Saturday, April 2, 1977: Son of Dracula (1943) / Weird Woman (1944)


Synopsis: At the Caldwell plantation in Louisiana, a huge celebration has been prepared for the arrival of a Hungarian nobleman named Count Alucard. He has been invited by Kay, one of Colonel Caldwell’s two daughters.

Kay, we are told, has been interested in the occult for some time. Now she is acting strangely and her fiance, Frank, can’t fathom why. When the mysterious Count arrives, weird things start to happen. Col. Caldwell dies under mysterious circumstances. The will he drafted shortly before his death leaves all of the money to sister Claire, and only the plantation to Kay — but strangely, Kay seems perfectly satisfied with this arrangement.

That night, Kay and Alucard roust the justice of the peace out of bed and insist on being married immediately.

Frank, believing that Kay has fallen into the orbit of a con man, confronts Alucard with a revolver, but when he fires the bullets pass through the Count, killing Kay, who was standing behind him. Confused and distraught, Frank goes to see Dr. Brewster, who tells him he will look into the matter. But when Brewster visits Black Oaks he finds Kay very much alive, albeit a little spooky.

By the time he returns home he finds that Frank has turned himself in to the sheriff. Brewster insists that the whole thing is a mistake; he saw Kay late the previous evening, after Frank came to him with the story of the murder. But when the Sheriff searches the estate he finds Kay’s body and, sure enough, it’s thoroughly dead.

Now under suspicion as an accessory to murder, Brewster consults with Professor Lazlo, an expert on the occult. With Lazlo’s help Brewster begins to realize that Count Alucard is in fact Count Dracula, who has left his depleted homelands of Transylvania for fresh hunting grounds in America. Meanwhile, in his jail cell, Frank is visited by Kay, who tells him she doesn’t love Alucard, but has only been using him. Now that she is one of the undead, she can turn Frank into a vampire as well, and the two of them can destroy Alucard and begin their own immortal reign of terror….

Comments: Here’s a tip for you kids. If you’re ever an evil, undead Transylvanian nobleman who inexplicably decides to take up residence in a crumbling plantation on the Louisiana bayou, and you’re looking for an alias to use in order to throw nosy would-be vampire hunters off your trail, DON’T simply spell your name backwards. It’s not that clever an idea, and even worse, it won’t work.

In fact, from the opening scene in Son of Dracula, people are constantly saying things like, “Hmm, that’s funny….Alucard….when you read it backwards it says….nah, it couldn’t be!”

But the real reason people aren’t going to suspect this guy of being Dracula is that he’s being played by Lon Chaney, Jr.

Far be it from me to criticize the erstwhile Creighton Chaney as an actor — he was, after all, perfectly serviceable in The Wolf Man and its various sequels. And he was convincing as the easygoing Dan the Electrical Man in Man Made Monster, and as the brutal (and temporarily immortal) thug in otherwise forgettable The Indestructible Man. But placing Chaney in this role cruelly exposes his professional limitations.

Oh, they give him one of those pencil-thin David Niven mustaches, and a cape, and all sorts of courtly dialogue. But he still has about as much polish and sophistication as a gorilla wearing a leisure suit.

To make matters worse, the cast is swimming upstream against a sub-par script. The plot becomes so convoluted that I had a hard time even figuring out who was supposed to be the main character. It becomes clear early on that it isn’t Alucard; so isn’t it Kay? Wouldn’t a more appropriate title be Bride of the Son of Dracula?

Wait, it looks like the plot is beginning to center around Frank. Maybe we should go with Fiance of the Bride of the Son of Dracula.

But suddenly Dr. Brewster is taking center stage. That would make it Doctor to the Fiance of the Bride of the Son of Dracula. Except Lazlo checks in as the wise and all-knowing Van Helsing character in the third act, so maybe we end up with Friend of the Doctor To the Fiance of the Bride of the Son of Dracula.

Well, you get the idea. Alucard first gets double-crossed by his wife and then destroyed by a punk with a grudge against him. In many ways he’s the weakest character in the story, not much like a vampire at all. He’s really more like a second-rate mob boss who can turn into a bat and disappear into a puff of smoke.

Weird Woman

Synopsis: Norman Reed (Lon Chaney, Jr) is a professor at Monroe College, specializing in the study of ancient cults and superstitions. While working at home on his book on the subject, Superstition vs. Reason and Fact, he gets a phone call from his neighbor Evelyn Sawtelle (Elizabeth Russell) who says she just saw his wife Paula (Anne Gwynne) walking home in the bitter rainstorm raging outside.

