In 1936, Universal released “Dracula’s Daughter”, a sequel to their 1931 classic, “Dracula”. She gives you that weird feeling!
Choosing to approach our next Universal Monsters installment a little differently, Z. DeVaughn and I decided to take another look at Dracula’s Daughter. The film was released in 1936 and picks up immediately where the 1931 original left off and finds Prof. Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) apprehended and brought to Scotland Yard for killing Dracula. Why his name has been changed from Van to Von is anyone’s guess. As we plan to eventually work our way through all of the Dracula installments, Dracula’s Daughter was the film to watch next and considering this was one of Z’s favorites, we decided to have a conversation about the film. – Steven
Steven: I watched Dracula’s Daughter this morning. I just finished re-watching all of Universal’s classic Mummy movies this week and decided what better monster than Dracula to start next. I’ve seen Dracula 1931 a few times and it’s actually my favorite of the Universal Monsters. However, I’ve never watched Dracula’s Daughter, but I do know you have. In many respects it was your original piece on Countess Marya Zaleska that I thought of while watching the 1936 film. So let’s talk about Dracula’s Daughter. This was a film directed by Lambert Hillyer and written by Garrett Fort. I know it’s reported that this film was inspired by a supposed excised chapter of the Bram Stoker novel! Did you know that? And the film has developed quite a following and divisive fan base for it’s “homoerotic” approach to vampires. The film is very smartly done and the “dangerous looking brunette” – Countess Zaleska, is an absolute bad ass! She’s fantastic and the performance by Gloria Holden is excellent in every way. Holden actually reminded me a lot of Carrie Anne Moss and if Zaleska were to ever be brought into the “Monsters Universe” of today, I think Moss would be great.
What do you think? Did you enjoy Gloria Holden’s performance?
Z: I’m so excited that you’ve decided to watch Dracula’s Daughter. I really enjoyed this one. Gloria Holden was amazing in this. She gave me everything that I need from a female villain: She was strong, independent, selfish and little ruthless. I’ve never read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, so those story parallels are going clear over my head but when I was gathering info for my original piece on Dracula’s Daughter I came across some websites that detailed the “homoerotic” undertones in the film.
When I watched the film, I didn’t see Countess Zaleska’s interaction with her female victim as a sexual seduction. I saw it as a vampiric one. Her first victim was male and she mesmerized him in the same way. To be honest, if she did decide to toy with her food (be they boy or girl) before consuming it, I think that makes her even more of a bad ass. Can you imagine just living your life in a way that totally honors your desires, be they sexual, culinary or whatever? With this in mind, why do you think that the Countess would want to at first do away with her powers and live under the constraints of ordinary human life? I think that this is the height of foolishness. If I had her wealth, powers and immortality, I’d live my life like that Kanye song and be like, “Uh Uh! They can’t tell me nothing!”
Considering that Sandor (Irving Pichel) played a big part in her downfall, why do you think that the Countess didn’t just grant him his wish and turn him? Do you think that he wanted to be a vampire for the power or because he wanted to be her immortal lover?
Steven: I think Dracula’s Daughter is a very layered movie and your question proves just that. I really believe every character has a motivation and serves a purpose within the movie. When the Countess gets shot by Sandor, I actually had to re-watch that scene twice just to make sure I was watching it right. I think Sandor was jealous and that it was a little bit of his envy that turned to anger, along with his resentment over the fact that she didn’t turn him as she promised. It kind of reminded me very much of Penny Dreadful season 2 when Dr. Victor Frankenstein goes to confront Lily (The Bride) and Dorian Gray. Remember he actually shoots her? I think Sandor was so angry at the Countess and her proposal to Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger) that he couldn’t see past his own emotions. It sure wasn’t a summertime crush!
I believe that Sandor truly wanted to be the Countess’ immortal lover. He’s been with her for a while and, as much as we do like her, she wasn’t a very nice person. Countess Zaleska was using him and manipulating nearly everyone she encountered.
In a lot of ways Dracula’s Daughter explores the ideas of vampirism beyond the vampire trope of sucking blood and I loved that you never actually see her bite anyone. What did you think of the overall tone of the film as opposed to the more modern day approach to vampires and horror?
Z: Sandor’s lashing out at Countess Zaleska in jealousy is very reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein’s behavior towards Lily on Penny Dreadful. The great romantic rivalry trope strikes again! It is a juicy plot twist and it always manages to become the undoing of a great many people in fiction and in real life. Well I suppose, hell hath no fury like an unrequited lover. ** Insert side-eye emoji here** What’s sad about this is that in both programs a powerful woman was brought to her knees by a man too weak to accept a woman’s rejection with dignity and grace.
Despite this fairly bleak observation on Dracula’s Daughter, I think that the film has a progressive feel to it. I remember feeling pleasantly surprised by that after I first watched it. When I think about more modern vampire programs (films and TV shows), I feel like Countess Zaleska could easy fit in. Just think about the angsty, soul searching vampires in Twilight. The Countess in many ways felt like a young adult still struggling with self-identity issues – this is something ever present in the Twilight films. Or let’s bring it on to the constant battle that she fought within herself for self –control over her bloodlust – that’s something that’s frequently dealt with on The Vampire Diaries. Then we can move on down to the self-assured Zaleska, the woman who delighted in her power and was determined to utilize it to enhance her standing in life and love – you see vamps like that all throughout True Blood.
Since we both enjoyed this film, I was wondering if you felt that there was anyways that they could improve the story if there was ever a remake?
Steven: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I felt there was humor injected into the story to undercut or somehow subvert the viewers attention away from the heavier subject matter the film was dealing with. For a movie at that time, certain things seemed a bit taboo so maybe the humor was there to kind of suppress that.
If the film were to be remade today and included in the Monsters Universe of films, either as an original feature or connected to Dracula Untold, I’d hope that the humor would be left out. As for the Countess? I’d be so interested to see how they’d transplant her from the 30’s to modern times. In many respects she was a very modern woman in Dracula’s Daughter.
Z: Dracula’s Daughter is a classic film gem. The story still resonates as strongly today as it did in the 1930’s. If the planets line up just right and somehow Countess Zaleska’s story was re-imagined for today’s audiences I believe that Drac’s girl would garner a new generation’s admiration and fan appreciation. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this may happen.
(Z. DeVaughn & Steven Biscotti)