Dracula's Daughter (1936) was produced by Universal Studios as a sequel to their smash hit Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi as the titular bloodsucker. Despite its ties to Dracula and its tenuous basis in Bram Stoker's short story "Dracula's Guest", Dracula's Daughter is perhaps best known as the first lesbian vampire film.
Gloria Holden stars as Countess Marya Zaleska, who claims to be...you know, the daughter of Count Dracula. When she learns that Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) has slain her vampire father, Marya is relieved- she's convinced that his death will mean her release from her insatiable bloodlust. She steals his body from the local morgue and burns it, thrilled at the prospect of being "free forever" and finally able to "live as a woman in the world of the living". Her manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel), however, convinces her that she will never be free from the curse; soon Zaleska prowls the dark streets of London once more, in search of victims. As her hope turns to despair, the Countess seeks the aid of psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) as attempts to pit "the strength of the human mind against the power of darkness".These obsessive desires of Zaleska can be viewed as veiled references to any number of things, including drug use and, yes, homosexuality. While Universal apparently acknowledged the hints of lesbianism (and even banked on it in the film's marketing campaigns- "Save the women of London from Dracula's Daughter!"), they are only that- hints. They're extremely subtle hints you have to keep your eyes peeled for as you bear in mind the period in which the film was made. There's no touching in the film- hell, Zaleska never bares fangs and any biting, if in fact there actually is any, occurs off-screen. The scene with the heaviest indicators occurs when the Countess brings a young girl, Lili (Nan Grey), back to her studio to "model" for a painting. Lili drops the shoulders of her dress as Marya attempts to bewitch her with her patented soulful gaze / sparkling ring combo; Lili grows uncomfortable and attempts to flee, but her fate has been sealed. Is she genuinely taken with Lili, or is she just a hungry vampire? After all, she also "seduces" male victims the same way. In a later scene, Zaleska almost puts the bite on Dr. Garth's assistant Janet (Marguerite Churchill), whom she's kidnapped- and who, it should be noted, does NOT willingly succumb to the Countess's charms. Zaleska slowly...slowly...SLOWLY inches closer to Janet's neck, but she's interrupted before there's any contact by the arrival of Garth who, incidentally, is the one the Countess longs to be with for eternity. This desire, however, is borne of a "cure me or be stuck with me forever" attitude rather than the experience of true love. So. Lesbian subtext? Sure, it's there if you're looking for it- which, umm, I suppose is why it's called "subtext". It's also more negative than it is steamy- don't forget, Zaleska needs to be cured of her "affliction".
Even if it weren't a film that provokes speculation and discussion, Dracula's Daughter would still be an enjoyable example of Universal's gothic horror. The streets of London are all cobblestones and shadows, while Zaleska's haunt is all shadows and cobwebs. Gloria Holden is appropriately mesmerizing as the Countess- her reluctance to play a role she feared would hinder her burgeoning career (as Lugosi complained of Dracula) informs her performance with a haughty discomfort that relays Zaleska's discomfort well. There's an ample amount of comic relief in the film, particularly early on when some cowardly cops have to deal with the bodies of Renfield and Dracula.
There's a terrific article and analysis of the film over at And You Call Yourself a Scientist!, which is where I got most of these awesome screencaps. Hat tip for the post title to Adam Ross of the late DVD Panache.