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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I absolutely love the classic Universal Monster movies specifically those from the 1930s and ‘40s. Beyond just the pop-culture aspect of it, I just love the atmosphere and creative early filmmaking techniques. You just don’t get movies like these anymore. Of course, everyone knows Frankenstein (and its sequels), The Wolf Man, and Dracula, but I think my favorite of the bunch is a largely forgotten film, 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter.
Picking up from the Bela Lugosi original, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), the titular daughter, steals Dracula’s body and burns it. Her theory is that now that Dracula is dead, she will be released from her own vampire curse. Of course that doesn’t quiet happen, so she enlists the aid of a psychiatrist, Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger), to help cure her (of course, Garth doesn’t know about the vampirism).
This film just blew me away the first time I saw it in 2009. Beyond taking a completely different narrative route than the 1931 original (how easy would it have been to retrace the same steps), but the themes it deals with (inadvertently or not) are completely a head of its time.
For starters, you have this whole idea that vampirism is nothing more than a mental affliction that can be cured with therapy. It is this unique blend of science and folklore that I’ve never really seen done before or since. Part of the reason I was taken with this has to do with the fact that I was in the midst of my graduate studies in counseling at the time. I was pretty much eating, drinking, and sleeping counseling theories and practices at the time. The film is pretty much on spot with Garth’s practices – which is interesting given how many movies/TV shows fail miserably with how counseling works.
But, beyond that, Dracula’s Daughter has a lot more going on. Zaleska is so desperate to rid herself of her vampirism (in spite of her darkly humorous sidekick Sandor), but keeps coming up short. Her cravings need attention and when she is let loose on London, a whole other can of worms opens up.
While she goes after pretty much anyone, the film pays closer attention to her seduction and subsequent attacks on women. One particular scene has Zaleska encountering a young woman and convincing her to undress to pose as a model for a painting. This, of course, leads to an attack, but I think the implication the film begins to make here is clear.
Dracula’s Daughter can be seen as an allegory for lesbianism. Maybe that wasn’t the exact focus, but the implications cannot be ignored. This, then brings the entire film into a whole new light, particularly with her desire to “cure” her of her condition (much like therapists tried to do with homosexuality decades ago).
Zaleska eventually gives up fighting it and fully embraces her vampire destiny (and is eventually killed). Granted, probably not the best way to end a possible homosexual allegory. However, the fact that all of this was even put in a film from the 1930s makes Dracula’s Daughter incredibly progressive. You didn’t get black and white mainstream films dealing with this kind of subject manner.
This is really the reason why I love Dracula’s Daughter so much. It really is unlike anything else that came out from around that time. Unfortunately, you can’t get the film individually, and it can only be obtained through Dracula collections (sometimes is shows up on Svengoolie). But if you have the chance this Halloween weekend, I would highly recommend Dracula’s Daughter for monster viewing.