The burden of family, and of oppressed queerness (especially following the Production Code). The Count has just been staked, Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is taken in by British officers -- it is "a case for Scotland Yard," the professor faces the gallows. Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) steps out of the fog, only her hypnotic eyes visible, to claim daddy's corpse; Dracula is consumed by fire, the daughter raises a cross over the pyre, shielding her gaze with a cape. Hoping for deliverance from her undead bondage, she yearns for normalcy, but manservant Irving Pichel (done like Muni in Scarface) knows better: "What do you see in my eyes?" "Death." James Whale was replaced by Lambert Hillyer, his first screenplay went through many hands (including a David O. Selznick "suggestion"), yet the shift from Stoker to Le Fanu stays unmistakable -- Pichel scoops a starving morsel (Nan Grey) from the edge of the bridge to model for his mistress, the girl's bared shoulders foil the Countess' efforts to keep her "mind over the powers of darkness," the sequence ends with a brisk upward tilt from the screaming victim to a grimacing mask. Sexual transgression as occult anguish, the female vampire's omnisexual urges an affront to the patriarchy she hopes to join (England "expects every man to do his duty"): Holden's patrician beauty calls for doctor Otto Kruger to aid neutralize her impulses, only for Kruger to attribute the lack of mirrors in her lair to a suspicious absence of female vanity. The Countess ditches London for Transylvania and a chill washes over the festivities upon her return; Marguerite Churchill fights her status as the docile, ingénue half of the reassuringly heterosexual couple by pulling pranks on Kruger (the touch of screwball amid the horror), but her transformation from snappy Girl-Friday to endangered damsel is mandatory for the times. Van Helsing questions the border between "the superstition of yesterday and the scientific fact of tomorrow," the argument picked up by '70s Hammer, Stephanie Rothman, Jess Franco, Rice, Buffy. With Gilbert Emery, Halliwell Hobbes, Billy Bevan, Hedda Hopper, and E.E. Clive. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce