If it’s a month with 31 days in it, you can be sure that Jules will be firing out the horror movie reviews.
So, following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American Horror” in August, Jules is once travelling across the pond this October with… you guessed it… 31 MORE Days of American Horror!
Director: Robert Siodmak
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr., Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton, Evelyn Ankers
What was it with Universal and Lon Chaney Jr? Did he have a special contract where he had to have a go at playing everyone at least once? Don’t get me wrong, he’s wonderful in some roles, less so in some others… and woefully, woefully miscast in this.
The actor’s resting hangdog face and natural everyday charm made him perfect for the tragic Larry Talbot, his physicality worked mostly well for roles as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster, but he’s just never a Dracula (or even a son of… ) in a million years.
It’s a shame, as there’s some decent stuff going on in Son Of Dracula, but there’s just not enough of it to escape being dragged down by it’s lead actor.
When plantation owner Colonel Caldwell (George Irving) dies of apparent heart failure, he leaves his wealth to his two daughters, with Claire (Evelyn Ankers) receiving all the money and Katherine (Louise Allbritton) his estate “Dark Oaks.”
Katherine has a secret though, which is exposed when her secret lover Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr) arrives from Europe and the pair are wed, spurning her long-time boyfriend Frank Stanley, who then tried to shoot the Count, but the bullets seem to pass through him and fatally wound his bride instead.
Frank gives himself up to the police, but Dr Brewster (Frank Craven) insists he had met the couple since and both are alive, if only available at nighttime. A Hungarian Professor named Lazlo arrives at Brewster’s house though and the pair begin to suspect that Alucard is not only a vampire, but Count Dracula himself. Katherine meanwhile had her own plan, and is only using the Count to make herself immortal to she can give the gift of undeath to Frank too, allowing them to be together forever…
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first, eh? This is a magnificent looking film. In transplanting the gothic horror of Eastern Europe to modern-day America, the choice of New Orleans is inspired. The Southern Gothic of swamplands, overgrown graveyards and run-down plantations, with all their horrific real-life historical connotations is the perfect setting.
From Alucard gliding across the bayou to his bride to be (his finest moment in the whole film) to the scenes of a bedraggled Frank running through the deep, dank foliage of the swamp, this is a setting that feels every bit as ominous and foreboding as any Transylvanian village or castle. It’s marvellous stuff and really makes a huge difference to the quality.
The other major thing Son Of Dracula has going for it is Louise Allbritton as Katherine. For once, Dracula’s main victim/object of desire has agency. She’s not a transfixed vessel, either completely in thrall to him, hypnotised into thinking she’s in love or just a flat-out blood donor. Katherine is a strong, wilful woman who knows what she wants and will do anything necessary to get it. Obviously what she wants is to live forever as a vampire with Frank and is prepared to cheat on him with the King of the Vampires to achieve it, but then at some point do the dirty on him too. You have to take your hat off to her. As plans go, it’s quite audacious.
She’s brilliantly brought to life by Louise Allbritton, too. The dark, raven-haired vamp to Evelyn Ankers’ blonde and innocent Claire, she’s extremely striking looking and radiates a cold, calculating strength any time she’s on screen, particularly after she’s been turned in a fantastic scene in Frank’s prison cell. She’s a true vamp, in every sense of the word and is the best thing about the film by some margin.
The worst sadly, is Chaney Jr as Alucard. With his greying hair and moustache, there’s a feeling that they were going for more of a look from Stoker’s original book, but on his face it just reinforces how wrong he is for the part. There’s no nobility there, no class or magnetism, no aloof, predatory sexuality, no anything. He feels like someone’s dad in a fancy dress costume who has wandered on set by mistake, particularly in his last scene where he’s far, far too emotional and really reminds you of everything you’ve not liked about his performance throughout the film.
For the first half of its run time, Son Of Dracula is more concerned with the lives and loves of this old Southern family than it is with horror, but once Katherine is turned, it definitely takes some massive strides in the right direction. It’s just a shame that between the ludicrous “Alucard” mystery and the shocking miscasting of its lead monster, it’s a film that never gets to make the most of what it has going for it.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy