Death Comes to Dark Oaks

Alucard is not his name. You must stop him before it is too late. Stop him before death comes to Dark Oaks.

– Madame Zimba

Alucard is not his name. Nor, in fact, is he the son of Dracula, as the title might have you believe. Rather, Lon Chaney Jr. is playing the Count himself in the 1943 Universal picture, Son of Dracula. Efficiently directed by Robert Siodmak, this follow-on from the 1936 film, Dracula’s Daughter, finds the vampire up to his old tricks in Louisiana.

Odd title aside, Son of Dracula lacks both the dark poetry of Daughter of Dracula as well as the mannered menace of Dracula. There is no music of the night here – only a sort of brute clamouring. Fitting, perhaps, given Siodmak’s history as a director of thrillers.

Chaney’s Alucard is no cruel conqueror or tormented soul. Rather, he is a medieval thug – a beast wrapped in finery – killing without regard, confident in his own invincibility. He is a hungry, fierce thing, arrogant and destructive – a barbarian come a-knocking at the gates.

Alucard is characterised by this daemonic ferocity. His first words of dialogue are a command, snarled at a frightened servant. He bites off his words, spitting them like bullets at whomever is unlucky enough to attract his attentions. Taking, with every utterance.

Even his final words are a command – if a futile one. He growls, snarls and purrs – but never simply speaks. It is as if all that is human in him has been burnt out by centuries of undeath – he has become both more and less than a man, and in doing so has lost everything that made him human.

There is none of Lugosi’s dark delight, or Holden’s resigned tragedy, to Chaney’s Alucard. Instead, he is a thing of impulse and urge. He has no grand scheme, no greater desire. Survival is his driving force. A desperate hunger – not the need of an addict, but that of a wild thing. A hunger fit to drain his new territory dry, even as he did the old ones.

He might as well be a tiger, striped in sin.

When he is finally brought to bay, he reacts like any beast would – first fighting, then fleeing when death becomes a certainty. His end is undignified, his final moments spent crawling in the mud. But as the sun rises, it is as if something of the man Alucard had been has surfaced from the charnel pit of his soul.

The beast dies, and the man lives, if only for a few moments. Chaney’s face shows it all…fury turns to incomprehension, incomprehension to panic.

Panic to resignation.

And then, at the last, a brief instant of peace, as the hunter Death brings his quarry to bay at last.

They have what I want, what I need, what I must have. Do you suppose that I would allow any mortal to stand in my way?

– Count Dracula