From the Facebook event page:
Who doesn’t love a lesbian vampire movie? Decades before Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers (1970), Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness (1971) or Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (1983), the original Sapphic glamour ghoul was Dracula’s Daughter (1936)! Embracing the macabre spirit of Halloween, on 17 October Lobotomy Room presents this compelling classic from the same cycle of 1930s Universal Pictures horror masterpieces that includes Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931) and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Accompanied by her faithful hunchbacked assistant, mysterious and wraith-like Hungarian Countess Marya Zaleska (portrayed by the morbidly beautiful Gloria Holden, sporting a dramatic wardrobe of capes and gowns) arrives in London following the death of her father Count Dracula. Offered a glass of sherry, the Countess quotes her late father (“Thank you. I never drink . . . wine”). Before long she’s leaving a trail of drained corpses in her wake! The most elegantly Art Deco of vampire films, Dracula’s Daughter is the ideal choice to watch over cocktails at Fontaine’s.
Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specialising in the kitsch, the cult and the queer! Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. We can accommodate thirty people maximum on film nights. Arrive early to grab a seat and order a drink!
So, is Dracula’s Daughter the original lesbian vampire movie? Let’s have a heated debate! The strictly-enforced prudish Hollywood Production Code of the era means Countess Zaleska’s lesbianism can only be implied (overt depictions of homosexuality were strictly verboten), but the queer implication is there if you want it to be! Certainly, the scene where she hypnotizes (or should that be “seduces”) helpless female victim Lili – the Countess’ dark glistening eyes seemingly bulging with desire - is tense and seething with suppressed sensuality. All these decades later, it still feels forbidden and taboo! Not for nothing does Bright Lights Film Journal praise Countess Zaleska as “an impressive Euro-butch dyke bloodsucker”, further arguing “modern audiences will respond to Holden’s striking, mask-like face and haunting, luminous eyes as the intoxicating essence of transgressive lesbian power.” Countess Zaleska’s DNA circulates in all subsequent cinematic lesbian vampiresses, from Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness (1971), to Celeste Yarnall in The Velvet Vampire (1971) to Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (1983).
/ Above: Nan Grey as Lili and Gloria Holden as Countess Zaleska /
/ Above: Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness (1971). Below: Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (1983) /
Dracula’s Daughter wasn’t a commercial success in 1936 and is considered the last in the cycle of iconic 1930s Universal horror movies that include stone-cold masterpieces like Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man. Universal wouldn’t risk another horror film again until 1943 (with Son of Dracula). It didn’t help that apparently the film went wildly over budget during production. Certainly the luxe production values show onscreen (Dracula’s Daughter is the most sumptuously Art Deco of 1930s horror films).
One weird and noteworthy thing: the action in Dracula’s Daughter is meant to pick up exactly where the original Dracula (1931) finished – but that film was set in the 19th century and this one is clearly set in 1930s!
Dracula’s Daughter isn’t “perfect” by a long shot. Who knows what might have happened if original choice James Whale (1889 - 1957) – the true, inspired poet of the horror genre responsible for Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - had directed it instead of the merely competent Lambert Hillyer (1893 - 1969). It must be said, an attendee at the film club at Fontaine’s complained afterwards that Dracula’s Daughter wasn't remotely scary. Its second half hurtles towards an abrupt, unsatisfying conclusion. The weakest bits: the gratingly unfunny scenes of “comic relief” (which most Universal horror films include for some reason) and the totally unengaging love story subplot (I doubt you will care much if the couple in question get together!). That’s not to suggest Dracula’s Daughter doesn’t exert its own perverse, cobwebbed allure. The segments with Countess Zaleska and her creepy loyal assistant Sandor in her shadowy lair are magnificent. (I’m not sure why I described Sandor as “hunchbacked” in the event page – he isn’t! He’s played by the ever-intense Irving Pichel (1891 - 1954) with a severe centre-parting, flared nostrils and Cossack-style tunics. Pichel was great at essaying sinister roles like this (I love him menacing Tallulah Bankhead in The Cheat (1931)).
