SON OF DRACULA (Robert Siodmak, 1943)

Probably the eeriest and, also, the most lyrical and deeply felt of the Hollywood Dracula films, Son of Dracula claims unexpected settings: a small town outside New Orleans; the nearby Louisiana swamps. The atmosphere drips of menace, sinister doings in the dead of night, fatal fantasy. The “undead” Count Dracula, calling himself Alucard (Dracula spelled backwards), has traveled from the Old Country to marry Kay Caldwell, the daughter of a plantation owner, whom he met in Budapest—at night, betwixt sundown and sunrise: the only time of day he could be up and about. Alucard/Dracula has brought with him his daytime home, a coffin, with his native earth inside; to keep going, he renews his bloodsucking of humans, this time in America, the New World. (He contrasts the “fresh” race in the U.S. with the dying, decaying world he left behind.) It is not hard to see that Alucard/Dracula represents the Evil One in Europe: Adolf Hitler, whose appetite for America threatened to come to the fore after he had sucked the life out of Europe. The story for Son of Dracula was written by Curt Siodmak and beautifully directed by Robert Siodmak, his older brother, both of whom had fled Dresden, Germany, and Hitler’s Europe. (The family was Jewish.) After about 25 films, a couple of them brilliant, Robert made Son of Dracula, his first American film.
     The special effects for this film that John P. Fulton supervised astound: the transformations of Dracula’s black cloak into the wings of a vampire bat; the reverse transformations of bat into count; the spooky effect of smoke—for instance, seeping in from under a door—accounting for another of Dracula’s novel appearances; the blazing fire, stunning in the surrounding darkness, destroying the “home” to which, in order to continue, Dracula must return before the break of dawn. Several of the slow, vaporous camera movements that filmmaker Siodmak directed chillingly evoke Dracula’s unseen presence, and Hans J. Salter’s scoring exquisitely suggests a broken lyricism, a lament for some other world that has passed that preceded the current world without resolution. In a way, it is a contest between the “undead” and the “unliving.”
     Although it is occasionally hampered by the stilted dialogue in Eric Taylor’s script, Lon Chaney, Jr.’s performance as Aculard/Dracula is, despite what you may have read elsewhere, his most concentrated and truly frightening. Overall, however, the acting is not one of this film’s strong points.

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