In the long list of Universal Monster movies, there is one odd duck entry in the form of Son of Dracula, a film that does not take place in the same continuity as Dracula and Dracula’s Daughter and the events within are never referenced again, weirder still is the casting of Lon Chaney Jr. as the title character when he’s already played the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, and while I love Chaney Jr. I have to ask, “Was no one else available?”
While the third of the “Dracula” films produced by Universal may not be in continuity with the other Universal Monster movies it’s still one of the better entries in the Dracula series and much of this comes from the fact that this story is a lot darker and even more tragic than the other films, with a twisted love story at its center that elevates the subject matter. The plot of Son of Dracula deals with Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), an American woman obsessed with death and immortality, who after a visit to Hungary returns home with a rather diabolical plan which “step one” involves inviting Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) to her family plantation “Dark Oaks” and the murder of her father Colonel Caldwell (George Irving) so that she can inherit the estate and then marry Alucard. Her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers), and long-time love interest Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), are both a bit shocked by this turn of events but when family friend Dr. Brewster (Frank Craven) starts to suspect that Count Alucard is none other than the notorious Count Dracula things start to get messy. Add the fact that a jealous boyfriend is definitely going to complicate things further, even if one of the parties wasn’t an undead monster, and we soon find ourselves in a very dark and weird love triangle.
Even though Son of Dracula is ostensibly a Dracula film, with this entry including a Van Helsing equivalent in the form of Dracula expert Hungarian Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg), if we set that all aside the film works better if you just consider it a film noir vampire movie because the central villain isn’t actually Dracula but Katherine, who is truly in love with Frank and is simply catfishing Dracula so that he will make her immortal, and when the time comes she plans to have Frank kill Dracula so that the two of them can live “Happily Ever After” for all eternity. You have to admit that is a petty decent long con and her preying on Dracula’s need for a new hunting ground, with Transylvania becoming a little stale for this notorious centuries-old bloodsucker, and the only thing that stands in the way of this whole plan working out is Frank’s reluctance to embrace the idea of becoming a Creature of the Night. This isn’t the only complication as Frank is arrested for murdering Katherine when having shot at Dracula the bullets passed through him and hit Katherine, and his defence of “I meant to kill her husband” didn’t help much.
Things get interesting when Dr. Brewster goes to check out Frank’s claim that he killed Katherine and finds her not only very much alive but also seemingly happily married to Count Alucard, though this doesn’t last long because the next day the local Sheriff (Pat Moriarty) goes to check up on this “murder story” himself and finds Katherine very much dead and resting peaceably in a coffin. Things don’t look good for Frank. The character of Katherine Caldwell is a remarkable figure in the Dracula franchise because she is a strong and forward-thinking femme fatale who plays Dracula for a chump and only fails with goals because she underestimated her true love’s willingness to become a blood-sucking monster, and her positing to him that “Isn’t eternity together… better than a few years of ordinary life?” was never going to sway Frank and leads to a bad end for all involved.
• I can just picture Dracula sitting in his castle trying to come up with a pseudonym and then proudly stating “I’ve got it, I’ll spell my name backwards, they’ll never crack that code!”
• As in the case of Dracula’s Daughter we are again left wondering what the actual process is that results in Dracula having kids.
• The supposed expert on Dracula in this film states that “In Transylvania, the name is associated only with evil” but the historical Vlad Dracula is actually considered by many to be a national hero.
• The chicken feathers found in Dracula’s coffin, as well as chickens in cages sitting next to it, had me wondering if he keeps chickens handy for late-night snacking.
• Dracula travelling to America to find a bride was later used for the plot of the George Hamilton comedy Love at First Bite, which is a personal favourite of mine.
While the performance by Lon Chaney Jr. isn’t as iconic as the one presented by Bela Lugosi back in 1931 but it’s here that we finally get to see a true Dracula-to-Bat transformation and we also have the first time seeing Dracula as a creature of supernatural strength and thus a more physical threat than just hypnotically sexual one, and one can assume that Chaney was a lot happier in this project as he wasn’t saddled with a painful make-up process, and his performance as Count Dracula is outstanding with a take on the character that is both powerful and sinister. Even if he was duped by a mere mortal and destroyed by a man who was basically driven mad by the events surrounding this messed-up love story, I still have a soft spot for this take on Dracula.
Note: This Dracula movie stars Lon Chaney Jr. but while the vampire in question does turn into a bat and mist he never turns into a wolf, which seems like a missed opportunity for an actor who made his name playing The Wolf Man.
Robert Siodmak’s Son of Dracula doesn’t have the gothic atmosphere of the previous entries, being set in modern times does cause it to lose some of that period charm, but the blend of vampires and film noir makes this something quite unique in the genre and even if Chaney’s single performance as Dracula was but a small stamp in the Dracula mythos it still remains a very memorable one and paired with Louise Allbritton’s turn as the devious femme fatale we get a film that is more than worthy successor and is also one of the more fascinating Dracula movies out there.
You can check out my other reviews here: Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror.
Son of Dracula (1943)
Movie Rank - 7/10
Dark castles and foggy moors are swapped out for musty plantations and swampland for this Universal entry in the Dracula series and though the setting isn’t quite as engaging as the previous ones the morbid plot and dark love story more than makes up for any chills caused by the less than chilling local, not to mention both Lon Chaney Jr. and Louise Allbritton give excellent performances that make this movie a great watch.