Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dracula's Daughter

Dracula's Daughter is like a Universal film to the tenth degree, emphasizing everything the brand does wrong and right by magnifying it to its full power. It’s gothic horror, its broad comic relief, its sinister only partially subliminated sexuality. Dracula’s Daughter has all that is pleasurable and cringe worthy about this particular subset of genre, and it has it in spades

Dracula’s Daughter is one of the few direct Universal sequels picking up mere seconds after Dracula ends, with Van Helsing arrested for having stabbed a prominent citizen to death. No one will believe that the count and Renfield were Vampires, not even the student Van Helsing brings in to defend him. Luckily for Van Helsing a new Vampiric pair show up in London, and start some Shenanigans. The film carrys over Edward Van Sloan, as Professor Van Helsing. Many criticize Sloan’s performance as Van Helsing as stiff, but I for one am drawn to Sloan’s Teutonic exactitude, over Hopkin’s thick slices of ham and even depending on the day, Cushing’s prim “all in a days work” professionalism.

Tod Browning’s Dracula is a perversely underrated film these days. I personally rank it only behind Whale’s glorious Frankenstein films as the finest of the Universal monster movies. Its stagy (it is after all, adapted from the stage play based on Stroker’s novel rather then the book itself) and is often considered the inferior film when compared to the legendary Mexican version that was made concurrently (and there is, at least in terms of performance some truth to that). But it has this musty old oddness to it, thanks to director Tod Browning that makes it a unique and even hypnotic viewing experience. Its filled with these odd little moments, like when a pack of Armadillos goes scurrying through Dracula’s castle, or a bit where Dracula seduces a pair of socialites by telling them how awesome it would be to be dead. Lugosi’s and Dwight Frye’s freakish performances combine with Browning’s fever dream direction to create something quite unforgettable.

Lambert Hillyer’s (As a side note, having admired the direction on this film I did a cursory search on Hillyer on IMDB and found that he directed 165 films. Not a single one I’ve heard of. Doesn’t that sum up the pleasure and terror of being both a film fan and an artist? I mean shoot even if I did want to explore Hillyer’s career where the hell would I begin? A hundred and sixty five films. Swallowed up, just like that) direction doesn’t isn’t quite as dedicatedly askew as Browning’s. Instead it’s a much more recognizable breed of Bavaesque high Gothic. Indeed the film’s best scene, where the title daughter steals her father’s body and then burns it in a graveyard as part of an archaic ceremony to rid herself of Vampirism feels like a lost scene from Black Sunday. At its best, as it is in this scene, and a vampire attack that is so unabashedly a Sapphic seduction that I’m frankly shocked that it made it past the prudish censors, Dracula's Daughter achieves a sensuous, nightmarish sensibility. At its worse though it keys up the beyond broad comic relief and bland “normal” leads, who are uninteresting even by the low standards of normal people in a Universal flick, to a prominence that is nigh unbearable.

Still there’s certainly more to love then not in this film. Not least of all Gloria Holden’s gripping and sad portrayal as the titular countess and the film’s shadow cloak style. Hambone acting and broad comic relief aside it almost feels more like one of Lewton’s films then the classic universal ones.


Aaron said...

Great review, dude. I reviewed this one a couple of months ago and I remember quite liking it... I think. I do love that it picks up right after DRACULA and I also liked the return of Sloan as Van Helsing (or VON Helsing... whatever). I'm one of those people who's not a fan of Sloan's screen presence, but to me he is and always will be the definitive Van Helsing, just 'cause. And I'm with you about Browning's DRACULA... depending on what day of the week it is and what mood I'm in, my favorite Universal Horror movie is either DRACULA or BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. As boring as DRACULA might be, I still watch it at least once a month and love the shit out of it.

AE said...

I enjoyed this movie a lot -- ok, I kept falling asleep on the couch to it, but in small bits I really did enjoy it. Gloria Holden is just heartbreaking, and the seduction of the artist's model is perfect. Agreed about the censors. "Remove your blouse" indeed! But the lead couple is so, so boring. You just can't have perfection I guess.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Aaron glad to share the love on Dracula. Underrated classic isn't always an oxymoron.

@AE I couldn't believe that scene. Its just so blatant.