Premise: Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska seeks the aid of a noted psychiatrist, hoping to free herself of a mysterious evil influence.
The Universal Monsters’ second direct sequel, 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, takes a different approach than Bride of Frankenstein before it. Like Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula’s Daughter begins immediately after the events of its predecessor. However, there is no retconning to be found here. Dracula is dead. Long live Dracula. This sequel examines the fallout of the events of the first film through Van Helsing’s (Edward Van Sloan) interactions with the law and the introduction of Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who is seemingly possessed by the re-deceased Dracula.
Dracula’s Daughter deftly juggles a few different tones and genres within its runtime. The film is part Gothic horror, legal drama, and romantic comedy. The trick to keeping these tones from clashing is in the way the film compartmentalizes the storytelling. Van Helsing’s dealings with Scotland Yard and his impending legal troubles is, for the most part, entirely separate from Dr. Garth’s (Otto Kruger) romantic comedy subplot with his assistant Janet (Marguerite Churchill). Likewise, the journey Marya goes through to attempt to free herself from the spell of the dead Count don’t converge with the other characters until well into the film. While Werewolf of London became encumbered by too many characters vying for the audience’s attention, Dracula’s Daughter takes extra care in its pacing and handling of many characters and tones.
The most intriguing aspect of the film is Van Helsing’s arc. Seeing as Dracula’s Daughter exists in the aftermath of Dracula, the film sees Van Helsing’s freedom on the line. What’s most satisfying is the way the film handles the Van Helsing dilemma. There’s no exhaustive manhunt. The professor is immediately forthcoming with the truth that he killed Count Dracula. This opens the door to an endlessly fascinating depiction of science versus the supernatural and the rational thinker’s attempts to reconcile the completely irrational and unverifiable.
The film (and the entire Universal Monsters oeuvre thus far) does a spectacular job at depicting the debate between the rational mind and the unexplainable supernatural lore it encounters. Van Helsing’s conversation with the head of Scotland Yard about the reason he drove a stake into the heart of a man lead to an immersive and well-articulated debate. There’s no heightened drama here or any colorful dialogue to entice audiences. Instead, the film relies on the inherent intrigue of characters grounded in reality responding to ideas that are out of the realm of possibility. It’s contemplative and lends such a feel of authenticity that it makes the film all the more immersive.
Dracula’s Daughter may also be considered a possession movie as the Hungarian Countess Marya is possessed by the spirit of Dracula. She does what she can to free herself of the hold he has on her, even going so far as taking his body and burning it to ashes. She meets with Dr. Garth and attempts to let him in on her struggle but fails. This leads to a wonderfully noir style confrontation between the two late in the film that further demonstrates how in control of the film’s tone director Lambert Hillyer was with Dracula’s Daughter.
Dr. Garth and his assistant Janet’s chemistry is simply off the charts. The back and forth between the two give off a palpable tension that leans heavily into a romantic comedy tone. The film handles the pair wonderfully and in a way that makes for a good counter to Marya’s possession and Van Helsing’s legal battle plots. The film capitalizes on the pair’s chemistry by putting Janet in peril late in the film as all subplots ultimately converge.
The film’s climax moves the action from London back to Transylvania. Thereby providing the pair of Dracula films with a wonderful bookended symmetry in locales. Gloria Holden’s gradual transition from captive victim of the “Curse of the Draculas” to her own unique Universal Monster speaks to her prowess as a performer. You believe that she’s powerless in the beginning and come to fear the power she gains as the film races toward its conclusion. Yet, Holden remains understated in her performance throughout. It’s in the subtle adjustments throughout the film to her performance that make it incredibly memorable.
Dracula’s Daughter is a strong follow up to Dracula. Although Bela Lugosi’s performance as the Count drove the original film to iconic status, his absence from this film isn’t felt as heavily as one would expect. Due to a strong story, sharp writing, and careful plotting, Dracula’s Daughter stands on its own while also providing a strong coda to the events of the first film.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.