Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 166: Dracula's Daughter (1936) - Rank 4/5


You know, when people gripe about how there's no originality in Hollywood, they really need to take a strong look at the Universal horror line. Studios during this era were no different than they are now. They exploited a franchise as long as it would last, they churned out sequels as much as possible and they cut budgets in the process. However, there was one big difference and that is: a greater focus was put on the script. I'm not saying every sequel is tripe, but the majority do fall very short of the first installment. "Dracula's Daughter" may not rival Todd Browning's "Dracula," and at first, the very notion of continuing a saga by saying that the heartless count had time to raise a family may seem a bit contrived, the film is actually feels quite fresh and on some levels, explores darker territory.

The story picks up where the last scene in "Dracula" leaves off - Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Von Sloan reprising his infamous role) is strolling out from Dracula's resting place at Carfax Abbey when he runs into a couple of bobbies, who quickly digress into their "Wot's all this, then?" rigmarole and arrest Van Helsing for the murder of Dracula. Van Helsing tries to explain the entire ordeal to Scotland Yard, but the chief inspector concludes that the aged doctor is either a murderer or insane. Van Helsing calls upon an old psychiatrist friend, Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger), for help as the mysterious Countess Zaleska (aka Drac's daughter) arrives, abducts and burns her father's body, and then begins feasting on locals.

Zaleska is not your standard vampire though. Gloria Holden expertly plays her as a tortured soul who'd wished, with every fiber of her being, that her father's death would free her of her blood-craving curse. When she learns of some of the work that Dr. Garth has performed with addicts and those suffering from phobias, she approaches him about helping her with her dubious vices - only to no avail as her bloodlust overpowers her will. There's an inherent sadness and humanity in her desire for a normal life that adds an element of viewer sympathy to the character, and in turn, depth. This, combined with eerie lighting and a haunting score, evokes the atmosphere of "Dracula" while still operating as a unique and original horror film.

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