Robert Siodmak, 1943
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr, Louise Allbritton, Evelyn Ankers, Robert Paige, and Frank Craven
What a bizarre film. The Caldwell sisters, Kay and Claire, await the arrival of Kay’s European visitor, Count Alucard, to their plantation home in Louisiana. To put it mildly, Kay is a very strange girl. She is obsessed with the occult and the supernatural and has apparently brought a gypsy woman back from her travels to Europe, and given an open invitation to the mysterious Count Alucard to pay her an extended visit. The Count doesn't arrive when expected and though everyone thinks he missed his train and will be late, he has actually arrived on schedule, secretly, to kill the girls’ father.
Oddly, this is not mentioned again or further explored and is indicative of the film’s reliance on rapidly jumping from scene to scene, often with the result of leaving behind some major plot holes. Did Kay (Louise Allbritton) intend for this to happen? The will is read and dear old dad has left all the money to Claire (played by Evelyn Ankers who starred in a number of Universal horror films, many with Lon Chaney, Jr.), but the house, Dark Oaks, to Kay. Kay begins seeing Alucard in secret, eventually renouncing her long-time fiancé Frank to marry the Count. It seems he has promised her a different kind of life, one where death will not part them. But Kay has a plan. She admits that she doesn’t love the Count, she merely wants his undead gift. She plans to bestow this on Frank, who she will then spend eternity with. Will Frank go with the plan, kill the Count, and receive Kay’s kiss? Will he have a choice in the matter?
Oddly, this film has echoes of the first Dracula sequel, Dracula’s Daughter. Like the protagonist of that film, the vampire Countess Zaleska, Kay is a beautiful, independent, and strange female villain. In an odd mirror image of Zaleska, who seeks out normality and humanity, Kay becomes obsessed with the idea of escaping normal life for immortality, despite the risk and cost. Her plan is, actually, quite perverse. She seduces and marries a non-human, lets him kill her and turn her into a member of the undead and then plans to kill him. She is also so convinced she should share this with her fiancé regardless of his feelings on the matter. Though Alucard is kind of a dud, Kay is a compelling, though completely unsympathetic villain.
Alucard, the "Son of Dracula," is another bizarre character. He is supposedly foreign, but Lon Chaney, Jr. could not speak in a more American accent if he tried. He is not sexy or suave and fortunately doesn’t have much dialogue. Chaney, Jr. is much more effectively used in a film like The Wolfman, where he plays a totally different kind of monster. Most of the time in Son of Dracula he speaks slowly and politely and seems to be a well mannered man with the barest hint of violence underneath. His relationship with Kay is never explained and the attraction is somewhat baffling. It is odd that a human woman should be both the willing victim of a vampire as well as his seducer, betrayer, and killer, but Son of Dracula just goes for it. The vampire angle is discovered by, of course, the local doctor, who realizes for some reason that Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards. He calls a Hungarian (in this film the Dracula family is from Hungary) professor and vampire expert to Louisiana to help with the case. The two men guess/figure out that Alucard is not the original Dracula, but is most likely a descendant.
This was the first Universal film from German director Robert Siodmak (The Spiral Staircase, The Killers) and it was written by his brother, celebrated horror screenwriter Curt Siodmak (The Wolfman, The Invisible Man Returns, Earth vs. the Flying Saucer, and many more). This is notable in vampire film mythology for being the first film to depict a vampire transforming into a bat on screen.
Son of Dracula absolutely boggles my mind. Though it is entertaining, the bizarre plot elements are kind of confusing and the ending is completely unexpected. In fact, while watching Son of Dracula, I had no idea what was going to happen next, which is both a strength and weakness. Compared to the contemporary idea of a sequel - reviving the same monster or villain to rehash the same plot again and again - it is somewhat refreshing and contains a surprising number of new ideas. If you have a hard-on for classic monster films, it comes recommended. If not, I'm not sure why you're reading this blog.
The film is available from Universal as a split-DVD with Dracula’s Daughter or in the Dracula: The Legacy Collection box set. The set is a must have in any collection and also contains the original Dracula, the Spanish-language Drácula, Dracula’s Daughter, and House of Dracula. There are two discs, though one is annoyingly double-sided and some issues have been reported. There are a fair amount of special features, though they all only deal with the original Dracula.