In many ways, Robert Siodmak's Son of Dracula (1943) represents the liberation of the Dracula figure from traditional, stagebound constructions. To begin with, the vampire itself is reduced to a subordinate role; but vampirism as a moral and ontological question becomes thematically central. While Lon Chaney Jr.'s Count Alucard--a crude Dracula anagram--is treated more as a phenomenon than an actual personage, his scenes remain the expressive core of the film. His initial appearance is part of an elaborage craning shot, which--in contrast to the example of this technique in Dracula--pulls back from a dance in a country estate, travelling across a terrace and garden and stops abruptly on a high angle medium close shot of Alucard gazing at the house, a revelation which is sudden and startling despite the anticipatory camera movement, almost as if the figure had drawn attention to itself or somehow intruded into the frame while remaining immobile.
Established by the dynamic of this shot as a force to be reckoned with, Alucard momentarily spreads his cape, compresses his massive form into that of a bat, and departs. The vampire's first noctural rising is equally impressive: a coffin breaks the surface of the swamp water, a mist seeps out from beneath the lids, congeals, and becomes the vampire who then propels the strange vessel forward by some psycho-kinetic command towards an eager victim awaiting him on the bank (the shot is taken from over Alucard's shoulder, floating silently with him across the pond).
Kay Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), Alucard's willing victim, is less obsessed with him than with the freedom from death which he symbolizes. Inhereting a Southern plantation house after her father is killed by Alucard, she rejects her former lover (Robert Paige) and marries the Count in order to become undead and immortal herself. After Frank Stanley, the discarded suitor, inadvertantly shoots her, when the bullets he intends for Alucard pass through his insubstantial "body" and into hers, she is reanimated and appears to him, in jail for her murder, to explain the premeditation behind her actions ("Frank, isn't eternity together better than a few years of ordinary life?") and to convert him to vampirism. This sequence of impacted narrative ironies wich reduce the Dracula figure to something of a cipher for Kay Caldwell's aspirations toward eternal life, speculates ambitiously on the notion of immortality so pivotal to the myth of the vampire.
Eventually, Frank eliminates Alucard by burning his coffin full of native earth hidden in a viaduct, then he immolates Kay in an upper room of her house. As the natural equilibrium of a complete and genuine cessation of life is restored, the staging also concludes the film--cross-travelings to underscore the once arrogant vampire's impotent terror on descrying the fiery coffin: a close shot of him rim-lit by the flames as he screams, "Put it out!": a pan, after he staggers and collapses, from the sunbeams which penetrate the sod roof down to his skeletal hand.
--ALAIN SILVER & JAMES URSINI from The Vampire Film:
From Nosferatu To Bram Stoker's Dracula, 2004
Son of Dracula (1943) is a film that gives a lot of critics trouble. In almost uniformly panning the "well-fed" Lon Chaney, Jr., or the lack of a Transylvanian setting, they lose sight of much of what is brilliant about the film. That is why the section of Silver & Ursini's book on the vampire film above is such a treat. Rather than focus on the shortcomings of the film--and what Universal horror film isn't repleat with them--they give credit not only to the ingenuity of Curt Siodmak's story, but creative camerawork and directing as well.
The film begins with the wonderful opening theme [mp3] by Hans J. Salter and two gloved hands that wipe away spider webs and dirt off the titles. Hollywood character veteran Frank Craven--best known for his role of the narrator in Our Town--opens the film as the local doctor at the train station to pick up the arriving Count Alucard. Because of the way the luggage of the missing nobleman is arranged on the carriage, Dr. Brewster quickly deciphers the Count's anagram name, and thus it is revealed that this is not the son at all, but the original Dracula. At Dark Oaks, Louise Allbritton anxiously awaits the arrival of Count Alucard while her sister Claire, Evelyn Ankers, makes light of her metaphisical leanings. When the Count doesn't arrive, Kay immediately runs to get advice from the old gypsy woman who lives in the swamp. As Queen Zimba predicts the horrors to come a bat is seen hovering outside her shanty, shocking the old woman into unconsciousness while only seeming to intrigue Kay. Finally, during the party held in the absent count's honor, Alucard kills the father of the two sisters and then waits until all the guests have left before announcing himself at the front door--incredibly awkward timing and used to great advantage to build tension.
One of the best touches in the film, however, is the way the romantic lead is used in Siodmak's story. Normally the handsome but iniffectual lead has very little bearing on the outcome of the story and the defeat of Dracula at is usually left to the old doctor (in this case Craven--who duly calls in a colleague from Eastern Europe to confirm the presence of a vampire in the village). At first Frank is shocked at Kay's suggestion that they become vampires together and live forever in the deserted mansion at Dark Oaks, but as the film progresses Frank seems to warm to the idea, if only to get Kay away from the influence of Alucard. It is not unitl the final scene, when he sets the playroom of the house on fire--along with the undead body of his fiancee--that intention to do the right thing all along is revealed--ridding the village not only of Dracula, but of his vampire lover as well.
All things together, this is a fine entry into the Universal horror series, and an overlooked gem. Not only is the directing by Robert Siodmak well done, but so is the score for Son of Dracula by Hans J. Salter--even when one realizes that there isn't a score. It turns out that the music was cobbled together from existing compositions by Salter ranging from other horror films he had scored, to a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film, and even Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur. An underrated film, Son of Dracula really deserves far better critical treatment.
--A HISTORY OF HORROR