House of Frankenstein (1944)

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*. This one should have been great. In a mere 71 minutes you get three classic Universal monsters (Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, and the Wolf Man), plus a mad scientist accompanied by a lovesick hunchback assistant.
*. But . . .
*. But it doesn’t come together. And by that I mean it doesn’t come together at all. None of the three monsters even meet! The plot to the monster mash that came before this, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, was a mess, but it was a model of coherence and structure compared to the script for this one.
*. Both movies split in two. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the first half is all about bringing the Wolf Man back to life, while the second half transports us to Visaria, Frankenstein’s castle, and a whole other story. Here the first part of the movie has the revival of Dracula, who is then surprisingly (and quite literally) dropped by the side of the road before we go back to Frankenstein’s castle (again) to find the other two monsters.
*. It’s interesting that in both movies the Lawrence Talbot/Wolf Man character is the main “monster,” but Frankenstein (who does little) gets top billing. I guess Frank’s name was still the one selling tickets.
*. Looking at the Monster and the Wolf Man thawing from their blocks of ice made me wonder if they were the inspiration for Hawks’s The Thing from Another World (1951). Maybe to some extent, but The Thing was based on a story published in 1938 which also had the alien thawing out from a block of ice, so really no.

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*. One really nice touch: as Dracula (John Carradine) awakens he licks his lips before his eyes open. Beautiful.
*. I didn’t like this one as much as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, perhaps because it was just so disjointed it started to seem wasteful. I mean, why even introduce Dracula and give him that cool mind-control ring? He has no part in the story at all. In fact, none of the monsters do. They just sort of hang around in the background while the mad Dr. Neimann (Boris Karloff) does his thing, which involves getting revenge on the burghers who put him away in prison years before.
*. I like Karloff, but this movie had to make up its mind to be about his character instead of seeming to lose its focus every five minutes or so. It’s like one of those later Marvel Universe films where they just keep adding more superheroes and villains into the mix while the stories get less and less interesting.
*. So it should have been better. Things move along at a frantic pace, but it’s mostly the same old touchstones. We see a couple of Wolf Man transformation scenes. There’s a lab scene full of climbing electric arcs and bubbling flasks and needles quivering into the danger zone. There’s a camp of gypsies and a mob of angry villagers waving torches and pitchforks. They even trot out that damn werewolf poem again, twice. The multiple brain transplant angle might have been interesting, but . . . it gets talked about but never happens. Even the ending is a dismal anti-climax. No fiery windmill or castle being destroyed “Dambuster”-style but only a slow sinking into the bog (and yes, Dr. Niemann, we know it’s quicksand).
*. They really couldn’t let things end like this. So they didn’t. Next stop on the back lot tour: House of Dracula!

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