Thursday, February 23, 2017

Son of Dracula: "Don't say that word. We don't like it."

Yes, Alucard spelled backward is....
Universal's best 1940s fright film was a rare collaboration between brothers Robert and Curt Siodmak. Robert, who directed, injects his noir sensibilities into the horror genre. He makes Son of Dracula a visually and thematically dark picture with a downbeat ending, Despite its fanciful bat transformations and swirling fog, it often feels more like a traditional film noir. Curt, who wrote the story, introduces a female protagonist who initially appears to be a victim--but is later revealed to be the film's femme fatale.

Robert Paige and Louise Albritton.
It opens in conventional fashion with the European vampire Count Alucard arriving at the Caldwell family's Louisiana plantation. Katherine Caldwell (Louise Albritton) brushes off her current suitor in favor of the mysterious stranger. Meanwhile, Alucard wastes no time in disposing of Katherine's wealthy father. The twist here is that Louise knows Alucard is a vampire (and presumably her father's murderer) and she still marries him. I'll skip the rest of the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but let's just say that Katherine ranks as one of film noir's baddest bad girls.

Albritton standing behind Chaney.
Given its backstory, it's amazing that Son of Dracula turned out to be a first-rate horror film. Originally called Destiny, producer George Waggner left the project due to delays with filming The Phantom of the Opera. Alan Curtis, who was originally cast as Katherine's wussy boyfriend, injured his knee and was replaced by Robert Paige. Curt Siodmak was fired due to what he called "sibling rivalry" with his older brother and only received an "original story" credit (although some of the dialogue sounds like he wrote it). And lastly, Lon Chaney, Jr. was cast--or rather miscast--as Alucard.

Don't get me wrong about Lon Chaney, Jr. He tries hard in the title role and he doesn't hurt the film. It's just that Son of Dracula could have been better with a more gentlemanly menace (perhaps fellow "B" actor Tom Conway). Of course, the film's true star is Louise Albritton and her performance easily carries the plot. She delivers one of my favorite horror movie lines when Paige's character starts to call her a vampire: "Don't say that word. We don't like it."

Robert Siodmak enhances the film with some stunning visuals. The most famous is when Katherine awaits as Alucard's coffin rises to the surface of a swamp. Mist emerges from the coffin and transforms into Alucard. He then stands on top of the coffin, floating toward Katherine, like some kind of vampire royalty. There's an eerie, dream-like quality to the scene that lingers long after the film is over.

Certainly, Son of Dracula has its flaws--the most serious one being wasting the talents of Universal's resident scream queen Evelyn Ankers. The always likable Ankers has a small, thankless role as Katherine's sister. Also, knowing Katherine's ultimate goal, I was initially perplexed as to why she married Alucard. I later surmised it was part of an arrangement between the two, though screenwriter Eric Taylor could have clarified that point with minimal effort.

Universal made other entertaining horror films in the 1940s, such as the wacky monster rallies House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. But Son of Dracula remains the studio's best serious terror tale and stands as a testament to the talents of the Siodmak brothers. Another film they worked on together was the 1930 German comedy-drama People on Sunday. Its crew also included Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann.


  1. I've spent my (un)life defending this. The sticking point is that Jr is not only not miscast, but is ideally cast. Alucard is not Dad, in any way, shapeshifting form. Dad carried the Olde World manners and ways with him, like the native soil in his coffin.He's clearly THE OTHER - something to be mocked "I Vant to suck your blud!")

    JR is second generation. Thuggish, Americanized. He LOVES his adopted land, and wants to fit him.No charm os flowery similes about spiders and flies. Doesn't play with his food. He's one of US, wioth a better wardrobe....

    In short, he's an idiot. The perfect noir fall guy.Thinks he's in control but isn't. A dupe from frame one. Can't imagine him at the opera. Thinks he's smarter than mortals cuz he inherited the family business. Dad wouldd've seen thru Kay's plan - Jr doesn't have a clue. Anyone who picks "Alucard" as a disguise seriously lacks the wisdom of several lifetimes.

    Any other actor, suaver, would miss the point.

    1. Bill, that's an interesting viewpoint that I've never considered. But you make a good case for the casting of Lon, Jr.!

  2. Rick, thanks so much for writing about one of my favorite (and sadly under-rated) Universal chillers. I love the noir interpretation! Good work!

  3. Enjoyed reading your take on "Son of Dracula" and especially your praise for Louise Albritton.