Directed by Robert Siodmak in 1943, released by Universal Studios, Son of Dracula is a very strange movie. It is equal parts head-shaker and brilliant. Lon Chaney Jr. (most famous as the Wolf Man) is badly miscast as a Transylvanian vampire, but the scene where he floats across the swamp, standing atop his coffin is breathtaking. The hero is repulsive to the point that one wonders what the heroine/villain protagonist saw in him, but it can be argued quite strongly that she is just leading him on, which makes them both more interesting and complex. And so on. And I should mention that this film is very misogynistic, despite the director going on to make the arguably feminist film The Spiral Staircase, followed by sexist film noir in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Anyway, Son of Dracula takes place on a plantation in the south… I want to say Florida because of the swamps, but that is never really established. Kay, the daughter of an old Colonel, has invited Count Alucard to be a guest at their plantation, the Dark Oaks, much against the wishes of her fiance Frank. Count Alucard arrives, and as a bat, kills the Colonel. Kay inherits the plantation, and goes out to meet Alucard who floats across the swamp towards her on his coffin. They marry and return to Dark Oaks. Their “honeymoon” is interrupted by Frank, who tries to kidnap Kay, insisting that she will have the marriage annulled first thing in the morning. He tries to shoot the Count, but the bullets pass through him and mortally wound Kay instead. Frank flees and turns himself into the police, except when the town doctor comes to investigate, Kay is up and walking around (a vampire).
Nevertheless, Frank is arrested and put in jail. Kay comes to him, and lets him out on the condition that he destroy Alucard by burning the coffin. Then they can be together, just as she had always planned. She promises to turn him into a vampire, too. However, he burns both coffins, rather than just Alucard’s. By the time the doctor and police catch up to him, he looks ready for the institution (see the picture for details).
It’s a very desolate ending. The scene with Alucard isn’t great, but the scene with Kay really packs an emotional punch, even as much as I dislike Frank. In fact, it’s completely silent. He sits and watches the flames engulf the old nursery, and would probably have stayed there, had the doctor not led him out. The vampirism here is entirely without romance– just a spiral of death and betrayal. The devastating noir ending tacked onto horror: the menace is taken care of, but no happy ever after. And it’s entirely satisfying.