As far as his filmic offspring were concerned, Papa Dracula had little to be ashamed of. In fact, both Dracula's Daughter and Son of Dracula are far more entertaining than Dad's original sound venture. Lugosi's dynamic presence and Karl Freund's moody photography notwithstanding, the original Dracula is a stage-bound bore. It is, in fact, artful cinematography that is key to the success of both Son and Daughter. Both were shot by George Robinson, an underrated player in the success of many of Universal's cornerstone horror pictures. It was Robinson who shot the Spanish-language version of Dracula, which most critics concede is far superior to director Tod Browning's take on the story. It was Robinson who photographed The Invisible Ray, Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London, Captive Wild Woman, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula -- even Tarantula!

Economical, snappy direction is also important to the success of Son and Daughter -- both projects were helmed by craftsmen best known for rapidly produced B-movies, and each takes advantage of the relative luxury these larger Universal projects afforded them. With these ingredients in mind, let's compare report cards:

Dracula's Daughter
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Acting: A-
Gloria Holden is ideally cast as Dracula's eldest offspring, simultaneously sullen and commanding. Nan Grey is appropriately vulnerable as an early victim, and much has been made in recent years of latent Lesbian overtones that inhabit her scenes with Holden, but we'll leave that discussion to critics who enjoy reading peripheral issues into scenes that were, more than likely, intended to be spooky and nothing more.

Reliable Edward Van Sloan is back as Van Helsing, reintroducing all the comfortable vampire trappings to the uninitiated. Irving Pichel, a fine actor who later directed films as diverse as They Won't Believe Me and Destination Moon, will make your skin crawl as Sandor, the jealous, somber slave of melancholy Holden. Otto Kruger is not the most dynamic leading man, but the charms of Marquerite Churchill, and the presence of formidable B-movie stalwarts such as Billy Bevan and Halliwell Hobbes, more than compensate.

Atmosphere: A-
Cinematographer George Robinson makes every set-up count, bringing shadowy interest to scenes that would otherwise lay flat. Director Hillyer, who by this time had countless, breakneck-paced westerns under his belt dating back to silent cinema, keeps things moving smartly -- no mean feat considering that talk and shadows were all that replaced galloping horses and smoking six-shooters. As in the original, he and Robinson discreetly cut away from the ceremonial "rise-from-the-coffin," granting our vampire some dignity during an exercise that would surely look clumsy and distracting if seen in full.

The critics in hindsight: William K. Everson, Classics of the Horror Film
"A thoughtful, well constructed little film with some excellent camerawork, a first class score, and some really well written passages of dialogue. The performances are uniformly good."

Carlos Clarens, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film
"A serious, unpredictable horror film, that although lacking such distinguished names as Karloff and Lugosi, did not deserve to go unnoticed as it did."

Mike Brunas, Universal Horrors
"After years of being dismissed as an unworthy follow-up to Dracula, Dracula's Daughter is gaining a reputation as being among the best vampire films of the '30s. ... It is surely a slicker and faster paced picture than the talky, stage-bound [Dracula], although there isn't a single scene in the sequel that can match the arresting, malignant atmosphere etched by Tod Browning and his cameraman Karl Freund in the first reel of Dracula."

Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
"A moon-faced beauty, Hungarian of cheekbone, slumber-lidded of eye, Miss Holden played with sombre restraint as the cursed soul who sought only release."

Son of Dracula

Directed by Robert Siodmak
Acting: B+
A lot of critics immediately stumble over Lon Chaney Jr.'s performance as the only son of Vampiro Uno. Chaney does appear uncomfortable in the role. He's no one's idea of suave, and the cheesy mustache does nothing for him, but I'm more than willing to give the big guy a break. Coming off head-spinning critical success as childlike Lenny in a heartbreaking production of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, he had nowhere to go but down and found himself forced to assume the mantle of Karloff and Lugosi (not to mention the untenable pressure of measuring up to Chaney Sr.). He demonstrated admirable stamina, tackling Dracula, the Mummy,the Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man, Man Made Monster and the Inner Sanctum series all in the space of four years. His later character work (particularly as Gary Cooper's disillusioned mentor in High Noon) are the best examples of his talent, to be sure, but he's serviceable in Son of Dracula.

The underrated Louise Allbritton makes for a sexy (and in this case very willing) accomplice, and you can't do much better than Frank Craven, Samuel S. Hinds and Universal's horror heroine in residence, Evelyn Ankers for solid support.

Atmosphere: A
George Robinson, again to the rescue. Where he and Hillyer turned a blind eye to the vampire's coffin escape in Dracula's Daughter, here the phenomenon is dealt with bravely and atmospherically. Count Alucard's (that's right, it's Dracula spelled backward) casket bobs to the surface of a Louisiana bayou. The Count's body materializes from ethereal smoke and floats to shore. (It looks a lot better than it sounds.) Switching locales from the familiar Transylvania trappings to the southern plantation, Dark Oaks, was an inspired decision (presumably made by the director's brother, screenwriter Curt Siodmak), and in key scenes, the mossy, sultry atmosphere is made palpable. Curt Siodmak was abetted in the scripting by Eric Taylor, who'd labored long and hard in the B-movie mill, churning out entries in the Ellery Queen, Crime Doctor, Dick Tracy and Whistler series, as well as Ghost of Frankenstein and the Claude Rains Phantom of the Opera.

The critics in hindsight:
William K. Everson, Classics of the Horror Film

"A restrained, intelligent thriller, somewhat shy of the sustained horror set-pieces that the aficionados expected, but with good dialogue, plot construction, and one or two pictorial special effects to compensate."

Carlos Clarens, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film
"Chaney revealed himself as a monotonous actor of rather narrow range, possessing neither the voice and skill of Karloff nor the demonic persuasion of Lugosi, and his rash of films were themselves mechanical, uninventive, and hopelessly serialized in flavor."

Mike Brunas, Universal Horrors
"Long overdue for serious reappraisal, Son of Dracula is usually lumped together with the rest of the Universal horror pictures of the '40s, despite the fact it towers over most of the period's other sequels ... Son of Dracula isn't a classic, but it's an unusually intelligent horror film, buoyed by excellent visuals and sturdy characterizations."

Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
"Son of Dracula saw Chaney with no makeup other than a mustache, a relaxing change. But his well-fed face was out of place in an undead vampire who lived on blood."

So, screen them both, weigh their collective merits and make your judgments. In the end, we're left to speculate as to which film would most please the bloodsucking patriarch. An educated guess says neither, as both Son and Daughter outdid the old man at his own game.

"The only people who will not be sterilized with fear
are those among you who are already dead!"
The Flesh Eaters

"Blood drips from the ceilings, bodiless heads talk
and the dead walk!"
House On Haunted Hill

"The monster created by atoms gone wild!"
The Fly

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