Friday, October 28, 2016


At Dark Oaks, the Caldwell plantation, a party is being given in honor of visiting Hungarian Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.); young Kay Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) met him in Europe and became fascinated with his esoteric philosophies. Her fiancĂ© Frank (Robert Paige) isn't too happy about her obsession, and the rest of the guests are unhappy that Alucard hasn’t shown up yet, though some large coffin-shaped boxes of his do arrive. The aging patriarch leaves the reception to go to bed, but we see a large bat fly in through his window and next thing you know, he's dead with a bite mark on his neck. The mysterious, aloof Alucard eventually shows up, and Brewster, the family doctor (Frank Craven), has already noticed that his name spelled backwards is "Dracula." Kay is now sole heir to the plantation, and she and Alucard marry in secret. When Frank finds out, he is distraught and pulls a gun on Alucard, but the bullet goes right through him and hits Kay, standing behind him. She crumples to the ground, apparently dead, but the next day, she is alive and healthy, though she admits to Frank that she is now a vampire (she also says, about the label of vampire, "Don’t use that word—we don’t like it!"). She also tells Frank that she was just using Alucard to gain eternal life; now, she wants Frank to kill Alucard—by burning his coffin at dawn before he can get to it—then she will put the bite on Frank and they can live undead forever.

It is generally acknowledged that this movie's biggest problem is Lon Chaney Jr.; he is clunky and wooden and has none of the majesty or creepy charisma of Lugosi. I agree in general—Chaney rarely comes off as scary—but he is effective in other ways. His Alucard is something of a brute force of nature rather than a mysteriously charming and deadly being. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter than much because after the opening, Alucard largely becomes a supporting player. This is also one of the first vampire films—as far as I remember—that presents a willing and romantic victim; in DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, the manservant has been holding onto Countess Zelinka's promise to give him vampiric eternal life, but their relationship is not portrayed as one of love or lust—and he never gets the promised bite. It takes a long time for anything much to happen; aside from the death of the father, which we don't actually see, it's a half-hour in before anything resembling action happens, and when it does, the motivation for it is weak: Frank shoots (to kill) Alucard because he thinks Kay is in love with him, but had Alucard not been a vampire, Frank would have wound up guilty of murder and would have lost Kay anyway. As it is, his character winds up pretty much broken at the end, one of the few times that would happen in the classic movie era to the nominal hero of a horror movie.  The supporting cast is OK; Allbritton isn't quite saucy enough for her role and Robert Paige does his best with a poorly written character, but I like Frank Craven, J. Edward Bromberg and Samuel S. Hinds as the men who perform Van Helsing's "wild work" to get rid of Dracula. And as far as I can tell, it's never established if Alucard actually is the son of Dracula, or Dracula himself, or some sorry-ass pretender. If this is ultimately disappointing, it's worth seeking for its moments of atmosphere and its somewhat unusual ending. (Pictured above: Allbritton, Chaney, Paige) [DVD]

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