Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Count Dracula is dead and his killer, Professor Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), is charged by Scotland Yard with his murder. Von Helsing seeks aid from his former pupil, the psychiatrist Jeffery Garth (Otto Kruger), who’s scientific mind simply cannot be led to believe in vampires. Meanwhile, Dracula’s corpse is stolen and cremated by his daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden). She believed that the death of her father would restore her to life, but is disappointed to discover that is not the case. Desperate for release, she looks to Jeffery for help in battling her urges to feed, becoming smitten with him in the process. In her way is Jeffery’s secretary, Janet (Marguerite Churchill), who rivals for Jeffery’s affections and may drive Zaleska to succumb to her vampire ways.

Though I’m not overly fond of it, the original “Dracula” had a number of elements that makes it re-watchable. Dracula is monstrous in his own way, employing a number of ghastly supernatural powers such as shape-shifting and what-not. The set-design is beautifully gothic and the film has an excellent creepy tone to it. “Dracula’s Daughter”, on the other hand, is very much a more subdued and cost-efficient take on the story, ditching just about all of the vampire’s supernatural abilities and shifting the setting to dull and dreary then-modern London. It scarcely has an edge of horror to it at all, like Director Lambert Hillyer is determined to put the audience to sleep.

“Dracula’s Daughter” is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s short story, “Dracula’s Guest”. And by “loosely”, I mean that the only thing tying to the two together is that they both feature female vampires as the antagonist (the villainess in “Dracula’s Guest” was named “Countess Dolingen”, by the way). To claim it as an adaptation of the story is pretty disingenuous. The story wasn’t that great anyway, as it was just a chapter of Stoker’s “Dracula” novel, excised because he felt it was unnecessary to the plot and published after his death.

I hear quite a bit of praise for Gloria Holden’s performance as Countess Zaleska, though for the life of me I can’t see what’s so special about it. She certainly has a…unique appearance, but her actual performance was pretty forgettable. I found Marguerite Churchill’s feisty Janet to be much more entertaining. No, I think the only reason people praise Holden’s performance is because it was dripping with lesbian overtones. Zaleska uses her hypnotic ring (yes, ring, not gaze) to subdue young women into her power, then makes suggestive advances toward them. There’s even a brief scenes where she attempts to kiss an unconscious Janet, lying on a couch. This was 1936, people. Pretty big deal, back then.

But really, that’s all people seem to remember “Dracula’s Daughter” for. The lesbians. Everything else is incredibly dull. The protagonist, Jeffery, is entertaining in his love-hate relationship with Janet, but his “I refuse to believe in vampires” shtick goes on for way too long. And the means by which he comes to his senses is idiotic; Countess Zaleska simply refuses to look into a mirror. Yeah, that’s all the proof anybody should ever need to drive them from science to spirituality.

Meanwhile, the only returning character from the first film, Professor Von Helsing, spends the bulk of the flick in jail and scarcely joins in on any of the action (what little action there is). Bela Lugosi does not make an actual appearance in the movie, but he permitted Universal to make a plaster replica of his likeness to use as a prop (it can be seen in the coffin where Von Helsing kills him and in his funeral pyre). You only see the replica briefly, but it looks surprisingly convincing.

Of all of the Universal Classic Monster series, the Dracula franchise suffered from some of the worst and most boring sequels. To make matters worse, fans often hail “Dracula’s Daughter” as being the best of the lot.

Dracula's Daughter begins a few moments after Dracula ends. Count Dracula has just been destroyed by Professor Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). Von Helsing is taken by police to Scotland Yard, where he explains that he indeed did destroy Count Dracula, but because he had already been dead for over 500 years, it cannot be considered murder. Instead of hiring a lawyer, he enlists the aid of a psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), who was once one of his star students. Meanwhile, Dracula's daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), with the aid of her manservant, Sandor (Irving Pichel), steals Dracula’s body from Scotland Yard and ritualistically burns it, hoping to break her curse of vampirism. However, Sandor soon makes her realize that her thirst for blood has not been quenched and that all that is in her eyes is "Death". The Countess resumes her hunting, mesmerizing her victims with her exotic jeweled ring. After a chance meeting with Dr. Garth at a society party, the Countess asks him to help her overcome the influence she feels from beyond the grave. The doctor advises her to defeat her cravings by confronting them and the Countess becomes hopeful that her will plus Dr. Garth's science will be strong enough to overcome Dracula's malevolence.

The Countess sends Sandor to fetch her a model to paint; he returns with Lili (Nan Grey). Countess Zaleska initially resists her urges but succumbs and attacks Lili. Although the girl survives the attack, when Dr. Garth tries to hypnotize her to learn what happened, she suffers heart failure and dies. As the Countess comes to accept that a cure is not possible — and the doctor discovers the truth about her condition — she lures him to Transylvania by kidnapping Janet (Marguerite Churchill), the woman he loves. She intends to transform him into a vampire to be her eternal companion; Dr. Garth agrees to exchange his life for Janet's. Before he can be transformed, Countess Zaleska is destroyed when Sandor shoots her through the heart with an arrow as revenge for her breaking her promise to make him immortal. He takes aim at Dr. Garth but is shot dead by a policeman.

Otto Kruger as Dr. Jeffrey Garth
Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska - Dracula's Daughter
Marguerite Churchill as Janet
Edward Van Sloan as Professor Von Helsing
Gilbert Emery as Sir Basil Humphrey, Scotland Yard
Irving Pichel as Sandor
Halliwell Hobbes as Hawkins
Billy Bevan as Albert
Nan Grey as Lili
Hedda Hopper as Lady Esme Hammond
Claud Allister as Sir Aubrey
Edgar Norton as Hobbs
E. E. Clive as Sergeant Wilkes
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