Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Lon Cheney Jr. establishes himself as the official “face” of the Universal monsters with the title role in 1943’s Son of Dracula.
Here’s what happens: New Orleans heiress Katherine returns from Romania with a new fiancé, Count Alucard. (Get it?) Katherine’s father then mysteriously dies, leaving his fortune to her and her sister. Katherine’s now ex-boyfriend investigates, only to see Katherine die and then later be back from the dead. Things just get more complicated from there.
Monster!: I like Lon Cheney Jr. as much as the next person, but I don’t know that he was the best choice to play Dracula. His guy-next-door charm that made him so likable in The Wolf Man doesn’t translate to Dracula’s high-falootin’ dialogue about moonlight and immortality.
Also a monster!: The movie’s plot is driven by Katherine’s transformation into a vampire, so much that I wonder if Bride of Dracula might have been a working title. Except that vamp Katherine isn’t so much evil, wanting to reunite with her beau Frank is the third act.
Our hero: Frank is a real man of action, carrying a pistol and unloading bullets into Dracula. He gets more and more unhinged in the second act when he thinks Katherine is dead. Then it’s a tragic ending when he says goodbye to Katherine rather than saving her.
Hapless humans: Two stately elders, Dr. Brewster and Dr. Lazlo, team up for the Van Helsing role to investigate Dracula. One of the movie’s smartest decisions is having Brewster figure out the “Alucard is Dracula backward” bit in the first scene, so the audience doesn’t think he’s an idiot. Katherine’s sister Claire is also along for the ride, more or less acting as the two doctors’ sidekick.
Frights: Lots of bat action in this one. It’s the first time we see Dracula actually transform into a bat in that sweet old-timey animation effect, and a great bit where someone gets attacked by Drac in bat form. Dracula also transforms from a mist into human form and then floats over the swamp, in one of the movie’s best scenes. The final confrontation is also memorable, with a great death scene for the Count.
Laughs: Not a lot of comic relief this time, except for one scene where a goofy guy at the police station overhears Frank and Katherine talking, and just assumes Frank is talking to himself.
What’s all this, then?: The movie is called Son of Dracula, but the dialogue would have us believe that this is the one and only Drac, with characters merely assuming he’s the son due to his agelessness. The movie ends with no definitive answer one way or the other.
Thoughts upon this viewing: I was a little bored with this one at first, but it won me over as it went along. Even though Cheney’s performance didn’t work for me, but I really dug the doomed romance stuff between Katherine and Frank.
Next: A dish best served transparent.
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