Two days into Dractober, and we’re still waiting for the man himself to appear. Picking up exactly where “Dracula” (1931) left off, “Dracula’s Daughter” sees the mysterious Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) seek out the assistance of Dr Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to cure her of the curse of vampirism, bequeathed to her by the now-dead Count.
Holden is mesmeric as the vampire countess, holding your attention with a smouldering and melodramatic performance. Unfortunately, Otto Kruger’s Doctor Garth isn’t quite so great and the sparky, adversarial relationship between him and his secretary Janet (Marguerite Churchill) isn’t nearly as witty as the film wants it to be, mainly due to Kruger’s complete lack of comic timing and charm.
This, the first of Universal’s sequels to “Dracula”, is a much more uneven affair than its predecessor. The cinematography – while still strong – is a noticeable step down from the original film and it lacks the special effects and expert use of light and shadow enjoyed by the 1931 movie.
The occasional moments of genuine drama and horror are let down by overly-long talky scenes, which slows the pace down and prevents any sense of momentum building. As a result, it feels sluggish and unevenly paced, with the glacial tempo ending in a frenetic five or six final minutes. The script, too, at times feels awkward, with the occasional comedy feeling forced and silly, never quite hitting the mark. It’s quaint that the American makers of the film seem to have assumed that any police assigned to Scotland Yard must, by definition, be Scottish.
More interesting is how much goes unsaid, and how much the film managed to get away with implying. It seems brazenly apparent now, but the sexual subtext of the movie was still subtle enough to sneak its way past Joseph Breen’s Hays Code at the time. Holden brings a simmering sexual tension to the role at all times and never more so than when she is contemplating feeding on Lili (Nan Grey), a young model her manservant has lured to her London residence on the pretence of posing for a painting.
Years later, “Sunset Boulevard” would riff on similar themes as the emotional drama which brings “Dracula’s Daughter” to its conclusion as the overlooked loyalty of a servant becomes the decisive factor in resolving the love triangle which has (under)developed. Despite being the main driver of the plot, the film never really delves into the idea of a vampire seeking a cure for their condition beyond a superficial degree although it would become something of a favourite theme for the remainder of Universal’s vampire movies from here on.