Friday, October 26, 2007

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

How do you top putting two monsters together in one movie? Universal puts five horrors all in one picture in "House of Frankenstein" (1944) a more entertaining entry in the waning franchise. Again, like "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" this is more of a sequel to "The Wolf Man" than the Frankenstein movies. In this one the Frankenstein monster and the Wolfman are joined by Dracula, a murderous hunchback and a mad scientist.

Boris Karloff returns to the franchise, not as the monster, but Dr. Neimann, the brother of a former Frankenstein assistant. Now in prison for putting the brain of a man into the body of a dog earlier, he and the hunchback, Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) escape from prison, and assume the identities of the owners of a travelling carnival show who's wares include the skeleton of Count Dracula (John Carradine). Neimann uses Dracula to enact an act of vengeance on his behalf, then adandons the vampire to pursuing police and the rays of the rising sun, which destroy Dracula. Daniel rescues a beautiful gypsy girl (Elena Verdugo) from a beating and becomes infatuated with her. Neimann and Daniel looking for Frankenstein's notes in the ruins of his castle, come upon the frozen bodies of the monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.). They revive them. Daniel jealous of the attention that his gypsy girl is giving to the Wolfman's human persona, Lawrence Talbot, asks Neimann to make him into a normal man using Frankenstein's techniques. Talbot wants Neimann to cure him. Neimann has his own agenda which involves swapping the brains of men he holds a grudge against with those of the monsters, leading to a climax of death and mayhem.

Amazingly, this movie holds together pretty well considering the plot is all over the place, really a series of strung together episodes more than an overall arc. What really makes this movie work is the performances. Karloff makes a terrific mad, and dangerous scientist. Chaney, while still a lot more morose than he was in "The Wolf Man" isn't as whiny as he was in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman." Verdugo makes for a sweet, innocent love interest for Daniel, as well as the perfect person to help Talbot come out of his shell a bit. Lionel Atwill returns as another police inspector, and horror mainstay George Zucco, both have brief, but well realized roles. Carradine makes for a suave, energetic Dracula. The stand out performance here goes to naish as Daniel. Yes, he's a murderoud pawn of Neimann, but he's also a very sympathetic character, and you really feel his heartbreak and anguish as he realizes that the gypsy girl will never be his, and watches as she attaches herself to Talbot.

Unfortunately, there's even less monster vs monster action in this m ovie than there was in "Frankenstein vs the Wolfman." In fact there's none. Dracula is out of the picture before either the Wolfman or the Frankenstein monster make an appearance. The Wolfman has all of his interactions with anonymous villagers and the gypsy girl. The Frankenstein monster, played by Glenn Strange, would become the most popularly used rendition of the monster in terms of licensed items, though mosttly due to his performance in "Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein" than in this movie where he spends most of the time strapped to a table. In the final minutes he does break free, throwing Daniel through a window and carrying Neimann off to a pool of quicksand, but that's about it.

Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, and the Wolfman, all return in "House of Dracula" (1945) a poor entry in the franchise and the film that would bring an end to Universal studios first batch of horror films and the iconic monsters that starred in them.

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