The Monster Mash: Dracula’s Daughter

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“Possibly there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your psychiatry, Mr. Garth.”

I don’t understand why this movie exists. Well, okay, I do. Universal wanted to make a sequel to Dracula (1931), but what purpose does this serve for the viewer? It isn’t scary and it certainly isn’t entertaining most of the time. So why should anyone watch it?

Dracula’s Daughter (1936) picks up right where Dracula left off. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) has staked Dracula and is leaving Carfax Abbey when two policeman discover him, Dracula and Renfield’s dead body.

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Gloria Holden as the titular character.

They question the professor (who’s called Von Helsing in this movie for some reason), but naturally, they don’t believe a word he says about vampires and stakes. Van Helsing is arrested. He’ll likely be hanged or thrown in an asylum.

Van Helsing insists that he’s sane and what he’s saying is true. The head of Scotland Yard, Sir Basil Humphrey (Gilbert Emery), finds it all to be a bunch of superstitious nonsense. And since Mina, Jonathan and Dr. Seward are never mentioned in this film, Van Helsing has no one to back up his claims.

Van Helsing enlists the help of an old student of his turned psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger). Garth’s job is to somehow prove Van Helsing is in his right mind, even though Garth himself disbelieves the story.

In the midst of this, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden in her first starring role) comes to London with her creepy manservant, Sandor (Irving Pichel). She’s mysterious, attractive and tortured.

Zaleska had to feed on people when Dracula was alive. Now that he’s been staked, she steals his body from police headquarters and properly destroys it, making sure he doesn’t come back. She hopes that with him gone, she won’t have to be a creature of the night anymore, and she can live a normal life.

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Zaleska performing the ceremony on Dracula’s body.

That isn’t the case, and she’s just as tempted as ever to drink the blood of the living. She runs into Jeffrey at a party and wants his help to beat this terrible urge she feels every night.

Jeffrey, not knowing Zaleska’s true identity or the specifics of her problems, agrees to help through his knowledge of psychiatry. But with Van Helsing locked up, Jeffrey’s relationship with this woman may spell his doom.

Straight away Dracula’s Daughter feels off. The opening with Van Helsing being questioned by two slightly incompetent policemen is treated rather comically. Actually, large portions of the film go for laughs over screams.

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Kruger and Chuchill during one of their less bickering, less annoying scenes.

Jeffrey bickers constantly with his secretary Janet (Marguerite Churchill) in a manner reminiscent of a 1930s screwball comedy…but done poorly. None of the humor is particularly funny or clever. Screenwriter Garrett Fort, who penned the script for Dracula and co-wrote Frankenstein (1931), keeps bringing it back time and time again, though. He seems determined to jam it down our throats no matter how much it isn’t working.

The failed comedy and the occasional scenes of horror mix together to create a very odd tone. I can’t really explain what the tone is like, but it wasn’t pleasant.

Dracula’s Daughter suffers a similar fate as Werewolf of London (1935). Where the latter felt like a period drama that just happened to have a werewolf in it, the former is a comedy that accidentally has a vampire in some scenes.

Also like yesterday’s film, Zaleska doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but she finds herself tormented every night by horrible thoughts that tell her to kill and suck blood.

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Zaleska and one of her victims.

Our main character in Werewolf of London has no desire to harm people, but feels the animal impulse whenever he transforms into a werewolf. One good thing I can say about Dracula’s Daughter is that it handles this mental and emotional anguish much better than Werewolf of London.

So in that psychological sense, the film is scary. Maybe that’s what they were going for, but the level of horror still needed to be upped. I wanted dark, shadow-filled rooms and streets where horrific acts are performed to an ominous score, not brightly lit living room sets where people exchange bad quips to cheery music. Not that there isn’t any of the former, but there’s far too much of the latter.

Zaleska also wasn’t threatening enough as a villain. One of the reasons a werewolf works so well is because it’s animalistic and violent. You know it’s going to kill you if it gets the chance and that makes for a great sense of danger for side characters and pathos for the afflicted lead. Our vampire in Dracula’s Daughter never comes off as all that dangerous.

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Jeffrey confronts Zelska, who has captured Janet. Zelska causes problems for Jeffrey and some victims pile up throughout the film, but she never comes off as enough of a threat.

Dracula’s Daughter, which was originally supposed to be directed by James Whale before he slipped out of the project due to disinterest, turned out to be the last Universal horror film for quite some time.

The film didn’t do as well as Dracula at the box office. It also didn’t help that, starting in 1936, there was a British embargo on American horror films, which put a sizable dent in their future profits. But what really put the stake through the heart of the genre was the departure of Universal’s founders, Carl Laemmle, Sr. and Jr.

The Laemmles had been kicked out of the studio due to cost overruns. The new head of production, Charles R. Rogers, didn’t like horror films and discontinued their production after the completion of Dracula’s Daughter. Horror wouldn’t be brought back to life at Universal for two-and-a-half-years.

So why should anyone watch Dracula’s Daughter? Um…You shouldn’t. No really, I can’t think of any darn good reason to see this movie. It doesn’t do much that horror films – or films in general – are supposed to do. It just sort of exists.

P.S. Van Helsing is fourth billed and barely in this movie. He serves only to exposit and get Jeffrey into the story. The rest of the time, he’s fairly useless. I would have rather he just not been in the film and the script been slightly rewritten.

 

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