PG – 64mins – 1936 – B&W
DADDY’S LITTLE GHOUL
With Van – sorry, Von – Helsing’s (Edward Van Sloan) return in a linking, but ultimately subsidiary, role from 1931’s iconic Dracula, and with screenwriter Garrett Fort again on script duty, you would think that Universal’s first vampire sequel was always planned this way, but it turns out that the film we ended up with was at least five drafts, two screenwriters, three directors and innumerable cast members away from the hit monster-movie studio’s original plans.
Ostensibly based on Dracula’s Guest, a “lost chapter” by Bram Stoker which was released as a short story long after his epistolary novel became a success, this money-motivated filmic follow-up (which weighs in at a featherweight one hour and four minutes, including opening title cards) actually bears precious little resemblance to the source material.
Following on directly from Bela Lugosi’s coffin-bound staking in Carfax Abbey, Dracula’s Daughter begins promisingly with a stoic Von Helsing being carted off to Scotland Yard by two bumbling policemen, who guard the murdered bodies of Drac (a wax bust to save Lugosi showing up for a lifeless cameo) and Renfield at the morgue.
Enter the mysterious Hungarian Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who mesmerises poor bobby Albert (Billy Bevan) so to steal away her cursed father’s corpse and purge it in flames, in the hope it will break the spell and release her to once more live among the living. Sadly, Holden never comes across as particularly evil or troubled, only distant (uninvested?). Her aide/inabler Sandor (Irving Pichel), however, is a far more menacing individual – even if his role is never really pinpointed.
When purging fails, Zaleska turns to psychiatric help to battle her unwelcome impulses from beyond the grave. She becomes convinced that pioneering doctor Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), who works in hypnosis, is the key to freeing her from her father’s bloodsucking will. By ‘coincidence’, Garth is already linked to Dracula’s case, having been hired by the incarcerated Von Helsing in lieu of a lawyer!!
Despite clocking in at little over an hour, there is still ample filler in the strained and stretched plot, with a Scotland shooting party, a news montage and prank phone calls from Garth’s infatuated assistant Jane (Marguerite Churchill) all bulking up an otherwise verbose and terror-free story which doesn’t really get going until Zaleska flees back to Transylvania with a kidnapped Jane with ten minutes to go.
With the Countess only daring to reveal so much of her backstory to Garth, progression stalls in sluggish repetitive talk of the occult. Fort drops in a couple of riffs on the original legend, particularly when the Countess attends a swanky London cocktail party and is offered a drink, however Holden’s plain delivery lacks any tonal variation and the line falls flat.
With justice, science and supernatural folklore coming together, the clashing of ideologies and ideas in this probing sequel are to be praised, however the lack of any real horror or action deprives this narrative of any pace, and I soon tired of all the talk. It’s a shame, as Dracula’s Daughter opened brightly, but too many changes and concessions ultimately lead to a truncated and unimpressive experience and I soon realised why this was left off of Universal’s 2012 blu-ray Monsters boxset.