Marketed on video on the coattails of the current theatrical release of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Spanish-language Dracula and the English-language Dracula’s Daughter are two vintage vampire films that have become legends among horror fans. Presumed lost until a complete print turned up in a Cuban film archive, Dracula — filmed at Universal concurrently with the famous Bela Lugosi version, using the same script and sets — arrives on video with a cult reputation as a dazzlingly visual improvement over the stilted English- language production. Unfortunately, Drac en español turns out to be more impressive in legend than in execution. True, director George Melford stages a few scenes more atmospherically than Tod Browning did: The first meeting between Dracula (Carlos Villarias) and Renfield, for example, is treated in a virtuoso tracking shot. Otherwise, the rediscovered film looks and plays much like its familiar cousin, sans a leading man with Lugosi’s Carpathian charisma.
Dracula’s Daughter is, on the other hand, one of the most satisfying vampire pictures ever made. Lambert Hillyer’s direction is all but perfect — his visuals are lush, evocative, and suffused with just the right gothic chiaroscuro. The script is tight and suspenseful. And, best of all, the underrated Gloria Holden, as the reluctant vampire protagonist, absolutely drips patrician eroticism — she does a lesbian seduction scene so hot it’s impossible to imagine how it ever got past ’30s censors. Dracula’s Daughter is so good, in fact, that watching it makes you realize just how much potential there was in the Lugosi original, and why Francis Ford Coppola felt a need to redo it six decades later. Dracula: C+ Dracula’s Daughter: A