A couple of policemen are investigating the old abbey, and discover a body at the bottom of a staircase, its neck recently broken. They are soon joined by a little old man who tells them that the person who killed him is now dead himself, because he is Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) and he has just driven a stake through the heart of Count Dracula. Despite his protestations that he has destroyed a vampire, he is arrested and taken to Scotland Yard where it is explained to him he will either be locked up in an insane asylum or hanged for murder. But what if there were another in the Dracula line...?
And what if she were his daughter? And what if she were played by Gloria Holden in her most famous role, such as it was? For some, no matter her haunted performance it will forever be a disappointment that Bela Lugosi was not asked back to reprise his most celebrated character and nothing in this sequel, which takes off immediately after the first film ended, really makes up for that. But what this did was bring out the sexuality in the vampire myth far better than the previous instalment had, and there are those who viewed the Countess's struggle with bloodsucking as a metaphor for lesbianism.
It's not a bad theory, but she does bite the necks of men as well so it's not entirely watertight. In effect, the Countess falls in love with a psychiatrist called Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) and views him as her personal saviour now that her corrupting father has died (well, he was already dead, but he's really finished now). She actually steals the body from under the noses of the police and builds her own funeral pyre, then makes her entrance in polite society, but not before her manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel, also a successful director) reminds her of where she came from.
And what, apparently, she can never completely eschew. The scenes with Holden are quite absorbing, watching her interact with the others is truly fascinating, especially when she is about to sink her fangs into someone. The film's most notorious sequence has Sandor bring home suicide-contemplating Lili (beautiful Nan Grey) from the streets under the pretence of posing as a model for one of the Countess's paintings (she's a cultured sort, you see - or she would like to be) only for her to be seduced, hypnotised and vampirised, all of which may not be explicit, but carries a sexual charge unusual for the era nonetheless.
However, bits of business like that are really only half the story because to unbalance that mood of encroaching doom and desperate longing there is quite some level of comic relief. Garth has a secretary/love interest in Janet (Marguerite Churchill), who provides supposed laughs in her light-hearted antics, such as phoning up Garth when he's at the Countess's home with a prank call. All very well, but it does render this film as two halves pulling in opposite directions. On the other hand, one pleasing aspect is that Van Helsing would have been treated as some kind of maniac in the real world with his preposterous stories, and it's only the fact that the vampirism is unstopped that saves him from incarceration. You may prefer Dracula's Daughter to the original, but really they're on a par with each other, with good and bad points to both.