Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WOMAN OF THE WEEK: Gloria Holden

"I am afraid, Sandor. The cravings within compel me to be the very thing I loathe. The power of the vampire is too strong to resist."

There are probably those who would best remember her as Alexandrine Zola in The Life of Emile Zola. But any horror fan worth his or her salt knows her best as the one and only Countess Marya Zaleska--otherwise known as Dracula's Daughter.

One of Universal's most underrated monster vehicles, this direct sequel to the original Bela Lugosi classic is made particularly memorable thanks to Holden's performance as the sympathetic spawn of Drac. Predating Anne Rice by 40 years, Holden's portrayal gives us what very well may be the screen's first vampire we actually feel a bit sorry for.

Not to mention the fact that in 1936, during a time when movie censorship was becoming so commonplace in Hollywood, Gloria Holden was able to pull off playing a character with overt lesbian overtones and get away with it. Don't believe me? Just watch the seduction scene in which she provokes an innocent young art model she's picked up off the streets to bare her neck in submission. Pretty steamy stuff for the day.

Interestingly, the filmmakers drive home Countess Zaleska's lesbian proclivities, making it clear that her primary quarry is, in fact, female victims. Much as male vampires hunt mainly female prey, with the obvious sexual overtones that go along with it, so too are Marya's nighttime activities about more than just blood.

Beautiful, regal and doomed, Gloria Holden is unforgettable in the part, even if it's an achievement she never equaled. Yet it's enough to place her right alongside the greats of the classic era of movie horror.

Ironically--since Lugosi never appears in Dracula's Daughter, despite the publicity photo above--Holden's film debut came two years prior in the Poverty Row Lugosi vehicle, The Return of Chandu. Throughout her career, into the 1940s, the British actress remained a fixture of B-movies, followed by a run of bit parts in the 1950s which continued until her retirement at the age of 50.

Interestingly, Gloria Holden also happens to be the grandmother of Laurie Holden, who has made a career for herself in genre entertainment as well, with recurring roles on The X-Files, plus supporting parts in Silent Hill and The Mist.


**Check out previous Women of the Week here.**

9 comment(s):

Tower Farm said...

Holden is so great in this movie. "Dracula's Daughter" is overall one of the best Universal sequels -- very dreamlike and certainly ahead of its time. I agree that Holden added a layer of pity that I don't think was there for vampire characters before her.
-Billy

musingcontinuum said...

She is just stunning, strong features, ivory skin, dark tresses... I want to be her when I grow up!

Ms Harker
www.musingcontinuum.wordpress.com

T.L Bugg said...

Holden is truly one of the pioneers of women in horror films, and this was a great overview of her most famous film and career.

B-Sol said...

Thanks Bug, always my pleasure to drop in on DoTW and class up the joint a little. ;-)

MonsterScholar said...

Though I adore Holden's performance as the doomed vampiress, the one thing I was disappointed by was the film's characterization of her as an egodystonic vampire/lesbian who must turn to psychiatry to "fix" her instead of finding power in her difference.

B-Sol said...

An interesting observation, and one which I can only attribute to the mores of the time. That said, I do think the film takes some bold chances.

AngieC said...

For some reason it is a common misconception that Holden is Laurie Holden's grandmother---this is absolutely, categorically, and completely untrue!! Gloria's ONLY child died in a car accident before Laurie Holden was born!! Gloria Holden had NO grandchildren!

micahc said...

I know this as well! Laurie Holden is NOT Gloria's grandchild. Christopher Hoyt, her ONLY child died in 1970, and those of us who knew him grieved and felt sorrow for his mother's loss.

For Laurie Holden and her late father to be lying about a non existent relationship is deplorable!

Anonymous said...

Her performance was so astounding in this movie. Reticent, deep and troubled. The slow arch of her brow, the dreamlike appearance of her eyes - she was perfect in this role.

DRACULA was a it stagy, and it could really have used a musical score beyond the opening. This sequel is much deeper, an eerie, moody insight into someone who was truly afflicted and conflicted by her own identity.

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