There’s blood on it again.– Countess Marya Zaleska
Five years after Universal’s Dracula (1931), and five minutes after Dracula’s on-screen demise, Dracula’s Daughter (1936) arrived to continue her father’s sanguinary spree. But unlike her malevolent sire, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) is no self-satisfied monster. Rather, she is an addict, bound by compulsions she cannot control.
Ostensibly based on a deleted chapter from Bram Stoker’s novel, the film bears little resemblance to its source material, or even to the film it is a sequel of. Holden’s Zaleska is distinct from Lugosi’s Dracula – a creature of resigned solemnity rather than arrogant savagery. Dracula wears his damnation like armour. For Zaleska, it is a mourning shroud.
It’s a darker film than its predecessor in many ways. Dracula is a fairy-tale villain, all bombast and power. But Zaleska is something more sinister – and sympathetic.
She is a melancholy figure, filled with a palpable self-loathing that marks her every action, even as she denies her culpability. She is not wicked, not evil; it is Dracula who is evil. Zaleska is but his puppet – a slave to the darkling addiction he has foisted on her. Or so she tells herself.
Though Dracula is reduced to ashes in the film’s opening, he nonetheless still blights Zaleska’s life. Time and again, she pits her will against the demon that drives her. Time and again, she fails, until finally, at the last, she resigns herself to the horror of her own existence – returning to the needle for one last dose. And then another, and another, until the thought of quitting becomes impossible to contemplate.
Zaleska’s addiction is at the heart of the film. Not just addiction to blood, but addiction to despair – to surrender. It is easy to give in to the darkness, to play the music of the night, and stalk…and slay…again and again and again. Easier by far to give in than to resist. Resistance hurts. Resistance costs. Perhaps more than she is prepared to give.
Her struggles are tinged with the hopelessness of one who cannot control themselves – and worse, cannot imagine doing so. As these obstacles prove insurmountable, her despair sharpens, and melancholy turns to malice.
In the end, every choice Countess Marya Zaleska only drives her further into the shadow of Dracula. And having at last lost all hope, she seeks to wrest it from others in their turn, by destroying that which she can never possess.
Like father, like daughter.
She was beautiful when she died, a hundred years ago.– Professor Van Helsing