I love Mystique. That’s right, I love Mystique. That powerful mutant from Marvel’s “The X-Men” is the embodiment of the ultimate villain – male or female. Mystique gives zero f** *s about gender roles, common beauty standards, societal norms or laws. You can’t be a villain or a monster and care about rules. She’s my favorite character because she lives her life on her own terms and it also doesn’t hurt that she’s what I like to call a “kick-ass fighting girl”.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with Universal Monster characters. Well, Mystique is my benchmark for what makes an amazing baddie. When I am introduced to new (or old) monsters or villains, I can’t help but to wonder if they are as wonderfully badass as Mystique is.
So keeping this in mind, I’ve decided to sort through the Universal Monsters movie catalog and observe their depictions of their female monster leads. I have high expectations for a female monster. She can’t be some helpless damsel in distress. She can’t be a simple weak willed little lady who has no mind of her own. I want her to have some depth – some struggle. I want her to have something she has to work to overcome and something she’s striving for; but ultimately it’s important to me that she eventually evolves into someone who revels in her power.
Now let’s get to it. Will the Universal Monster female baddies be as dynamic as I hope they will be?
Dracula’s Daughter, 1936
Countess Marya Zaleska – Portrayed by Gloria Holden
Powers and/or abilities:
Able to hypnotize people with her pearl ring and sultry voice
Countess Marya, Dracula’s daughter, is a woman who yearns to get out from under her father’s shadow and create a life that she could be proud of.
Story in Nutshell:
Countess Marya feels that she has been stifled by what she perceives as the “evil spirit” and evil dictates of her father, Dracula. Once the Countess learns that Dracula has died, she hastily performs a burial ceremony and speaks quite optimistically of plans for her future to her assistant Sander (portrayed by Irving Pichel). Her greatest desire is to bury all the bloodlust and death along with her father. “Free. Free forever. Do you understand what that means Sander? Free to live as a woman. Free to take my place in the bright world of the living instead of one of the shadows of the dead.”
The Countess quickly realizes that she is unable to resist the urges of her vampiric nature. She then seeks the aid of psychiatrist Dr. Garth (portrayed by Otto Kruger) to help rid her of the influence of “someone… something that reaches out from the grave and fills [her] with horrible impulses.” Ultimately, Countess Marya comes to realize that there is no escaping her vampirism – her birthright.
Countess Marya has a surprisingly feminist sensibility which makes me especially happy. She is a woman who feels bound by her father’s rules for her life. At first she thinks that her blood thirst is her father’s evil powers exerting their control over her. She was afraid that she will never be free of his influence and strives to be the master of her own destiny.
The Countess had concrete ideas for how she wanted to live her life and actively made moves to make it a reality. Feeling that her bloodlust is a hindrance, she attempts to get rid of it but soon realizes that it’s impossible. It isn’t until the Countess embraces her powers that that she becomes a truly powerful baddie/monster. Once this happens she decides that she will have everything that she ever wanted – on her terms. She will enjoy her wealth, enjoy her immorality, she will take an immortal lover.
Countess Marya is my favorite kind of baddie because she is bold and audacious. In this film she starts out as a woman who is hesitant to embrace her uniqueness and strength but she evolves into someone who definitely deserves to score high on my “Mystique Scale of Ultimate Villainy” or “M.S.O.U.V.”
Rating on the M.S.O.U.V.:
Dracula’s daughter, Countess Marya gets 4/5.