While some people think of film sequels and franchises as being a modern concept, they have been around since the advent of film. It’s just that the older sequels can be harder to spot because there typically isn’t a giant number 2 after the title! Hollywood has always operated on the saying "Give the people more of what they like... as long as it makes money." Of course, there needs to be a gimmick in order to facilitate a sequel and one of the earliest ones was very simple: offspring. In both "Dracula’s Daughter" and "Son of Dracula" the studio decided, "Hey, if dad is dead, then let’s unleash the kids!" These siblings have now been put together on one Double Feature DVD from Universal Home Video.
"Dracula’s Daughter" is worth noting, as it opens right where the original 1931 "Dracula" left off, with Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) having killed Dracula. Van Helsing is discovered by two passing policemen and arrested. Instead of retaining an attorney, he asks for the help of his former student, Dr. Jeffery Garth (Otto Kruger), a psychiatrist. Upon hearing Van Helsing’s fantastic tales of vampires, Garth is unsure what to make of his former mentor. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman, Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) and her creepy assistant Sandor (Irving Pichel) (who looks like Benicio Del Toro), steal Dracula’s body from the police station where it is being held, and burn it. Zaleska believes that this will "free her". Zaleska then meets Garth at a party, and becomes convinced that he can help her with her problem. This problem that she needs to be "freed" from apparently involves hurting others and sleeping during the day. After a young woman is attacked and left for dead, Garth and Van Helsing begin to suspect that Countess Zaleska may be more than a bit eccentric and they follow her to Transylvania to learn her dark secret.
I know that I may offend some people with this remark, but "Dracula’s Daughter" plays like an old movie. The film is very melodramatic, even by 30’s standards, and it never seems to decide into what genre it wants to fit. The vampire angle is downplayed to the extent that it’s practically non-existent. While Van Helsing talks about vampires, it’s not until the last ten minutes that any vampires are revealed. There is no on-screen violence, and the film is never really creepy or suspenseful. Also, there is a subplot dealing with Garth and his assistant, which plays like a romantic comedy. Thus, the film never seems to really gel. However, the movie does have a nice, gothic look, and the sexual overtones seem very risquéé for a genre film of the period.
"Dracula’s Daughter" is celebrating its 65th birthday this year, and some of that age comes through on this DVD presentation. The film is presented full-frame. And although, most of the film looks fine, there are indeed some problems. Defects from the source print, such as white spots and minor scratches, are evident. There are many places where a missing frame or a bad splice causing the film to "jump". At times, there is shimmering and flickering of the image. In Chapter 11, the image moves up and down on the screen. Still, the image is sharp and clear, showing no distortion or softness. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono providing clear and audible dialogue. There are the occasional pops and crackles on the track, but there is no hissing. The feature film appears to be in mint condition when compared with the theatrical trailer included on the DVD. The trailer shows many scratches and spots, and what appears to be acid burns at the end. The DVD also contains very in-depth production notes and cast & crew biographies.
Dracula’s little girl may have been a let-down to the family, but Junior makes up for any shortcomings in "Son of Dracula". WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Unlike most of the Universal horror films, this film takes place in America, in an undisclosed southern town. Kay (Louise Allbritton) has apparently visited Hungary, where she met Count Alucard (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and invited him to visit her in the States, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Frank Stanley (Robert Paige). However, when Alucard is due to arrive, only his luggage shows up at the train station, disappointing Kay who has thrown a soiree for his arrival. Of course, Alucard has come to town, but not in human form. A bat arrives at the party and kills Kay’s father, thus throwing into motion a bizarre scheme involving twisted love and immortality. As Kay falls under the spell of Alucard, only the town’s doctor (Frank Craven) and an Hungarian professor (J. Edward Bromberg), know the truth of the vampire and race to save the souls of those involved.
Playing in direct contradiction to "Dracula’s Daughter", "Son of Dracula" doesn’t feel like an old movie. The film is very well-paced and tightly scripted. And the movie doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, as a character realizes that Alucard is simply "Dracula" spelled backwards within the first five minutes. "Son of Dracula" piles on the gothic atmosphere and shows a nice blend of the scientific and the supernatural in the story. The story contains many surprises, as far as who survives the film and how the action is played out. The only real drawback to "Son of Dracula" is Lon Chaney, Jr., who plays the count with no accent (although it’s stated that he has one in the film) and with little charm. He’s probably one of the most wooden vampires in film history. Luckily, he’s not on-screen that much and the performances of Paige as the insanely jealous Frank, and Craven as the intuitive Dr. Brewster raise the film to a higher level. It must be pointed out that "Son of Dracula" was released during World War II and there is some jingoistic statements which are hard to miss, such as "America is a young and virile nation."
Just as "Son of Dracula" is a superior movie to "Dracula’s Daughter", so the DVD transfer fares better as well. The film is presented in a full-frame format. The image is sharp and clear throughout the film, but there are some defects from the source print, most white specs, evident at times. During the middle chapters, there is some flickering of the image. Overall though, this is a good transfer. The clarity of the image lends itself to adding a great deal of depth to the moody black-and-white photography. The audio on the "Son of Dracula" DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono, which gives us no problems concerning the dialogue, sound effects or music. However, in Chapter 8, there is an odd noise on the soundtrack which sounds like a teletype machine. The theatrical trailer for the film is included on the DVD, and it shows some of the same wear and tear as the feature film. Rounding out the extras are production notes and cast & crew bios.
Today, vampires are just as popular as ever (if not more so). That’s why it’s nice that Universal has given us this opportunity to explore the cinematic past of the blood-suckers. While I can’t recommend "Dracula’s Daughter", "Son of Dracula" is one of the best genre films that I’ve seen from this period, and I, for one, am glad to see it resurrected.