Saturday, November 23, 2013

#1,195. Son of Dracula (1943)

Directed By: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton

Tag line: "Chill and Thrill to Dracula's Curse!"

Trivia: This film features the first man-into-bat transformation ever seen on camera

The 3rd film in Universal’s Dracula series, 1943’s Son of Dracula features a good story and some groundbreaking special effects, both of which make up for it’s lackluster title character.

Kay Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), a wealthy Southern Belle, invites the Hungarian Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) to visit her at Black Oak, the Louisiana plantation her family owns. Despite the fact she’s engaged to childhood sweetheart Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), Kay strikes up a romance with the mysterious Count, much to the chagrin of both her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) and the Caldwell’s family doctor, Harry Brewster (Frank Craven). What they don’t realize, however, is that Alucard is actually Count Dracula ("Alucard" spelled backwards), and Kay brought him to Black Oak for one very specific reason: she wants him to turn her into a vampire!

Though physically imposing in the role, Chaney never appears totally comfortable as Dracula, and lacks the charisma that Lugosi brought to the part in the 1931 original. Still, Son of Dracula proves a solid entry in the series, and a key reason why is Louise Allbritton. A woman with a plan, her Kay Caldwell is every bit as wily as the evil Count, and even manages to manipulate him to do her bidding. Her wanting to become a vampire, and her subsequent attempts to turn Frank into one as well, generate plenty of tension, and are why Son of Dracula is, at times, such an entertaining motion picture.

But it’s the special effects that set this film apart from its predecessors. Headed up by John P. Fulton, who would eventually win an Academy Award for his work on DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, Son of Dracula was the first movie to feature a full-on transformation, where the vampire changes from a bat back into human form. While the bats themselves aren’t particularly good (as in the ’31 original, they look like puppets on a string), the transformation sequences are handled well, as is a later scene where a vampire changes into a mist right before our eyes. Son of Dracula may not do much to further the reputation of the Count himself, but thanks to these effects and the impressive performance by Louise Allbritton, the movie is a definite winner.

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