Sunday, May 6, 2018

Daughter of Dracula / La fille de Dracula (1972)

Jess Franco filmed Daughter of Dracula back to back with the preceding film Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972). These two films seem similar and for me were sometimes easy to confuse with one another, but after reviewing them both back to back, I realize they are quite different in many ways. Unlike the previous film, the eroticism is amped up this time around, particularly with the love/feeding scenes between Franco regulars of the era Anne Libert and Britt Nichols. It isn’t necessarily the monster mashup like the previous film since for monsters we just have Dracula, a femme vampire, and a mystery killer. Perhaps it’s more of a Eurocult genre mashup, as this one has a reputation for being confused as to whether it wants to be an erotic vampire horror film or a giallo-like murder mystery.

Daughter of Dracula doesn’t quite reach its potential, but it’s nonetheless a relaxing Gothic horror with a captivating modern ‘70s setting in an old-world location that provides the right ambiance us Eurocult fans can’t get enough of.

Howard Vernon reprises his role as his own odd, unique, near-lifeless version of Count Dracula from Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. He’s even less active here, but Britt Nichols and Anne Libert get more to do this time around, even if Nichols’ vampire scenes may’ve soared a little more in the preceding movie.



Somewhere in Portuguese Transylvania, the dying Baroness Karlstein (Carmen Carbonell) confesses to her daughter Luisa (Britt Nichols / Carmen Yazalda) in secret about the family history of vampirism and that they are direct descendants of “the first Count” Count Dracula, a secret she does not wish to take to the grave. (so, Luisa is actually the female descendant of Dracula here rather than his daughter). It’s hard to tell if the family curse is something the mother is ashamed of. If she was trying to warn her daughter of the curse then it was a rather misguided attempt, since she grants her the key and sends her on the way to meet her ancestor still entombed beneath the cathedral tower (the Quinta da Regaleira chapel) on their land, where Luisa gets acquainted with the barely still operable Count Dracula.


This is preceded with wonderful shots of Nichols walking the grounds outside of the mansion on her way to the cathedral tower to descend into the crypt to commune with her toxic ancestor. The forested location here is just brimming with mystique and ancestral energy and is what I found to be one of the most magnificent location visuals in the film. The location (for this particular part in the film) is the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal.

The relationship between Luisa and Dracula does score points for peculiarity, but I can’t help wondering if it would make any difference if Dracula wasn’t even in the movie. We already saw a female vampire, who could only have been Luisa, kill someone (Eduarda Pimenta) during the intro grabber, so we’re not even sure what Dracula’s role in Luisa’s life is since she is already a vampire when she first meets him. He’s not even much of a father figure but more like her exotic pet she keeps in the crypt who she feeds people to (Dracula communicates to her telepathically with dialogue voiceover in the Spanish version unlike the French version where Dracula is silent- The music in the film is also so different between both versions).


Vernon’s Dracula is still just as eerie and inanimate as in the previous film; he seems to be confined to operating from his coffin this time, so it makes sense that he would have his descendant do his work, whatever that may be, since the vampirism affliction doesn’t seem to spread in this movie. It’s still a little disappointing that Dracula never leaves his crypt, but this is supposed to be Luisa’s story after all.


Family relations here are a little confusing. I think Luisa is the step daughter of Count Max Karlstein (Daniel White), since we learn from her dying mother that Luisa’s father had died a long time ago. Or Count Max Karlstein might be Luisa’s uncle, but Karine (Anne Libert) addresses him as Uncle, and she addresses Luisa as cousin, so the Karlsteins may just be a real extended family. The last name Karlstein is one letter off from being Karnstein, a Carmilla reference that is however rudimentary since Carmilla can easily be related to any kind of predatory lesbian vampire, and Luisa is certainly that.


Luisa beautifully plays the piano leading to a moment between her and Karine when, after talking about their childhood together, Luisa seduces and hypnotizes Karine, gently biting her lip with her fangs. Their characters are cousins, but Anne Libert and Britt Nichols have genuine chemistry. Their first love scene is so soft, tender, and relaxing. It’s the commercial highlight that does transcend its exploitative purpose that’s made ten times more artistic with the intercut shots of Daniel White serenading us and killing it at the piano with a moving modern classical sounding piece, as Jess floats the camera around White and around the entire piano. The soundtrack is credited to René Sylviano and Daniel White, so I’m not sure who wrote what, but I’ve always liked to think that Danial White is showcasing his own composition as a character in the film here.

  
Jess Franco plays a well-learned, calm, and composed fellow, Cyril Jefferson, the secretary to Count Karlstein, although his position isn’t at first apparent, as I thought he seemed to be casually hanging out among the cast and going out for moonlit strolls on cold nights. Jefferson attributes the recent murders in the story to the supernatural, speaking in captivating horror poetry that could easily pass for black metal lyrics. Jefferson really fits into the gloomy setting. He and Inspector Ptuschko (Alberto Dalbes) have a few confrontations.
  
Dalbes’s inspector character is pretty low energy; he seems worn-out and apathetic, just wanting to solve the murder case already. He interrogates Count Karlstein with his eyes closed and his jacket collar pulled up to his face, looking like he’s sleeping on the sofa chair. This was something I considered to be more an interesting quirk; otherwise Dalbes may’ve been rather unremarkable here aside from being a welcome familiar face.


There is a cabaret scene here that is still magnificent and is a little reminiscent of the Miss Muerte performance in Jess Franco’s The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966), but when comparing it to the cabaret scene in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, it ends up losing the battle, mainly because it is missing Josyane Gibert’s bubbly performance. I did experience some joy seeing Count Karlstein walking around the cabaret night club at the Majestic hotel smoking his pipe, seeming out of place, which is important for a certain plot point later, but without losing a shred of his elegance. 

The murder mystery component of the film seems to distract a little from Luisa’s story, as it seems a little more focused on the owner of the Inn, Ana (Yelena Samarina) and her affair with Count Karlstein, who is wrongly arrested for the murder at the cabaret for trying to cover up for Ana cheating on her husband. With these scenes you sometimes start to forget you’re watching Daughter of Dracula, and in the memory, it might even seem like they were from a different movie. I did like the way we weren’t sure who Ana’s husband was until towards the end, and the conversation that ensues regarding the affair is a melancholic little wrap-up to the subplot and leads in to an unsatisfying wrap up to the overall plot that makes it seem like Jess may’ve been more interested in the murder mystery story than Luisa and Dracula’s story.


I personally didn’t mind a little Agatha Christie intruding on my gothic sapphic vampire fable, but I thought they could’ve been integrated better. There’s no doubt that there was some kind of capitalization on the then popular giallo titles of the time, especially considering the black hat, black trench coat, and standout yellow socks the killer wore.

Nichols is a majestic presence, but I felt there was more room to explore and develop her character. The potential was there for a more memorable character. 

Even with its problems, there’s still a lot to Daughter of Dracula that makes it a worthwhile experience for Jess Franco fans, namely just spending time in this film’s world (there’s something magical and fairytale-like about the grounds of the Karlstein estate) and seeing those familiar faces. I fell in love with Britt Nichols and Anne Libert’s roles in A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1972) but thought the actors were underused in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, so it was great seeing them in more substantial roles here (also see Les demons (1973)). 

This is a Jess Franco film through and through. Though it has been said by other reviewers that this is not the best place for first timers, and I would have to agree. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

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