House of Frankenstein

1944, US, Directed by Erle C Kenton

Black & White, Running Time: 67 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Universal, Video: 1.33:1, Audio: Mono

The badly edited trailer promised us not three, not four, but five times the terror this time around: aside from Frankenstein‘s creation, the wolf man, and Dracula (Glenn Strange, Lon Chaney, John Carradine respectively) being brought together there was also a ‘mad scientist’ (Boris Karloff as Niemann) and assisting ‘hunchback’ (Carroll Naish), though the latter wasn’t really abominable, just a little mixed up and easily influenced. It’s almost like an anthology film of two halves rather than one complete movie, the first half even boasting its own climactic chase and miniature happy ending. A distantly related associate of the Baron, Dr Niemann, is rotting in prison when a violent storm allows him and devoted hunchback Daniel to escape. Concealing themselves by hijacking a travelling horror show (the owner claiming that he has Dracula’s skeletal remains inside) and killing its owner they head off to reap revenge on those that helped convict Niemann. He decides to enlist Dracula’s help and extracts the stake that was rammed into the vampire’s heart aeons before. Dracula does his bidding but is betrayed by Niemann and Daniel while attempting to make his way back to his coffin, thus sunlight destroys him. Travelling to ‘Visaria’ (an altered spelling on the previous entry) to sort out the others Niemann also sees his chance to satisfy a long term interest in furthering Frankenstein’s experiments when they find the monster frozen in ice beneath some ruins, along with the body of the wolf man. Having picked up a gypsy girl the besotted Daniel is interested in having his brain inserted into the body of Talbot, who the gypsy girl quite fancies, while Talbot wants his brain put into another body so he doesn’t have to suffer eternal nights of hairy rambling and killing, but Niemann wants to implant the brains of his adversaries into the monster and wolf man to punish them, so it gets a little complicated with whose brain is supposed to be going where! Needless to say, it ends with an angry mob of villagers as well as complete demolition of any stone structure within close proximity.

C'mon smile, Wolfie!

It’s hard to believe they cram so much into sixty seven minutes, particularly when the monster and werewolf have yet to make an appearance by the half hour mark. Dracula doesn’t actually encounter the other two as his presence occupies the first segment before Niemann and Daniel make way to Visaria to free the others. I do find it strange that the monster is found in exactly the same state as he was in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (frozen in ice) and is broken free for exactly the same reason (to help someone find the baron’s scientifically revelatory notes) - either exceedingly coincidental or just plain unimaginative. As expected, Larry Talbot is not happy about being woken from limbo once again. In fact he’s not happy about anything but it only takes a woman to put a smile on his face (with great effort admittedly) and the gypsy girl is it this time around, much to Daniel’s chagrin. Hunchback Daniel is really a touching character, managing to elicit a surprising degree of sympathy as he foolishly attempts to befriend the gypsy girl only for her to realise he’s deformed as he moves into view, later on becoming jealous as the girl and Talbot spend increasing amounts of time together. Though good looking the girl is hardly mature and a coquette by nature, becoming quite cruel to Daniel when angered that he’s revealed Talbot’s curse to her. Carradine’s debut as the count is good; he certainly makes a better Dracula than Chaney himself did a year or so before. The eloquent actor has such an oddly narrow face that he almost demonstrates a bewitching physical presence which itself is part of the count’s own essence. I much prefer Strange’s rendition of the monster compared to the preceding attempts too (the exception being Karloff of course).

 

By combining existing creations in this fashion and exhuming some already tired ideas that had been previously explored by themselves on numerous occasions, Universal’s film-makers were boasting little imagination or understanding of how to push the genre forward. However, they still managed to produce an entertaining movie and this fast paced ensemble with trappings and clichés intact provides a good time for the viewer, hence it’s difficult to complain.

5 Responses to “House of Frankenstein”

  1. livius Says:

    I also thought Carradine made a good and creepy Dracula here and I’m glad he was retained for HoD. Really makes you wish he had been cast in ‘Son of Dracula’, doesn’t it? I guess Chaney’s name was always going to pull in a bigger audience, but still…

  2. Laughing Gravy Says:

    After FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, Universal commissioned a script called THE WOLF MAN VS. DRACULA, but the censors nixed it because the Wolf Man was the hero and you can’t have a monster be the hero. In lieu of that, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (working title: THE DEVIL’S BROOD) was rather hastily put together. Boris Karloff, hot off Broadway’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, was given a generous contract to return to Universal for this and THE CLIMAX. Portions of the WOLF MAN VS. DRACULA script were salvaged for the next one in the series, HOUSE OF DRACULA, which got around the “Wolf Man as hero” problem by curing him of his lycanthropy. In response to an earlier question, the various Mummy sequels are fun little B-movies, but don’t watch ‘em all at once. You’ll especially enjoy THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), a comedy-horror film with genuine moments of terror… check out Kharis’ eyes! *shudders*

  3. paulwjm Says:

    Thanks for the supporting historical detail, Gravy. I’m thinking about those Mummy movies too!
    I agree with you about Carradine, Colin - in fact I believe he appeared in a Frank. movie previous to this: as one of hunters who discover the monster with the blind man in Bride… He certainly had an unusual look about him and it suited the Dracula role no doubt.

  4. Paul Hickling Says:

    Don’t just think about getting the other Legacy Collections paulwjm, do it! They’re all great value, I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across them. Been a Universal horror fan since I was at primary school, and love ‘em to bits. Apart from the sheer amount of films and documentaries, they’re put together with care and come up with one or two nice surprises. Never seen the (Black Lagoon)creature sequels before or even heard of The She-Wolf of London. All the collections are well worth getting if you’ve even a passing interest in this part of movie history. As for the british releases, what a joke!

  5. paulwjm Says:

    Hi Paul. I’ve got the majority of them in the UK box actually (the one with the busts), which I didn’t mind buying because the omissions were movies I wasn’t too bothered about. There are one or two gems in there I’d never seen before (e.g. Werewolf of London) and one or two I can barely stand (She Wolf of London!), but I’m happy with it. The missing Mummy sequels I’ll probably rectify with the US Mummy set but the Creature and Invisible sequels I think I can live without :)

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