Considering how much fun Universal obviously had from eventually mixing their selection of classic monsters together like the contents of a particularly macabre toy box, it’s strange how much the movies leading up to them seem to be utterly uninterested in building up a rock solid continuity. Now, I realise this was the 1940’s and to expect MCU levels of long form story telling would asking a little much, but in the case of 1943’s Son Of Dracula it doesn’t even follow on directly from it’s vampire based predecessor, the surprisingly low key Dracula’s Daughter that hauled itself out of the Crypt back in ’36. On top of that, the actors who made these creature so originally so iconic where also treating the villainous roles like a monster themed game of musical chairs with Lon Chaney Jr. alone debuting as the Wolf Man only to go on and play almost every other major horror character in the series apart from the Invisible Man and the Creature From The Black Lagoon. But in 1943, he scored the role of Count Dracula in the movie Son Of Dracula – a movie that not only didn’t try for any continuity but doesn’t even feature a son in it…
The mysterious Count Alucard (really?) has been invited to New Orleans by the prototype goth daughter of a plantation owner but the night he’s supposed to appear at a party in his honor he ends up being an enigmatic no show while the patriarch ends up dying of a sudden heart attack. However, much later in the evening, Alucard pulls a socially awkward faux par by arriving at the house after everyone has left which raises questions about the Count’s motives as well as the fact that he acts like an entitled prick in a cape.
His dastardly plans become more apparent when after the reading of the will, the plantation – subtly dubbed Dark Oaks – falls entirely into the possession of the morbid Katherine much to the surprise of her fiance Frank. He’s even more fucking surprised when other things come to light like Alucard is actually a horribly uninspired alias of Count Dracula (yeah, no shit) and he and Katherine have been secretly dating (!) because her nihilistic ways have given her the desire to obtain eternal life and soon she and the Count are married (!!) with Dark Oaks being the base of their fiendish operations. While Frank’s reaction to this supernatural soap opera is to try to shoot Dracula full of holes, his bullets pass straight through the fanged faker, apparently killing Katherine which drives the young man futher into a crazed panic, but this only leads to the woman’s transformation into vampire all the more quicker.
While Frank is arrested for the “murder”, local quack Dr. Brewster has teamed up with Hungarian Drac expert Proffesor Lazlo in order to get to the bottom of this mess – but is Katherine as devoted to Dracula as she makes out, or does the morbid minx have her own plans for immortality?
Son Of Dracula is a curious beast. Casting aside the majority of the things the original made famous (Transylvania, Van Helsing, Bela Lugosi) not to mention suspiciously leaving out any mention of Dracula’s daughter or the fact that the last time we saw the Count he was freaking dead thanks to the business end of a stake, it clears it’s slate in order to start over, it’s a little odd at first but it seems to be an attempt to bring literature’s greatest vampire into something approaching a contemporary feel. This may explain why an immortal creature such as Count Dracula spends most of his supernatural spare time obsessed with pulling off large scale property fraud instead of terrorizing villages in eastern Europe from a gothic shithole on top of a mountain – I mean it’s well established Dracula has always liked to accumulate extra assets as major plot point of Bram Stoker’s original novel involved the Count playing real life Monopoly with London’s real estate – but it just seems small potatoes for such an infamous villain.
With all that being said, the movie is appropriately slick and despite having a main plot that feels more Dynasty than Stoker, it’s well executed with some genuinely memorable images that stand out from the melodrama such as the Count’s coffin emerging from the swamps for him to emerge and float across the fetid water while maintaining unbroken, red flag raising, eye contact with his female co-conspirator. The hokey vampire effects are actually well done for the period too with the slippery blood sucker shape shifting between mist and bat forms effortlessly.
The most interesting aspect about the movie however isn’t Dracula himself, the lantern jawed heroes or even the fact that despite what the title boasts Dracula doesn’t even have a son (unless this Dracula is the son – but lets not go there as this raises even more questions), no, the most interesting character is Katherine who seems to be the real mastermind behind the whole deal and who’s plans to get Frank to kill her new caped hubby in order for her to then turn her old fiance into a vampire in order to be together forever is far more insidious than Dracula wanting to move out of a swamp. The fact that all this focused villainy is attributed to Katherine being a “morbid person” is actually quite amusing but it actually thematically fits in with the character of Marya Zakeska from Dracula’s Daughter who is a similarly intriguing female character.
The toughest aspect of the film to accept, however, is Lon Chaney Jr., who in the title role of Dracula – or the son of Dracula, or whomever the fuck he’s supposed to be – simply proves that despite the fact he’s a great actor (he fucking kills as Lawrence Talbot in The Wolf Man) the role of Dracula just isn’t that good a fit and it just makes you yearn for the mangled vowels of Lugosi all the more. Using his own accent and saddled with a moustache that screams “get into my unmarked van”, Chaney still makes a decent heavy with exemplary throat grabbing skills, but he seems visibly uncomfortable with all the cape and creepy stares he has to deal with and he’s far too grounded to put across the feeling that he is actually a mythic supernatural creature of pure malevolence… who happens to be engaged in a low level con job… Jesus, Drac.
The second of Universal’s Dracula sequels to come equipped with genuinely interesting aspects while ultimately failing to live up to the original’s legacy; Son Of Dracula was released on the cusp of Universal starting to allow the main members of it’s kooky creature club to play the same sandbox and where the character of Dracula would play more of a mastermind role that fitted him more and Chaney Jr. would thankfully retreat back behind the yak hair and makeup once again in the role that rightfully made him a legend.