“Why should Cecil B. DeMille have a monopoly on the great box office values of torture and cruelty?” asked John Balderton, the writer of a first draft of this long-delayed sequel to Dracula, the iconic, if somewhat tepid, 1931 version of Bram Stoker’s famous novel. Balderton envisioned a grisly horror film, full of the shrieks and cries of the damned, but his version didn’t make the cut. Instead, this version, based on one of Stoker’s stories, finally hit the screens in 1936, heavy on atmosphere and shocking (for its time) sexuality. Although it is a marked improvement on the original film, it’s still a bit of a snooze, relying too much on forced comedy and not enough on suspense or fright.
The film picks up exactly where the first film left off. Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who was Van Helsing in the first film, has just offed Dracula, and Whitby constables stumble on the scene and arrest him as a murderer. The constable in charge is faced with quite a decision: try Von Helsing for murder and likely hang him, put him in the looney bin because of all his talk about vampires, or believe him. Von Helsing implores him to call on one of his former students, the renowned psychologist Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger), to help clear him.
Meanwhile, before things can get underway, a mysterious woman steals Dracula’s body and destroys it. Gloria Holden is Countess Zaleska, the titular daughter. She thinks that destroying her father’s corpse will free her from her vampiric curse, but it doesn’t work, as is obvious as soon as she returns to London and starts ogling the necks of dapper young men. It doesn’t help that her helper Sandor (Irving Pichel, who co-directed the great action film The Most Dangerous Game) keeps taunting her about how much she needs blood. The film treats vampirism as more of an addiction than an evil curse, and it’s fitting that she keeps an enabler around to sabotage her efforts to get clean.
After meeting Dr. Garth at a party, she decides that his experiments in hypnosis will help her. She attempts to seduce him, but he’s wary, especially as the body count in London starts to rise, as victims with strange puncture wounds on their necks start turning up. In the centerpiece of the film, as Zaleska attempts to do some painting to distract her from her need for blood, she enlists Sandor to bring her a model, Lili (Nan Grey).
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