Ladies, you’ve heard this one before: you think you know a guy, but then it turns out he has kids! What a shock! Who had a clue that Count Dracula, the ultimate bachelor, spawned a couple of rugrats?
Probably no one, for I have a feeling that their appearances in 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter and 1943’s Son of Dracula occurred simply because there was money to be made. No one planned for them to exist, but the concepts sounded good, so the studio went with them.
Of the two flicks, Daughter was definitely the more successful. It tells the story of Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden), a lovely but mysterious woman who pursues a psychiatrist named Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger). While she clearly needs therapy, he seems to be the only one to help her because Garth’s also connected to vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). Zaleska claims to be a vampire herself, but unlike her “dad” - though I don’t think the movie ever really explores her heritage - she wants to rid herself of her terrible desires.
Essentially Daughter plays as more of a moody psychological piece than I expected. I liked the twist involved. Sure, we occasionally see vampires who fight their urges, but this one actually went into therapy! The film’s best moments showed the tension between her higher aims and her baser needs.
Daughter also featured some of the best acting of the series, particularly from Holden in a nicely dark and tortured turn. I appreciated the manner in which Daughter assumed a certain foreknowledge with the Dracula legend as well. We see the usual transparency in front of mirrors, fear of crosses, and other elements, but the movie doesn’t dwell on repetitive exposition. Considering that some of these horror flicks - such as 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb - devote ridiculous amounts of running time to flashbacks, I appreciated this moderate respect for the audience.
However, don’t expect Daughter to be a perfect film. It suffered from choppy pacing that made it often feel like a series of intriguing but somewhat unconnected moments. On their own, each of these snippets worked well, but they didn’t blend together terribly well. This meant the picture would never be more than moderately compelling, for the whole couldn’t coalesce into more than a sum of its parts.
Still, Dracula’s Daughter was an entertaining and fairly provocative piece. It nicely furthered the vampire legend and did so in a way that didn’t simply reiterate the events of the original film. It wasn’t a classic, but it’s one of the better horror sequels.
Dracula’s Daughter appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it displayed some concerns, as a whole this was a terrific picture for its age.
Sharpness usually looked quite good. Modest softness appeared at times, but the majority of the film came across as accurate and well defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no significant problems, but I did see a smidgen of edge enhancement. Black levels seemed to be very strong. Contrast appeared solid, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively thick.
As expected for a 65-year-old film, print flaws caused the most substantial problems, but these stayed pretty modest. At times, I saw examples of speckles, grain, spots, streaks, blotches, and nicks. While that may sound like a long roster of defects, the issues remained infrequent enough to mean that the image looked very clean for its age. All in all, I thought Dracula’s Daughter offered a very satisfying visual presentation.
While the film’s monaural soundtrack didn’t seem quite so strong, it still was fine for an older movie. The quality of the audio appeared to be typical for the era. Dialogue was acceptably distinct and clear but thin and lifeless. However, speech showed no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Both music and effects also seemed to be reasonably clear and accurate, but they displayed little dynamic range. Nonetheless, these elements were quite decent for their age.
My biggest concern with the soundtrack related to background noise. Throughout the movie, I heard occasionally popping, and a mild hum accompanied the film. None of these factors were excessive, but they did cause some distractions. Ultimately, however, I felt the audio of Dracula’s Daughter seemed acceptable for its era.
The supplements found of Dracula’s Daughter match up closely with those found on the other Universal Monster double feature DVDs. We get the film’s trailer plus some good text Production Notes. In addition, we find Cast and Filmmakers biographies of director Lambert Hillyer and actors Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, and Marguerite Churchill. Those offer short but decent looks at their careers.
Picture/Sound/Extras: Son of Daughter A-/B-/D-
After the relative pleasures of Dracula’s Daughter, we find another vampire feature, 1943’s Son of Dracula. You know you’re in for a rocky ride when the movie never makes it clear if its baddie actually is the progeny of the big man, or if he’s Drac himself. Many of the horror sequels of the Forties suffered from this kind of muddled tone and lack of consistency, and attached to some weak acting, that became the fatal flaw of Son.
In this feature, we find that a sexy southern belle named Katherine (Louise Allbritton) invited Count Alucard (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to the US. She does this with an ulterior motive: she realizes that Alucard is a vampire, and she wants him to make her into one of the undead as well. However, there’s yet another subtext to this cause: after she weds Alucard and becomes a vampire, she plans to have her fiancé Frank (Robert Paige) off Ally; then she’ll make Frank a vamp too and the two will live (?) happily together through eternity. Frank isn’t so sure about this, so he battles Alucard while he tries to rescue Katherine from an eternity of damnation.
