SON OF DRACULA (Universal, 1943), directed by Robert Siodmak, from an original story by Curtis Siodmak, the third in the cycle of Universal thrillers to center around the Dracula legend, and the first of the 1940s, ranks one of the best in the series. Its star, Lon Chaney Jr., famous for his previous role in the horror cycle as Lawrence Talbot in THE WOLF MAN (Universal, 1941), which would be followed by some more sequels throughout the 1940s, might have seemed an unlikely choice in playing the blood-sucking vampire, but on the contrary, Junior Chaney brings new life into the old vampire, sporting the usual black cape and an added touch of a mustache. Overlooking the hypnotic glassy eye stare created at best by Bela Lugosi in DRACULA (Universal, 1931), he very well has proven himself as the fine horror film actor, for the time being anyway.
Unlike the previous Dracula outings (DRACULA and DRACULA'S DAUGHTER), which had taken place either in Transylvania or England, SON OF DRACULA is set on American soil and stays there. It begins somewhere in the South where Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) and the family physician friend, Doctor Harry Brewster (Frank Craven) are at a train station awaiting for the arrival of an honored guest to Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), Count Alucard, whom she had met previously while visiting in Budapest, and is to be driven over to the Caldwell estate, but all they find are his crates and boxes (some of which consists of his native soil). That very night after a gathering in her home, Katherine's father (George Irving) mysteriously dies, with Dr. Brewster examining the body and finding two marks found on the late colonel's neck. Having noticed earlier on one of the crates that the name of Alucard spelled backwards is Dracula, Brewster decides to telephone Professor Lazio (J. Edward Bromberg), the well-known authority of the Count Dracula legend, who, after learning telling him all the details, warns Brewster that Katherine is in great danger, and intends on leaving Memphis to pay Brewster a visit to see what can be done. But it is too late. Katherine, who has a morbid fascination with death and eternal life, has already abandoned her fiance, Frank, whom has loved her since childhood, to marry Count Alucard. They ghoulist couple obtain a honeymoon cottage in an old house at Dark Oaks. Frank follows them there to get Katherine back and threatens Alucard to leave town. Ignoring his threats, this leaves Frank to take out his revolver and shoot Alucard, but in turn he has killed Katherine, who was standing behind her husband. Finding that the bullets have gone through Alucard and into Katherine, Frank rushes out of the house to tell Dr. Brewster what has happened. Brewster comes to the cottage to find Alucard, and much to his surprise, sees Katherine very much alive. When Frank arrives with the authorities, they find Katherine dead in her coffin. But after the arrival of Professor Lazio, more dark secrets are eventually learned, leading to a suspenseful climax.
Reportedly dismissed as just another horror film upon its release, SON OF DRACULA does have its share of bonuses that would have made the 1931 DRACULA a visual experience had such advanced technology in special effects been available, along with some real clever touches, including the visiting count using an alias by spelling his name backwards; a very creepy musical score, compliments of Hans J. Salter, dark atmospheric background and fine effects ranging from a cloud of vaper forming into the presence of Dracula, to his transformation from bat to human figure, etc. Aside from Lon Chaney's carnation of Dracula, Louise Allbritton stands out a close second with her creepy appearance, ranging from her unusual dark and gloomy hairstyle to icy facial expressions. Even before she becomes the wife of the mysterious Count, her Katherine is already obsessed by the supernatural. Her sister, Claire, played by Evelyn Ankers (who appeared opposite Chaney in THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)), is the logical half of the Caldwell sisters, and although she doesn't get to belt out a scream or two as she did in the aforementioned films, her presence adds to the story, as does J. Edward Bromberg's Professor Lazio, the authority of the Dracula legend. Bromberg's role could have very well been Professor Van Helsing (as previously played in the first two Dracula films of the 1930s), but instead, his role was inspired by him. Robert Paige, another Universal contract player, does well with his Frank Stanley performance, rising above the usual mediocre love interest-types of the day.
The supporting cast includes Samuel S. Hinds as Judge Simmons, Etta McDaniel as Sarah; Patrick Moriarty as the Sheriff; and Adeline De Walt Reynolds as Queen Zimba, the fortune telling gypsy, who after warning Katherine of her destiny and danger in marrying a corpse, she is met with a destiny of her own when encountered by a vampire bat that puts an end of her fortune telling forever. Reynold's brief bit as the fortune telling old hag is reminiscent to the kind of role Lucille LaVerne (of silent and early talkies) that made her famous.
In spite of its misleading title, Count Alucard is never mentioned as Dracula's son, but as Count Dracula himself. SON OF DRACULA, which runs at 78 minutes, is the last really good and near original Dracula film of the 1940s. Before Bela Lugosi would do one more encore as Dracula in 1948's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, the Dracula character would be revived again in two quickie installments (HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1944; HOUSE OF DRACULA in 1945) with John Carradine taking over as the Count, but only minor secondary performances.
SON OF DRACULA, which formerly played on the cable television's Sci-Fi Channel and American Movie Classics, is currently available on video cassette through MCA Home Video. This sure makes recommended viewing for a dark and gloomy Halloween night, or any night for that matter, particilarly for any classic horror movie lover.