Like my friend the author said, “Dracula’s Daughter should not work.” But it’s one of the few sequels to surpass its parent film (like Bride of Frankenstein), and deserves a lot more love as one of the great Universal horror classics.
The movie started with little more than an idea, cost a lot of money even before work started (the price to the rights of Stoker’s other Dracula story rose exponentially following the success of the movie), the Hays Office was having fits over the Count’s implied polygamy in the parent film, and the contracted director’s genre was westerns. Yet everything went wonderfully right.
Dracula’s Daughter opens with Dr. van Helsing being arrested for murdering Count Dracula (Mina and Harker, thank God, are nowhere to be seen). Instead of a lawyer, he tries to convince his former student, Dr. Garth, a psychiatrist, to defend him. While Garth considers this, he meets the Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who has stolen and destroyed Dracula’s body, hoping that this will free her from the curse of vampirism. All her attempts, however, are undercut by her creepy servant, Sandor, leading her to begin killing again. Meanwhile, she begins to fall in love with Garth.
Garth, not believing in vampires, tells her about treating alcoholics by making them confront their desire to drink with a bottle. So she has Sandor hire a woman off the street to model for a somewhat undressed portrait. She gives in to her cravings for blood and the model, Lily, later dies under Garth’s care. Zaleska and Sandor kidnap Garth’s girlfriend, Janet, and return to Transylvania. Garth, van Helsing, and a faceless official give chase. At Castle Dracula, Zaleska gives him an ultimatum: free Janet by becoming a vampire himself. He agrees.
Then we get the really good stuff. Jealous that Garth will get the vampire’s kiss rather than himself, Sandor aims a crossbow at the psychiatrist. The authority figure with van Helsing shoots Sandor, causing Sandor’s bolt to miss Garth and strike the Countess in the chest instead. She staggers out onto a balcony and collapses.
While the lovers reunite, Mr. Authority turns to van Helsing and says, “Beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” the doctor agrees. “As beautiful as the day she died a hundred years ago.”
Wow. That line’s not up there with “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” and “It’s the uh, the stuff that dreams are made of” but it ought to be!
It also sets up the crossbow as a canon anti-vampire weapon. It was used nicely in Scream, Blacula Scream, and into the present. Really not bad for an underrated movie that started out with red ink and a premise.