(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.)
House of Frankenstein is a sequel to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, which was Universal’s first monster pairing movie. This 1944 film is the first multi-monster movie for the studio. Erle C. Kenton directs this cash grab and it’s somehow based on a Curt Siodmak story with an Edward T. Lowe Jr. screenplay to grease the wheels.
By now, these sorts of “collection” movies are commonplace. There are superhero teams and crossovers and monsters have united on screen for some reason or another in a host of incarnations. But House of Frankenstein is one of the first kicks at the can, with original drafts of the screenplay calling for even more monsters and even more madness.
Boris Karloff stars as Dr. Gustav Niemann and J. Carrol Naish stars as Daniel, his hunchbacked assistant. Dr. Niemann escapes from prison and promises Daniel that he’ll make him into an Adonis using the research of one Dr. Frankenstein. But first, revenge. Dr. Niemann decides to track down the people that put him in prison and he meets Professor Lampini (George Zucco) and his circus sideshow.
This fortuitous event leads to the discovery of Count Dracula (John Carradine), who Dr. Niemann is able to revive by removing the stake. The mad scientist wants the Count to work as an instrument for his revenge, but nothing goes according to plan. Dr. Niemann and his hunchback continue to Castle Frankenstein, where they unearth the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and the Monster (Glenn Strange).
It’s tough to see the once-great monsters of Universal’s roster reduced to what happens in House of Frankenstein. Their histories are pointless, their powers are useless and they are all but forced to follow Dr. Niemann’s whims without rhyme or reason.
This accounts for the first chunk of the movie. The Count Dracula storyline feels like it belongs to another film, which almost suggests that House of Frankenstein is an anthology piece. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Dr. Niemann merely uses Dracula to get revenge on someone and Carradine puts on a nice suit to sleepwalk through a couple scenes. That’s it.
When the story rattles on from there, Naish’s hunchback takes over and falls in love with a gypsy girl named Ilonka (Elena Verdugo). He figures she’s into him after he saves her from a beating, but the Wolf Man arrives shortly after and she falls for ol’ Larry Talbot instead. This drives the hunchback crazy with jealousy, as he knows the Wolf Man is not a model love interest for Ilonka.
Naturally, she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about what the silly hunchback has to say and gets mad at him. She calls him names, thereby producing the movie’s biggest and best moment. Dear Ilonka, like many ill-fated women in cinema, believes she can save the Wolf Man from his curse.
House of Frankenstein has more to do with the hunchback and Karloff’s Dr. Niemann, with the collective of fiends playing supporting roles. Chaney, Jr. plays the doleful Wolf Man as is his wont, but there’s nothing to drive the pathos apart from his having been awoken from an icy nap. And Frankenstein’s monster has very little to do apart from driving things to their laboured conclusion.
House of Frankenstein promises that the brutes are “all together” in one big adventure, but that’s simply not the case. Those expecting to see the gang under one roof will have considerable disappointment to contend with, while those expecting a good movie are probably better left evaluating their expectations.
There is little else to say. While Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man at least attempted a story that connected its characters, Kenton’s movie is just an excuse that runs for an hour and 11 minutes. There are no fitting payoffs, no confrontations to cheer for, no moments of grandeur. House of Frankenstein features three monstrous afterthoughts, blundering around as shadows of their former selves. How sad.