Following the success of the first Universal Dracula flick in 1931, a glut of sequels were released over the following years. First up was Dracula’s Daughter in 1936 and seven years later, Son of Dracula was released. Playing at under 80 minutes and helmed by director Robert Siodmak, its most notable star was Lon Chaney Jr, most famous for playing The Wolf Man. Unfortunately for Chaney Jr, his role as Dracula falls far short of that.
The plot of the film itself is solid enough. Count Alucard (or is that Dracula?) arrives in Louisiana at the request of wealthy heiress Katherine Caldwell, who happens to be impassioned by all things occult. As Alucard makes himself at home in the town, he marries Katherine, much to the protest of Katherine’s fiancé Frank. When Frank finds out what’s happened and accidentally kills his former love in a fit of rage, he’s taken to prison on suspicion of murder. All the while, good old Dr. Brewster is on the case (seemingly the only half-intelligent person to realise that Alucard spelled backwards is Dracula).
There are some neat little diversions along the way, most bizarrely Katherine’s encounter with Queen Zimba, clearly a mad old soothsayer type whose liberal use of the moniker Queen is surely a case for the trade descriptions act. Ultimately though, this is a tale of Transylvanian Count meets girl, girl fancies (for some reason only known to her) Transylvanian Count, Transylvanian Count bites girl and turns her into one of the living dead – a classic love story.
The DVD transfer is excellent, with picture and sound quality both truly top notch. Production values are pretty decent for the time, and one special effect in particular stands out. On several occasions throughout the film we’re treated to the transformation of Dracula from a bat, which seems a bold attempt that pays off, lending the Count a suitable level of otherworldliness.
So, the plot’s sound as are the production levels and the bulk of the cast are up to the task, with the truly beautiful Evelyn Ankers deserving note as Katherine’s sister Claire. However, a film about Dracula is always going to be most memorable for the big man himself and here is where the real problem with the film lies. Neither charming nor threatening, this Count is sorely lacking in the necessary attributes that make Dracula such a classic horror character. Lon Chaney Jr just doesn’t cut it, coming across as more a mildly creepy old bloke rather than the requisite terror demanded from the Prince of Darkness. Oddly, no attempt is even made by Chaney Jr. to put on a Transylvanian accent. With a bulky frame and inadequate dramatic presence, his performance just doesn’t work. Simply put, he’s no Bela Lugosi.
I’d like to say that if you could put that to one side, then this is a worthwhile distraction for an hour and a half. However, when you’re watching a film about Dracula with a Dracula you just don’t believe in, it’s too large a problem to simply overlook.
Son Of Dracula is available as part of Universal’s Cinema Classics Collection in the ‘horror’ category. RRP is £9.99.