“Frank, isn’t eternity together better than a few years of ordinary life?”
This is such a strange movie. And I mean strange. Is it as out of this world as a Bergman film? No, but it’s still very weird. I hardly know what to even say about it, but I’ll give it a shot.
Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), the occult and supernatural obsessed daughter of a New Orleans plantation owner, invites the mysterious Count Alucard (Lon Chaney, Jr.) from Hungary for initially unknown reasons. Katherine is engaged to Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), but she’s been acting oddly since she visited Alucard in Hungary some months ago.
Colonel Caldwell (George Irving), Katherine’s father, dies suddenly of an apparent heart attack, but Alucard is actually to blame. The count is really the vampiric Dracula (Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards) and he has terrible plans for Katherine, who has an unhealthy relationship with Alucard that could endanger her engagement and her life.
Frank is worried about his fiancee, and Dr. Harry Brewster (Frank Craven) is immediately suspicious of Alucard. Brewster questions Katherine and Alucard, invites Hungarian professor and vampire expert Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg) to aid him, and investigates the Caldwell plantation, where Alucard has taken up residence.
Alucard can’t be killed by conventional means. Our heroes’ only hope is to find Alucard’s coffin and burn it before he destroys everyone Katherine knows and loves.
It’s worth mentioning that Son of Dracula (1943) is not consistent with whether Alucard is supposed to be Dracula’s son or the famous bloodsucker himself. Honestly, it doesn’t matter either way.
Anyway, how’s the movie? Um, did I mention it was weird? It starts with the screenplay. The film begins and it’s almost like I missed the first 10 minutes. Son of Dracula acts as if I should already know these characters and their backstories. All are explained in the film but in a peculiar way that threw me off. Maybe it’s just me.
But then there are random things like a Hungarian Gypsy fortune teller who’s in one scene before being killed off in the film’s opening minutes. She establishes a sense of doom right off the bat, but it doesn’t feel natural. It’s more an idea haphazardly thrown in for the hell of it.
Also, Frank is supposed to be our male lead, but he drops out of the film for long stretches. Dr. Brewster is made out to be the real hero but without much warning Frank turns into the ultimate protagonist. It’s not a clever twist or anything like that either. Not really. It’s clumsy scripting. Clumsy scripting that also produces a strange pace and a story with pieces missing.
The oddities continue with the cinematography. Clever camera placements and movements feel slightly off-kilter and give Son of Dracula a reality that’s otherworldly and dreamlike. I actually like this standout quality
Unlike Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931), who was never quite able to elicit scares, Chaney’s Alucard succeeds at being a true cinematic bogeyman. An early scene depicts his coffin rising out of a swamp before emitting a white mist that, through some impressive special effects, transforms into the devilish count. Alucard then glides across the water to Katherine, a sinister smile plastered across his face.
Bottom line: Alucard feels dangerous without him having to do much. But that’s part of the problem. Alucard is underused and his full potential isn’t reached. I wish Universal had made a sequel with Chaney so his character could be showcased a bit more.
Alucard’s penchant for speaking without contractions, for example, gives the Count an offbeat air that makes you afraid and uncomfortable. That could’ve been experimented more, with dark, clever dialogue, in the future, especially since it adds to the movie’s strange dreamlike quality.
I think I may have finally hit on what Son of Dracula is. It’s a fever dream. A dream where the story starts in the wrong place, events are missing, and normal settings look slightly different and “off” from every day life.
Or, to quote Frank from the movie, “I don’t know if it’s real! Maybe it’s a nightmare or something!” Very interesting. I only wish the script was better. Then this would be a horror film for the ages.