Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Good Daughter: Dracula's Daughter

Tod Browning's Dracula is a classic film that led to the Universal horror films of the '30s and '40s.  Much talk is made of the originals- Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man, etc- but much less is made about the sequels- Revenge of the Creature, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.  Why is that exactly?  Are they not as good?  Hell, most people consider Bride of Frankenstein to be a stronger film than the original...not to knock Whale's classic.  Many of them are not that great, but there are some really strong films from this era that are sequels.  This brings me to the one and only sequel to Dracula that's actually canon.  In 1936, they made this film to follow-up on the events of that film and take it in a new direction.  Did it work?  Find out in my review of...
The film begins right where the last one left off.  Renfield is dead, Dracula has a stake through his heart and only one man is left around: Dr. Van Helsing.  Naturally, the cops are a bit suspicious to find him in a room full of corpses!  As a bonus, he freely admits to staking Dracula, so, yeah, he's going to get arrested.  He explains his story to the head of Scotland Yard, but he doesn't exactly buy it.  He calls an old friend of his to be his lawyer...despite the man being a psychiatrist...and American.  Yeah, you are crazy, Van Helsing.  The man is in the country...although the movie never really tells us why.  Back at Scotland Yard, two detectives are left to watch the two bodies & the film's biggest problem rears its ugly head: the humor.  The film is full of 'jokes' and 'comedy characters' that were, I guess, there to ease the audience from the horror.  It's like 'this is scary, so relax for a moment.'  Go ahead, try to picture that idea used in Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
Basically, a mysterious woman shows up when the head guy leaves and takes Dracula's body.  She does this with the power of her big opal ring, which hypnotizes the man...without moving or flashing.  It's no worse than the magical ring from Dracula vs. Frankenstein that shoots lasers!  Out in the foggiest sound-stage ever, she burns the vampire's body in an effort to rid herself of 'the curse.'  Her Harold Lloyd-looking helper (two in two movies- wow!) is pessimistic, which is pretty much his only character trait.  Basically, he's the assistant from Andy Warhol's Dracula, just more of a jerk.  The woman loses hope of herself being cured, so she kills a guy in the  Yeah, this is 1936, so don't expect any gore.  Much like in the last film, our villainess puts herself in high society and attends a gala.  There she runs into the psychiatrist/public attorney and is intrigued by his talk of curing people via therapy.  She invites him for a date, which sets up another 'funny' scene with the man and his assistant/love interest.
The real meat of the film comes at this point as she is given some advice by our hero: confront your 'addiction' head-on.  In the film's most controversial scene, she hires a lady to model for a painting and has her take off her reveal another, smaller shirt.  She is attacked off-camera too and ends up in the care of our hero.  Through hypnosis, she reveals all of the details about our villainess and then dies.  Um, what?  Before this comes to bear, the woman reveals that she will not escape her 'addiction' and tries to take the man with her to Transylvania.  When he declines, she kidnaps the assistant/love interest instead.  In an intriguing retread of the first film, the village is celebrating the lack of Dracula in the region...only to have that end when a light comes on in the castle.  Our hero arrives and has to coerce them into driving him to the castle.  In another scene that created infamy, our villainess lurks over the comatose victim a bit too closely.  After going through those same, damn cobwebs, our hero is given a choice: stay with Dracula's spawn or let the girl die.  His choice is moot as the woman's assistant shoots her with an arrow (why?), but is shot dead by the police.  The End.
Yeah, this movie is not nearly the classic that Tod's film is.  Don't get me wrong- it's not shit like a lot of the stuff I cover.  The biggest problem is that it just doesn't age well.  The mix of humor and drama just doesn't work here.  The comedy characters feel very forced and their stuff is just not that well-written.  A cowardly cop- yawn.  A spunky 'gal Friday' who ultimately proves to be nothing but a plot device- seen it.  For that matter, their one returning cast member- Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing- is nothing but a glorified cameo.  He pops up in about four scenes and is really just coasting here.  This is in the days of studio deals that required people to make X-number of films per year.  That doesn't always show, but it does here!  Ultimately, it lacks all of what really made the original great: Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi.  By the way, watch for the bad body double for Lugosi.  You can live without seeing this movie, but it is something that horror film snobs like myself need to see at least once.
Up next, Part 3 will have to wait as a certain DVD company is taking their sweet time.  In the meantime, Germany is invaded by rats.  Stay tuned...

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