Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Although I'm a super big fan of Lon Chaney, Sr., I've never admired his son Lon Chaney, Jr. While Junior fared better as the sympathetic Lawrence Talbot in "The Wolf Man," this big, burly individual is woefully miscast as the urbane, sophisticated Count Dracula in Robert Siodmak's "Son of Dracula." Okay, I'll give Chaney credit for being the first Dracula with a mustache. Was it Chaney's idea or Siodmak's? Other than John Carradine and Christopher Lee, most Draculas are smooth-shaven gents, but Junior needed more than a mustache to make himself a menacing bloodsucker in this otherwise imaginative but flawed chiller. Junior constitutes the chief flaw. His delivery is stilted beyond belief. When he utters 'decadent' as de-kay-dent, you want to chuckle. Chaney's dialogue delivery doesn't sound scary.  Perhaps he should have adopted a strong dialect.  In any case, he doesn't radiate that evil Bela Lugosi glint in his eyes. Moreover, he doesn't send a chill either up or down your spine. He looks handsome in his outfits, but he lacks the arrogance of immortality. The lack of aristocracy in his conduct doesn't help. Oddly enough, Dracula comes off as somewhat of a chump. Moments of atmosphere, particularly the off-beat setting for this second sequel, and the strange nature of the screenplay compensate for some of the weird things. The sight of Dracula and his bride letting a Justice of the Peace marry them is faintly amusing. On the other hand, the Count's emergence from the swamp is a nice touch.  Dracula's ability to turn into mist and bats before our eyes makes "Son of Dracula" worth-watching.

Appropriately enough, "Son of the Dracula" opens with a pair of hands clearing out cobwebs. Remember eight years had passed since the release of "Dracula's Daughter." The Southern Gothic setting with the moss covered swamp lands is wonderfully sinister. Initially, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige of "Flying G-Men") and Dr. Harry Brewster (Frank Craven of "Barbary Coast") arrive at a railroad depot to greet Count Alcuard. The Transylvanian nobleman, however, is nowhere to be seen. They spot the railway luggage cart stacked high with two chests and other assorted luggage bearing the family crest of Alcuard. Immediately, Brewster notices when he spells Alucard backwards that it reads Dracula. Dracula (Lon Chaney, Jr.) makes his first appearance outside 'Dark Oaks,' the antebellum planation where Katherine 'Kay' Caldwell (Louise Allbritton of "Parachute Nurse") eagerly awaits his arrival. She has thrown a dinner party for him, but he arrives too late to participate.  She plans to marry Dracula.

Katherine's elderly gray-headed father, Colonel Caldwell (George Irving of "Coquette"), is Dracula's first victim.The Colonel's death is the catalyst for the plot.  Initially, when Judge Simmons reads the Colonel's will, Katherine and her sister Claire receive equal shares of everything.  This will is dated August 24th.  Katherine produces a newer will.  She inherits Dark Oaks, while Claire gets everything else. Frank Stanley is madly in love with Katherine, but she only has eyes for Dracula. She met Dracula during a trip to Budapest and hasn't been the same girl.. Meanwhile, Dr. Brewster summons a renowned vampire hunter, Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg of "Invisible Agent") from Memphis. Like Van Helsing, Lazlo knows everything about Dracula, especially how to destroy him. Frank shoots Dracula with a revolver after he learns that Kirby married them. He flees in horror when his first bullet penetrates Dracula and kills Kay. Frank fires two more shots, discards the revolver, and charges through the dark swamp. He takes refuge in Dr. Harry Brewster's house. Later, Frank surrenders to the authorities and takes the blame for Kay's murder. Dr. Brewster visits Dark Oaks but finds Kay alive. She carries on a conversation with him from her bed.

Dracula's first rendezvous with Kay in the swamp is truly atmospheric. The Count's coffin emerges from the watery depths like a submarine. A mist percolates out of it and turns into Dracula. Literally, Dracula levitates himself across the water to Kay. They drive off to the Justice of the Peace with a jealous Frank shadowing them. The special effects transformation where Dracula turnS his back to the camera and then turns into a flying bat is impressive for its day. It looks cool when the lady vampire dematerializes as a fog bank in the jail cell. The burning of Dracula's coffin as a way to destroy him was a new one on me. Mind you, every studio that has ever made a vampire movie
tampers with the formula. The premise that a woman would flirt with Dracula to obtain immortality then double-cross him is interesting. Dracula cuckolded!? Indeed, "Son of Dracula" seems more like film noir than horror. Things get pretty complicated and these complications make "Son of Dracula" worth watching.

The gimmick of spelling Dracula's name backwards is clever. Anybody but Lon Chaney, Jr., would have made a serviceable Dracula. The guy looks like he ought to be stuffing baloney into his big hammy jowls instead of draining bodies of blood with his fangs. Incidentally, you never see his fangs, but then you never saw either Lugosi's fangs or Carradine's fangs. The Production Code Administration (PCA) probably ruled out such a toothy display on the grounds that it was too repellent. George Robinson's white photography is textbook perfect. He takes a two-dimensional format and gives it a three-dimensional look by bringing out the foreground from the background and the mid-ground.

Altogether, "Son of Dracula" surpasses "Dracula's Daughter." Nevertheless, you have to overlook the obvious lapse of continuity in "Phantom of the Opera" scenarist Eric Taylor's screenplay that he
derived from Siodmak's story. Basically, the studio maintained no continuity for Dracula. Siodmak and Taylor make no references to previous "Dracula" movies. Universal Studios observed far greater
continuity in the "Frankenstein" and "The Wolfman" franchises. Doesn't it say something when the second "Dracula" sequel appeared eight years after "Dracula's Daughter?" The latter in-name-only sequel without Lugosi and only a glimpse of the infamous Count in a coffin with a stake driven into his heart amounted to a letdown compared with the vintage original. The change in the character of Dracula is even more apparent in "Son of Dracula." Perhaps they simply couldn't conjure up a reasonable excuse about how to keep reviving the count. Of course, Universal should have brought back Lugosi. Presumably, studio politics kept Lugosi from encoring in the role until "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." "Daughter's Daughter" and the remaining "Dracula" movies qualify as stand alone sequels. Remember, Countess Zaleska burned Dracula's body in "Dracula's Daughter." In "Son of Dracula," however, the vampire expert states the Dracula died in the 19th century.