I am yelling at these characters to start reacting PLEASE
Son of Dracula (1943) introduces us to a new stoic vampire type , led by Captain Wooden himself, Lon Cheney Jr. I really hated almost everything about this movie, but especially the characters and their (lack of) reactions. The vampire characters competed with each other to see who could outdo each other at standing around. Winning that competition was Lon Cheney Jr, the new Dracula in this Universal outing.
It’s not that I dislike Lon Cheney Jr, but he is terrible in this movie. He delivers every line with the same stoic disinterest and looks like he’s sleepwalking when he should be frowning, raising his voice, or showing some kind of frickin’ emotion. Even when he’s attacking or choking someone, he doesn’t look interested.
So Dracula travels to the US disguised as his own son and traps our leading lady in his web, a local woman who does nothing of note. This woman is played by Louise Allbritton, who did nothing of note in her career, so she fit right into the part of Katherine. Again, she has very little emotion in her delivery, but probably more than Lon Cheney Jr, which is not a complement.
Robert Page plays Frank and he is a stand-out compared to the other stiffs in this film. His role as a human-plot-device is to rescue the girl, which is obvious from minute number two of this movie, but Page gives a vigorous performance. He has some emotion and delivers most of his lines with great passion, fear, and the dialogue even matches his supposed mood. I have to complement him.
The plot of this movie is pretty ridiculous, but it is almost passable as believable, but barely. They don’t spend too much time on exposition though, which is good. They drop in a scientist where Van Helsing should be, in order to explain how Alucard is really Dracula and shoe-horn in more exposition about vampire tropes. It is pretty silly, but works at the pace they did it, at least.
It goes something like this:
Phone: Ring ring
Guy in Hungary: Hello?
Scientist Guy: Yes, hello there, I’m calling from the United States. Sorry for waking you up.
Guy in Hungary: Oh I’m not asleep. There’s no time difference in this movie.
Scientist Guy: That’s good, because I had a bunch of questions about Dracula. Some guy named Alucard just came to town and that is Dracula spelled backwards, so I think he’s a vampire.
Guy in Hungary: Are you frickin nuts? You’re a scientist. Why don’t you investigate using some stupid science stuff?
Scientist Guy: That’d be too boring. I’ll have to break into his house and investigate his basement. Then we’ll know for sure if we have to stab him with a wooden stake.
Guy in Hungary: You must be crazy.
The rubber bats aside, the effects in this movie are pretty good. This is the first time Universal showed Dracula transforming to human form on-screen and it works pretty well. They use that effect several times. There are also some floating mist effects, but not many others stand-out. There’s not much blood either, which is disappointing.
Initially, I thought Katherine had been hypnotized by Dracula, as she marries him and starts carrying on in his house, but her real motivation finally added some depth to her character. She wanted to become immortal and offers to share her new gift with Frank. He is repulsed, but goes along with her plan long enough to destroy Dracula, then destroys her when she turns all villainy.
All in all, this movie developed into something better than I thought, but it’s pretty terrible overall. The tone is all over the place and the movie can’t decide what it wants to be. Without a forceful and passionate Dracula, the movie really doesn’t spend much time at all developing his character, which leaves Lon Cheney Jr looking like a mime on sedatives. This one is pretty forgettable, which is probably why they changed the direction completely for Dracula’s next appearance.