LGBT Movies: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Countess Marya Zaleska seeks a cure for her vampirism. Her queer-coded tragedy is off-set by the comical mortals in her path. The 70-minute film ends just when the story’s gaining steam. But Gloria Holden gives a compelling performance in the title role.

Dracula’s Daughter cycled through multiple screenplays before settling on a story line. It’s considered a second-tier entry in the Universal Studios Monster-verse. But the film’s queer seduction scene earned it a spot in Vitto Russo’s The Celluloid Closet. And the reluctant protagonist inspired pop culture depictions of vampires for decades to come.

Learn more in this spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Unfinished Business  

Scene One: Police Station. London.
GOOFY COP: You’re under arrest for murdering Count Dracula.
VAN HELSING: He was a vampire!
COUNTESS MARYA ZALESKA: May I have the body?
GOOFY COP: No ma’am. It’s evidence.
COUNTESS: Look at my magic ring. (She hypnotizes him.)
GOOFY COP: Gawrsh. Right this way ma’am.

Scene Two: Forest
(The Countess burns Dracula’s body.)
COUNTESS: He’s gone. Soon I’ll stop craving blood. 
SANDOR (Her sour henchman): Sure Jan. Should we pick up a twink on the way home?
COUNTESS: I guess a snack wouldn’t hurt.
(She hypnotizes a twink with her ring. And bites him discretely off screen.)

Scene Three: Hospital
PSYCHIATRIST: You interrupted my vacation you dizzy dame! (Messes up his bow tie.)
SECRETARY: Shaddup! Your friend Van Helsing killed someone. (Fixes his bow tie.)
VAN HELSING: The body vanished and the police set me free. He was a vampire.
PSYCHIATRIST: Could you explain what a vampire is for the audience?
SECRETARY: Make it as boring as possible.
PSYCHIATRIST: Quiet you.

Act Two: Temptation  

Scene Four: Society Party
SOCIETY LADY (Hedda Hopper): Have some wine Countess.
COUNTESS: I never drink… wine.
PSYCHIATRIST: Van Helsing’s mad. But any obsession can be cured.
COUNTESS: Cured?  
PSYCHIATRIST: Sure. All it takes is will power. I tell alcoholics to sit in a room with a bottle of alcohol and not drink it.
COUNTESS: Sounds legit.  

Scene Five: A Studio in Chelsea
MAIDEN: I’m happy to pose for you. Shall I take anything off?
COUNTESS: As much as the production code will allow.
MAIDEN: Bare shoulders it is.
COUNTESS: What a lovely neck you have. It’s so nice to just sit and paint like a normal person who is able to resist temptation and who am I kidding. MAGIC RING! (She hypnotizes the maiden.)
SANDOR: Yaas queen! Embrace your true self. And then make me immortal!

Act Three: Surrender

Scene Six: Hospital
COUNTESS: Cure me! Be my live-in conversion therapist!
PSYCHIATRIST: Calm down ya silly broad. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to examine this dying maiden with bite marks on her neck.
COUNTESS: Find me in Transylvania. Ask for Dracula’s Daughter.
SECRETARY: Like biological daughter? Adopted? Common-law?    
(The Countess kidnaps the Secretary and vanishes.)

Scene Seven: Castle Dracula. Transylvania.
PSYCHIATRIST: Give me back my stupid Secretary!
SECRETARY: Shaddup!
COUNTESS: Your life for hers. I’ll make you immortal. We can pretend we’re heterosexuals.
PSYCHIATRIST: All right. Though I warn you I’m a real sourpuss.  
SANDOR: How dare you? You were supposed to make ME immortal!
(Sandor fires an arrow through the Countess’s heart. Police shoot Sandor dead.)
SECRETARY: Psychiatrist, I could kiss you!
PSYCHIATRIST: Would you settle for an awkward hug? (They hug.)

THE END

We’re Doing a Sequel

I saw a film called Dracula’s Daughter when I was a little girl…. I never forgot that film. That was always my impression of what vampires were: earthlings with heightened sensibility and a doomed appreciation of life.

Anne Rice, Author of The Vampire Chronicles.

This is an oddly constructed movie. At first Van Helsing seems the protagonist. His storyline wraps up quickly. Then the Countess takes over. She’s the most interesting character. Her actions drive the narrative. But she’s off screen for two thirds of the film. That leaves Otto Kruger’s prickly psychiatrist to carry the story to a conclusion. His close male friendships and indifference to women allow for a queer or ace reading. His sacrifice for his screwball secretary is written as romantic. But Kruger’s performance gives me protective older sibling vibes.

The Countess enchants several men. But Gloria Holden saves her passion for the scene with the young maiden. It’s no accidental subtext. The studio featured this scene in the trailer. They knew what they were doing. In contrast her therapy sessions with Kruger produce no sexual chemistry whatsoever. And yet her frantic desperation makes these the film’s most tragic scenes.

Dracula’s Daughter lacks the action and thrills of most Universal Monster fare. But if you’ve a taste for psychosexual drama it can make a worthy Halloween watch. What are your favorite vampire stories?

You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado and Letterboxd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.