Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dracula's Daughter


Like many horror sequels of the vintage era, Dracula's Daughter has only a tenuous connection to the original film. None of the same actors, not the same director, but it does hold the heavy atmospherics of the first film, here in a sort of glamorous hybrid of art deco and goth. The unique aura makes it unlike most sequels and so does the rather complex main character: The Countess is one of the first, if not the first, sympathetic vampire in movies -- she doesn't want to be a vampire, doesn't want to kill people, even goes to a psychiatrist to try to rid herself of blood lust.

But first we have to put up with some opening dawdling about by some comic-relief British cops and Van Helsing giving a quick explanation of who Dracula is and why he's got a stake through his heart -- Van Helsing is arrested -- if Dracula wasn't a vampire, it's murder.  If Van Helsing insists he was a vampire, Van Helsing is crazy.  Dracula's Daughter isn't a long film, and it's got way too much padding courtesy of various nitwits. Finally, Dracula's daughter -- aka Countess Marya Zaleska -- herself shows up, works some Jedi mind tricks and a hypno-ring and gets hold of Dracula's body. She burns the corpse, with much chanting and exorcising and cross-waving, hoping to break the curse while her enigmatic assistant, Sandor,  looks on.

Except when he flinches from the cross, of course, although that's mostly a wannabe move. Like most vampire assistants, he's doing an internship in hopes of being made a full vampire someday. No promises and only the smallest per diem. I think that's why Renfield wound up eating bugs -- even going to the dirty water hot dog cart, there's no way you can eat lunch within 10 blocks of the Conde Nast building for less than $4 a day. The Countess insists that burning Dracula has freed her, but Sandor isn't so sure. So, while she sits  in her backless evening gown pumping away at the piano and murmuring cheery platitudes (well, cheery for her anyway), he's sitting in the corner getting all negative...

"Twilight... long shadows on the hillsides," tinkle keys, tinkle keys.
"Evil shadows...."
"No, no, peaceful shadows. The flutter of wings in the treetops."
"The wings of bats...." gloats the heavily eyelinered loyal retainer.
"No! No, the wings of birds," tinkle keys, tinkle keys. "From far off, the barking of a dog."
"Barking because there are wolves about..." 


You know, Sandor is pretty defiant for a henchman. What happened to "Yes, master"? And so the Countess finally gives up, puts on her velvet cloak and her hypno-ring and goes out looking for trade... i mean victims. Although one gets the distinct sense that the Countess gets more than a cup o' hemoglobin off of those she selects for drainage. She seems to prefer blondes. But more on that later....

And so this playboy is found the next day, drained of blood through "two sharp punctures over the jugular vein." 

Soon after we meet another psychiatrist and a secretary, Jeffrey and Janet, whom are supposed to be our leads but who aren't quite up the the task. Jeffrey is too much uptight upper lip and Janet crosses the line from spunky and sassy to just plain fucking snotty very quickly. And keeps going.
Our elegant Countess Dracula normally would not give these losers the time of day... well, time of night. But she's a good dinner guest and listens bemusedly to Jeffrey's stories about Van Helsing -- he's been engaged by the defense -- and the joshing about vampires from people with too much upper teeth and not enough chin. ("It seems this fellow Van Helsing shoved a stake through this Dracula fellow's heart.")

She puts up with the idiots and their bragging and sips her tea -- because you know the Countess would "never drink... wine." I feel like this at parties a lot: Sit in the most comfortable chair, half-listen to people babble about bullshit they know little-to-nothing about. Except i'm usually drinking... wine. She comments disdainfully, "Possibly there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your... psychiatry." (The Countess is big on the pause. Her delivery is very Dietrich and, honestly, who would make a better vampire than Marlene Dietrich?) But when Jeffrey begins claiming that "sympathetic therapy can release the mind from any obsession," she begins to think that maybe there's some sort of Freudian/Jungian equivalent of a stake through the psyche that could free her from a life of blood-drinking and signs up for some appointments with the shrink.

Guess which one's the bitch you want to stab? Hint: It's not the vampire.

Of course, she can only meet at night, which means she receives him in another gorgeous, glittering evening gown and annoying Janet throws tantrums makes repeated prank phone calls. Yeah... spunky and adorable. Interestingly, the Countess grasps the idea that vampirism could all be some kind of obsession, some kind of self-mindfuck. Psychiatrist Jeffrey gives her some bullshit advice, thinking she's talking about quitting smoking rather than killing people, and runs off to do something else. As the Countess wonders what to do now, Sandor appears with an ingratiating smile on his face. The Countess announces, "We are going to the studio. Tonight I... paint."

And so begins the most famous bit of Dracula's Daughter, the lesbian seduction scene. Sandor picks up a "model" on the street and brings her to the "studio." Jesus, don't we all know by now that anyone who wants you to go with them to "model" is a serial killer. He takes the world's prettiest and best-groomed homeless girl to the Countess, who gives her a sandwich and makes her move. It's about as subtle as "take your top off and have some wine" can be.




The vampire metaphor usually leans sex -- and, really, it's rather pre-code Hollywood clear in this film that there's more, ahem, activity, than merely bloodless lips pressed to punctured jugular. But in Dracula's Daughter, it feels more like our symbolism is more narcotic-oriented. The Countess tries to feel happy, Sandor reminds her everything is shit, she gets high. The Countess seeks help, it does not happen immediately, she gets high.

Her victim winds up in the hospital with "anemia and amnesia" under the care of Dr. Jeffrey -- wotta coincidence! The Countess simultaneously arrives at his office in yet another sensational ensemble, begging him to "go to the Continent" with her to somehow cure her vampirism. "The Continent." How fucking classy is that? She's like some supervillain cross between Gloria Swanson and Jackie O. that galavants around Europe, wearing couture and drinking the blood of attractive bisexual blondes.
And so, like every Dracula film, they eventually do wind up chasing off to a creepy castle somewhere in Trannsylvania. Gloria Holden does a fine job as the icy, tormented vampire -- repentant, but not pathetic, an exotic woman of the world rather than an underfed ingenue. But, like many films (the recent Conan flick comes to mind) it takes an appealing, interesting lead and constantly shoves them offscreen to feature tedious supporting characters. And, of course, like virtually everything else in the world, the potential and promise of Dracula's Daughter has trickled into bullshit mediocrity. You know what Dracula's daughter is in 2013? A Monster High Doll targeted at eight-year-old girls and a cartoon character voiced by Disney princess Selena Gomez. Curious how one needs to go backwards almost eighty years to Dracula's Daughter to get a mature, complex vampire heroine....



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