Another aspect in its favour: it’s been noted that Dracula’s Daughter is perhaps the original “psychological horror film”. The tormented Countess Zaleska is a reluctant vampire who believes she is “cursed” and seeks psychiatric help to “cure” her compulsive vampirism. In this respect, the plot strongly anticipates Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942).
One thing to watch for: Countess Zaleska meets socialite Lady Esme Hammond at a high society cocktail party – who’s played by Hedda Hopper (1885 – 1966) before she became a much-feared show business gossip columnist! (Anyone who watched Feud: Bette & Joan needs no introduction to the gleefully malicious Hopper). In the same scene: when offered a glass of sherry, the Countess memorably quotes her father (“Thank you. I never drink . . . wine”).
Best of all, Countess Zaleska is unforgettably portrayed by London-born actress Gloria Holden (1903 – 1991). This was Holden’s one big starring role (it’s like she emerged from nowhere to play it, and then vanished there again) and she reportedly accepted it only warily, fearing she would get typecast in nothing but horror films afterwards. (With some justification, Holden probably saw Bela Lugosi’s post-Dracula career as a cautionary tale). She was probably right to be cautious: if you look at Holden’s filmography on Wikipedia, she continued to work steadily in films right up until her retirement in 1958 (so for more than two decades after Dracula’s Daughter) but never again in a glamorous lead role like this. Still, if this was Gloria Holden’s sole shot at a starring vehicle, she could have done infinitely worse. She plays the title character, gets beautiful shimmering close-ups (the camera is mesmerised by the angular, unconventionally beautiful Holden’s cadaverous pallor, dark eyes, strong jaw and high cheekbones) and wears a spectacular wardrobe of hooded cloaks and batwing-sleeved gowns (check out the “bandage dress” midway through the film). Holden imbues the tragic Countess with a mournful Garbo-like quality. Her performance is genuinely haunting and memorable.
/ Below: "She gives you that weird feeling!" Some of the strikingly beautiful 1930s posters promoting Dracula's Daughter. These images are so powerful it could be argued the actual film itself could never possibly live up to them! /
/ It's worth pointing out that Gloria Holden wasn't the first actress to play Dracula's daughter onscreen: one year earlier, Carroll Borland portrayed Luna Mora, the daughter of Bela Lugosi's Count Mora in Mark of The Vampire (1935).
Further Lobotomy Room dates for your social calendar - now that you're in a Halloween frame of mind! Friday 26 October 2018!
It’s creepy and it’s kooky … mysterious and spooky … it’s all together ooky … it’s the Lobotomy Room Halloween dance party! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll on Friday 26 October at the punkiest, Cramps-iest, kitschiest low-brow Halloween bash this accursed month! Downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston’s most unique nite spot!).
Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Campy 1950s and 60s Halloween novelty songs played LOUD, with added Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities! Think John Waters soundtracks and Songs The Cramps Taught Us! Vintage horror films played on the big screen all night!
Featuring special guests:
Hailing from New Zealand, instrumental electric guitar duo SPARKLING DUET (the Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of Stoke Newington!) will be playing a special Halloween preternatural edition of their show, covering classic and obscure 50’s and 60’s surf, psych, exotica and rockabilly tunes with a haunted twist!
AND conjuring 1950s platinum blonde bad girls like Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren - burlesque showgirl deluxe, TRIXIE MALICIOUS!
Fontaine’s special Halloween-themed cocktail menu available on the night!
Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!
In August I spoke my brains to To Do List magazine about the wild, wild world of Lobotomy Room, the monthly cinema club – and my lonely one-man mission to return a bit of raunch, sleaze and “adult situations” to London’s nightlife! Read it - if you must - here.
Listen to my Halloween playlist on Spotify!