Son of Dracula (1943)

OCTOBER 21, 2020


I don't know how I missed Son of Dracula when I was going through the Universal Monster sets in 2007/2008; I thought I was being pretty methodical to make sure I didn't miss anything, but when I "rewatched" it two months ago (I was building a Lego haunted house and had the Uni films as more or less background noise) I realized I had never actually seen it before. So I made a note to give it a proper viewing before Halloween, and here I am to make good on that promise! No Lego distractions, I watched the whole thing dutifully!

Ironically it had no bearing on what passes for "continuity" in these things, because it was seemingly so confusing to whoever picked up the torch next (House of Frankenstein, I believe) that it was ignored. The title suggests that this Dracula (Lon Chaney Jr!) is the son of the Bela Lugosi one, as Dracula's Daughter was, but he never says he was, and at one point just says he is in fact just Dracula (he uses the name Alucard, lol). Weirder still, a supporting character reads a book about Dracula, and we assume this means a historical account of Bela's character, or maybe even Vlad the Impaler or whatever, but then they show a section of it and it's simply Bram Stoker's novel, putting this in another universe entirely. So who knows if/where it fits with the others.

Luckily it's pretty good on its own, if a bit awkwardly presented as a sequel to a movie we haven't seen. A woman named Kay is supposed to be married to Frank, but she is suddenly very distant and fascinated by the occult after returning from a trip to Hungary, even bringing a gypsy woman along with her. She is also quite anxious to be visited by Count Alucard, whom she met there and - obvious to everyone but poor Frank - is clearly in love with him. All of that sounds like an interesting movie, but it all happened before the credits and has to be explained by awkward dialogue that sounds like recap more than natural conversation (it'd be like starting the standard Dracula when he arrives in London and having to explain everything about who he is, Harker and Lucy, etc). Maybe if it was the standard Bela version showing up after all that buildup it'd be a little less clumsy?

Anyway, once he arrives it's all good. Alucard causes Kay's dad to have a heart attack, allowing them to inherit his plantation for whatever it is they plan to do, and they also get married by a JP in the middle of the night for good measure. A heartbroken Frank tries to shoot Alucard, but the bullets pass through him and hit Kay instead, seemingly killing her, driving him even more insane, the poor sod. But then Kay appears to him in jail and his doctor pals realize Alucard is actually Dracula (one of them even writes "ALUCARD" in the most awkward way possible just to tilt the paper a bit and recognize the reverse spelling), so it becomes the usual race to stop him before sunset and all that.

It's nothing particularly exciting, but Cheney's pretty chatty and plays him like a smarmy southern gentleman, which is... a choice! Folks are probably still arguing about whether or not it's acceptable, but I can appreciate him making the role his own (especially if it is indeed a different universe altogether from the 1931 version) and he seems to be enjoying playing a full on villain after the more tragic Larry Talbot. And I had to feel for poor Frank, the guy who got cucked by vampire of all things and then (spoiler for 75 year old movie ahead) had to immolate the love of his life to prevent her from becoming another monster like Dracula. Most Uni movies end on a more uplifting note, but this one basically ends on Frank's shattered face, making it feel like no victory whatsoever. Maybe we can thank this for the similar finale of Cult of the Cobra a decade later?

Weirdly, Kay has a sister named Claire (Evelyn Ankers) who just kind of disappears from the movie after a while, even though it seems she might be pretty interested in finding out why her sister started acting so weird. At the very least you'd think they'd throw her into the finale to be rescued by Frank or the doctors, but nope - she visits Frank in jail for a minute and walks away still thinking he's nuts, and I think that's her only appearance in the film's final 25 minutes or so. Then again maybe they thought it'd be too much depression for the finale; she loses her entire family over the course of the movie so perhaps TWO devastated people as it fades to credits might have been pushing it.

One thing about the movie we can all agree on is that the transformation FX are pretty great for their time. Alucard gets around either as mist or a bat, and we see him change into both (and back) during the film's slightly overlong (again, for its time) 80 minutes. They were done by John P. Fulton, who also figured out a lot of great stuff for the Invisible Man films and later went on to work with Hitchcock on a number of his classics - kind of an unsung hero, I think (in fact he went uncredited on many of the monster films, including this one). The thing about these movies is that they are, admittedly, very talky and without much traditional horror stuff, which is why I won't bother trying to get my son to watch them (if I was going to introduce him to Dracula before ten, it'd probably be Monster Squad or, just for my own amusement, Dracula 2000), but I can see him being freaked out by these shots at least. They still work!

It's a shame Universal didn't bother with any bonus features for the majority of the sequels in these franchises (Bride of Frankenstein being one obvious exception); these are the films that could really benefit from the historian commentaries you always get on Scream Factory's releases of such fare. Why was Cheney in the movie instead of Bela, who was still under contract? Who decided to change it to a contemporary setting (and in America to boot instead of the usual vague European locale)? How did they pull off those FX? You'd have all those answers if this was on one of SF's Universal Horror Collection sets, but here we just get a beat up trailer. Considering how much of this set is actually repeated (you get three copies of House of Dracula inside of it, for example) it almost feels like a bait and switch at times. The transfers are terrific, yes, but never ever pay full price for the boxed set, especially if you aren't a fan of this or that monster and/or already have some of the existing Legacy collections.

What say you?


  1. You did review this back in May of 2008 -- are you sure you've never seen it before?

    1. What the actual hell? I searched for it on both search engines here, Google, twitter... nothing was coming up! But you're right, there it is (and now it's even showing up on search just to twist the knife). I KNEW I had to have seen it back then! Now I feel both better and worse about my memory, since nothing seemed familiar in the slightest. Goddammit. Thank you for easing (part of) my mind!


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