Reed says it’s not possible, because Paula had gone to bed some time ago. He goes upstairs to look and finds Paula in bed, and she says she hasn’t been up. Reed notices a pagan charm she has placed on the nightstand and angrily removes it, admonishing her for falling back to the pagan rituals she practiced in her native land. Reed later discovers mud on her shoes, indicating that she’d been out and had lied to him about it.

We learn that Paula is a native of the South Sea islands, and that she was seen as a powerful witch by the natives of her home island. In a flashback sequence, Reed meets Paula while is on the island doing research. He had met her a number of years earlier while a graduate student, and they hit it off again immediately. But when Reed steps across a line of charms against evil the islanders had set up, he is seized and nearly killed; only Paula’s intervention spares his life.

When Reed returns from the island to Monroe college, it is with Paula as his bride. This greatly upsets Nona Carr (Evelyn Ankers), who had believed she and Reed had been getting serious. Reed brushes this off, telling her it was nothing more than a “flirtation”.

Superstition vs. Reason and Fact is finally published to great acclaim, and Reed becomes something of a celebrity in the academic world. This is greatly concerning to Evelyn Sawtelle, who had been pressing her husband Millard (Ralph Morgan) to complete his own book in hopes that publication might help him secure the position of department chair. But the weak-willed Millard had only been pushed into completing the book by Evelyn. Nona, sensing an opportunity in his weakness, goes to Millard and tells him she knows he plagiarized large portions of his book from a student’s thesis. She convinces him to kill himself, then convinces Evelyn that Reed must have driven Millard to suicide in order to eliminate his competitor for department chair.

At the same time, knowing that Reed’s assistant Margaret (Lois Collier) is infatuated with him, Nona tells Margaret’s jealous boyfriend David (Phil Brown) that Reed has been taking advantage of her. She also spreads the rumor that Reed’s exotic wife is a witch.

Secretly following Paula on one of her late-night excursions, Reed discovers she has been visiting a graveyard, where she has been conducting strange rituals from her homeland. Confronting her, Reed destroys the charms she has been using, telling her that it’s all superstitious nonsense. But Paula insists that the charms were for his protection, and now that they’ve been destroyed, there’s nothing to keep evil away from either of them….

Comments: This is only the third Horror Incorporated broadcast of Weird Woman, one of the better entries of the Inner Sanctum series (we’ve seen all of them on the show save Strange Confession). Weird Woman sports all the best-known hallmarks of the series: whispered stream-of-conciousness passages, a protagonist being aggressively courted by numerous women, and supernatural happenings that turn out to be nothing more than red herrings.

The movie is based on the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife, which was something of a satire on the backstabbing world of academia. Weird Woman undercuts the satire and shoehorns the witchcraft subplot into the Inner Sanctum template: it offers the promise of the supernatural just long enough to get the audience interested, then retreats to a conventional murder plot and an explained-away ending.

Norman Reed is a typical Inner Sanctum protagonist in that he’s a respected and self-confident professional who doesn’t seem to notice the gaggle of beautiful women who are inexplicably in love with him. Reed is apparently an anthropologist (it’s never stated explicitly) who travels the world to study the religious beliefs of technologically backward cultures; yet he has no respect for them, dismissing their beliefs as foolish superstition, something they should wise up and reject.

We’re told that Paula was a native of the island Reed was studying, and that she has abandoned her home and family in order to marry him, traveling halfway around the world to be a housewife in what must be to her a strange culture. Yet this sacrifice isn’t enough for him; he demands that she shed any trace of the culture she grew up in. The woman Reed demands she become is indistinguishable from Nona Carr or Evelyn Sawtelle or any of the other backbiting wives on campus, and it isn’t clear what attracted him to Paula in the first place. We don’t catch the slightest glimpse of Paula’s interior life, assuming she even has one; in fact, her decision to carry out pagan rituals turns out to be out of devotion to him, in order to protect him from the predations of others.

So vaguely identified is the south seas island Paula comes from that the screenwriters don’t bother to give it a name, and in fact “Paula” is her handle on the island as well as in the bucolic campus town she ends up in. Even by the standards of the 1940s Anne Gwynne could not be regarded as “exotic” in her looks, and she fortunately doesn’t attempt to adopt any sort of foreign accent.

I must pause for a moment to praise Inner Sanctum veteran Evelyn Ankers, whom I have derided many times for her forgettable performances. She is actually quite good as the conniving Nona Carr, and seems to be greatly enjoying driving men to suicide and plotting to ruin careers. It’s a shame she didn’t do more of that during her time at Universal.

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