(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
The first of Universal’s ensemble monster movies is Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, a frenetic piece of work from director Roy William Neill. This 1943 flick counts as the fifth of the Frankenstein outings and the sequel to 1941’s The Wolf Man. As the title might suggest, it flings the two monsters together in an epic showdown for the ages.
The casting here is interesting. Lon Chaney, Jr. essentially has the starring role as Larry Talbot, the lycanthrope who just wants to die. Astute fans will note that Chaney, Jr. suited up as Frankenstein’s Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, but this time out it’s Bela Lugosi who does the honours. Considering that Lugosi was also in Ghost as Ygor, it’s a bit of a trip to see him as the Monster.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man begins with grave robbers unearthing Larry (Chaney, Jr.) on the night of a full moon. Naturally, this brings poor Larry back to life. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with him. He heads to the Gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) for assistance and she tells him that she may have an answer that requires a little journey to Frankenstein’s castle.
Larry and the Gypsy aren’t treated well by the villagers, who don’t take too kindly to people asking about Frankenstein for obvious reasons. Frustrated, Larry eventually finds the Monster (Lugosi) in the remnants of the castle. He also locates Baroness Frankenstein (Ilona Massey), who may or may not have access to the family notes. There’s also a mad doctor (Patric Knowles) who generally screws it all up.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is not the sort of movie one thinks about a great deal, even if it does boast a pretty damn good Chaney, Jr. performance. He wanders around as the tortured Wolf Man and he just wants to die. He wants to be released from the curse at any cost and he’s willing to go to extreme measures to do so.
Chaney, Jr. steals every scene with the pure melancholy of his character. He’s a desperate man and this is illustrated clearly when he freaks out during a happy little folk song. He can’t understand why anyone would want to live. When Frankenstein’s Monster rears its ugly head, Larry has a transitory purpose and maybe even a conduit to release.
But Knowles’ Dr. Mannering botches everything with his powerful desires. He can’t resist the lure of the Monster, can’t resist wanting to see it at full strength. This takes him down a dangerous path, which in effect forces the clash everyone wants to see. The Wolf Man squares off against the Monster in the castle, hoping to settle the score once and for all.
Lugosi as the Monster is a letdown. He lacks the grand presence of a Karloff or a Chaney, Jr., plus issues with the script leave out the reason for his stiff style of walking. Curt Siodmak’s screenplay initially had the Monster speaking throughout the movie, but test audiences reacted poorly to the voice and those scenes were dumped.
The problem is that this snappy bit of nonsense leaves quite a few holes in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. For one thing, Lugosi’s Monster is only on screen for a few minutes. He terrorizes some villagers, stumbles around with his arms out, moves his lips without words coming out, fights the hairy dude. That’s about it. For another, there’s no explanation to his apparent blindness.
Somehow, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man manages to entertain. Perhaps it’s just the pure childlike glee that permeates the movie. Perhaps it’s the clanking, rattling design. Perhaps it’s the fun of seeing the Wolf Man rolling around on the floor with the Monster. Or perhaps it’s Chaney, Jr. himself, pervading everything with those sad, sad eyes and that need to just bloody well die once and for all.