Dracula’s Daughter (1936) is rightly seen as playing second fiddle to James Whale’s masterful Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) in the Universal classic horror sequel stakes, but makes an interesting curio for vampire-lore enthusiasts. This low-budget effort raises, possibly for the first time on film, the spectre of the reluctant vampire, and of blood-craving-as-addiction, explored to its fullest over sixty years later in seminal TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
The concept is a simple but arresting one. Dracula’s daughter, aka Countess Marya Zaleska (played seemingly by a young Cherie Blair), travels to England immediately after the events of Tod Browing’s Dracula (1931). She’s hoping that with Bela Lugosi’s Daddy Dracula having finally shuffled off his immortal coil, she can now live the normal life of which she’s apparently always dreamed with a wistfulness rivaling the Little Mermaid’s longing to be “where the people are.” But while the abandonment of one’s powers in order to find peace may be a standard trope in fairy stories and superhero narratives, it is, with some exceptions, less commonly seen in villains.
Despite counseling from stiff-upper-lipped shrink Jeffrey Garth (whose irritating would-be feisty love-interest is none too happy with him spending time with this mysterious Eastern European woman) it’s not long before our heroine is back on the sauce in an intriguing scene with strong lesbian overtones. Not the first artist to have predatory designs on their muse, one of the film’s most iconic moments sees would-be painter Countess M pounce on a waif-and-stray she’s persuaded to pose for a picture, in a scene steeped in Sapphic tensions.
The film’s main problem, bubbling under throughout, comes to a head in a contrived climax: the Countess is far too sympathetic. When she kidnaps Little Miss Feisty, what you really want to happen is an imaginative slaughter followed by knight-in-shining-armour Doctor Garth turned to the dark side as Countess M’s paramour. Heck, I don’t think he really deserves her, but she seems to like him.
Playing out more like a melodrama than a horror, the modern descendants of films like this aren’t stalk-and-slash sequels full of gross out gore, but quirky, alternative perspectives on traditional narratives. Oddly, the spiritual heir that springs most to mind is the stage show Wicked, a sympathetic presentation of the Wizard of Oz’s naughtier witches. Any remake mavens out there, this one’s ripe for the plucking – Dracula’s Daughter: The Musical.
Dracula’s Daughter is available as part of Universal’s Cinema Classics Collection in the ‘horror’ category. RRP is £9.99.