Dracula’s Daughter was one of those movies I’d always heard everyone talk about but had never gotten around to watching until recently. It does have its strong points, but I can’t say I liked it all that well.
The thing is, as I stewed over this movie and picked it apart in my head, I realized something unintentionally sinister and a little disturbing about this film: Dracula’s Daughter is the perfect representation of the victimization of women.
Countess Marya Zaleska is a vampire. But how she became a vampire is a little nebulous. We are not led to believe that she was bitten. Her vampirism is due to the “influence of her father.” What this points to is long-term mental and emotional abuse. Zaleska’s father browbeat her into believing that she was a vampire and she had to drink blood to survive. Zaleska is not the typical vampire femme fatale we have come to expect. Vampirism was not her choice and not something she had embraced. She wants very much to be free of it.
The funeral pyre sequence supports this. She is desperate to get hold of her father’s body. She’s the only one who can do what needs to be done and what needs to be done is an exorcism. Through the ritual burning and prayers Zaleska is making sure Dracula is dead. Only when he is dead and can never, ever, come back can she sever the ties that bind them. She is exorcising the demon, her demon, in hopes of leaving that life behind.
But that’s not how family works. Daddy issues aren’t so easy to get rid of.
Here’s where things get really painful: She goes to Garth, a doctor (a psychiatrist, interestingly enough, not a doctor of the body, further suggesting that she was not bitten), for help. Garth insists she be upfront about what is troubling her. This makes sense. How can you treat a problem when you don’t know what it is?
Zaleska is too ashamed to tell him her problems. Why should she be? Because she knows how that will go. She tells the doctor she’s a vampire (tells the police she’s been raped). He doesn’t believe she’s a vampire (she just slept with some guy and regrets it so she’s accusing him of things). If she manages to convince Garth that she’s a vampire he will turn on her, assume she’s evil and should be destroyed (well, if you didn’t spend your nights running around like a whore this wouldn’t have happened to you so just accept the shame we’re going to heap on you).
When Zaleska refuses to tell Garth the problem he assumes that problem isn’t real (if you were raped, why didn’t you report it when it happened?). She just needs to exert some willpower and get over it.
But Zaleska does have a problem. She was abused. And she wants help so desperately she agrees to reveal the abuse.
And when she does, everyone – including the person she turned to for help – turns on her and destroys her. Just like she knew was going to happen.
She doesn’t go down without a fight, but it’s worth noting that she is not doing what her father did and destroying lives. She is using her powers to kidnap a man, drag him off and force him to help her. All she wants is to heal and she’ll force Garth to make the pain go away if she has to.
This movie gives a pretty bleak picture of what it’s like to be a victim of rape and abuse and that was not what I was expecting when I sat down to watch it. But Zaleska’s story is the story of millions of women throughout the world. Whether the movie supports or opposes this treatment of victims is hard to say, but it certainly exposes it to anyone willing to see it. Here’s hoping that we can look at the story of a fictional vampire and learn something from it.