned as the antiheroine of a series of further sequels. (Although allegedly, Holden thought the role somewhat beneath her.) Admittedly, the idea that her character is actually the daughter of Count Dracula doesn’t really bear too much thinking about.
Edward Van Sloan Returns as Van Helsing
Edward Van Sloan makes a welcome return as Dracula’s no-nonsense nemesis Van Helsing, albeit sidelined here — and misnamed Von Helsing. (Nor is it ever explained why the other surviving principals from Dracula don’t come to his aid when he’s accused of murdering the Count.)
Irving Pichel (later to direct the trailblazing 1950 sci-fi drama Destination Moon) cakes on the pallid makeup to play the Countess’ sinister henchman Sandor — he’s the type of jealousy-prone sidekick who fully expects to be one day promoted to consort as a reward for faithful service. Nan Grey is memorably wide-eyed and innocent in a small role as a young waif drawn into Zaleska’s web. Much has been made of her seduction sequence, which is indeed a highlight.
Otto Kruger Plays Sardonic Dr Jeffrey Garth
One trademark of these Universal horrors is the the ineffectual (nominal) leading man, the most obvious example being David Manners in Dracula, The Mummy and The Black Cat
As psychiatrist Dr Jeffrey Garth, Kruger makes a spiky and irreverent hero. In manner something of a cross between between William Powell and Basil Rathbone, he finds the time to exchange mock-stern, flirtatious screwball comedy-style banter with his mischievous secretary Marguerite Churchill as well as dealing with the curious case of the Countess.
Universal’s Later Dracula Movies
Poor box office and a largely negative critical reception were among several factors that led Universal to leave the genre well alone for a while after
Later Universal Dracula sequels drafted in the physically miscast Lon Chaney Jr for Son of Dracula (1943), the more appropriate John Carradine for the multi-monster fests
- Dracula’s Daughter trailer
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