Dractober’s keeping it in the family as we follow up “Dracula’s Daughter” with another story in a filial vein.
Swapping the mountains of Carpathia for the swamps of the Deep South, Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr) arrives to visit Dark Oaks, the plantation owned by the wealthy Colonel Caldwell (George Irving) and his two daughters, Katherine (Louise Allbritton) and Claire (Evelyn Ankers). Katherine has become obsessed with the occult and turns to Alucard to help guide her in exploring the dark arts who in turn seeks to harvest the fruits of the fertile soil of the New World. But who is using who? And will cunning Doctor Brewster, whose uncanny ability to read words backwards might just come in handy, and Professor Lazlo, occult expert, be able to figure out just what is going on and who the mysterious Count Alucard really is?
Okay, first of all, ‘Alucard’? Really? Way to go Drac; super inconspicuous. You might as well have called yourself Doctor Acula. What an ass. It doesn’t help that Lon Chaney Jr is spectacularly miscast as the elegant and erudite vampire. He’s not a patch on Lugosi or even John Carradine who succeeded him in the role after this one-and-done misfire. He’s very much the George Lazenby of Universal’s Draculas, and like Lazenby, he finds himself in one of the better films of the series.
Bringing Dracula to the United States may feel like a sop to an increasingly parochial domestic box office but it does give the chance for eastern European folklore to mix-it up with black voodoo magic, even if the film never makes the most of that potent combination. In the end, this really should have been called “Bride Of Dracula” because the film’s focus is very much on Katherine who marries Count Alucard in a secret nighttime ceremony early in the movie, muchg to her fiancé’s surprise. And besides – and brace youself for this shocking revelation – Count Alucard is none other than Count Dracula himself! Presumably posing as his son to avoid questions about longevity and skincare regimens or any awkward questions about how, exactly, he came to not be dead and burned to ashes, the Count seems to have a much less well defined plan than his would-be paramour and in the end comes off as slightly befuddled and ineffectual against the ambition and moxie of an all-American femme fatale.
The finale’s kind of exciting though, as long as you don’t mind Dracula just appearing to give up and fall face first into a muddy puddle, and as weak as Chaney’s vampire count is, the supporting cast are strong. The effects throughout are pretty good too, including the first – as far as I can recall – on screen transformation from bat to count, the combination of a hefty dose of generic southern occultism, good ol’ boy lawmen, eccentric vampire experts and a creepy organ and theremin heavy score makes this one a pretty toothsome treat to while away the October evening.