On the surface, Son could have been a good movie. Not many of these flicks explore the concept of a person who actually wants to become a vampire; usually the curse is thrust upon them, but Katherine actively seeks this status. Her reasons created an intriguing twist as well, and the story appeared more complex and compelling than most.
Aided by some very good special effects for the era and some moody staging, Son had potential. Unfortunately, poor acting brought it down from its possible highs. None of the cast seemed very good, as they appeared excessively broad and melodramatic. However, the real fatal flaw occurred when they cast Chaney as the baddie. Chaney tried to cultivate a career as the ultimate movie monster; he played all of the big ones in various films, from the Wolf Man to Frankenstein to the Mummy. He seemed most successful in the one role he originated, that of the Wolf Man. Yes, there had been other werewolf features prior to 1941’s The Wolf Man, but at least he made Larry Talbot his own.
Otherwise, Chaney dealt with characters started by others, but he couldn’t live up to the originals, and as Alucard, he came across worse than ever. The role should be mysterious and intriguing, but Chaney remained ham-fisted and goofy. Really, Lenny in Of Mice and Men was the perfect role for Chaney; I didn’t especially like him in that film, but he still seemed appropriately moronic in the part. Chaney lacked the charm and charisma to play a master vampire, and the movie suffered accordingly.
By the way, if our count is such a smart guy, couldn’t he think of an alias more difficult to decipher than “Alucard”? If you didn’t get it, that’s “Dracula” spelled backwards, and it seemed stupidly obvious and pointless. Ultimately, Son of Dracula had some moments, but the movie as a whole seemed too flawed to be a success.
Son of Dracula appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As good as I felt the picture of Dracula’s Daughter looked, Son was even better; it provided the strongest image on any of the 12 Universal Monsters double feature DVDs.
Very little went wrong with this picture. Sharpness consistently appeared concise and crisp, and I saw no signs of softness or fuzziness. No moiré effects or jagged edges caused problems either, and black levels looked nicely tight and deep. Shadow detail appeared marginally heavy at times, as a few low-light sequences came across as moderately too opaque. However, the majority of the film balanced contrast well, and the dark scenes worked effectively.
In general, older films suffer most from print flaws, and a few appeared during Son. I saw some light grain, and a few speckles also cropped up at times. However, these issues seemed to be almost unbelievably minor for a movie that nears its 60th birthday. Ultimately, Son of Dracula offered a fantastic image that almost never belied its age.
While the film’s monaural soundtrack didn’t match up with its terrific visuals, it still sounded relatively positive for the era. For the most part, the audio seemed quite typical of the period. None of the elements were particularly rich or displayed strong fidelity, but all appeared to be very acceptable. Dialogue sounded clear and lacked any problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects and music lacked depth or dynamics, but they also came across as fairly distinct and accurate, and they showed no concerns related to distortion.
Where Son lost some points related to background noise. Most of the film seemed to be fairly clean, as I detected no crackling, popping or other flaws of that sort. However, I did discern a very odd hum, one that appeared to be oddly melodic. At times it felt as though I heard a neighbor’s stereo play a song in the background, but the sound clearly came from the movie. I also noted an odd scratchiness that cropped up during chapter eight for a brief time. Overall, the quality of the track remained above average for the era, which is why I gave it a “B-“, but these background concerns meant I had to lower the grade slightly.
The supplements of Son of Dracula strongly echo those found with Dracula’s Daughter and all the other double features. We find the movie’s trailer and additional solid text “Production Notes”. Yup, more “Cast and Filmmakers” biographies appear as well; we get entries for director Robert Siodmak and actors Louise Allbritton, Robert Paige, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Craven, J. Edward Bromberg, Samuel S. Hinds, and Lon Chaney, Jr. These remain short but interesting.
In regard to my recommendation, this double feature DVD is tougher to pin down than most. Both movies are moderately interesting but they also suffer from some major flaws. Dracula’s Daughter definitely seems stronger, but it’s choppy pacing makes it less than the sum of its parts. Son of Dracula offers a good story with some intriguing twists, but weak acting - especially from the lead - harms it.
As such, I liked both movies to a degree, but neither did a lot for me. However, I can’t complain about the quality of the DVD, as it provided surprisingly strong visuals for both films. Of the 12 flicks in the Universal Monsters double feature collection, these were the two top transfers. Actually, I think they offered the best pictures of all the 20 Universal Monsters films on DVD. Audio quality seemed less positive but still solid for the age of the material, while the extras are skimpy but decent. In the end, I can’t strongly recommend the DVD because the movies aren’t that great, but Dracula fans should give it a look, and they’ll likely be pleased with it.