31 Weeks to Halloween: The House of Frankenstein (1944)
Hordes of horror spawned by the devil... now all together in one horrific picture!
It's always a good weekend when we kick it off with a Frankenstein movie as a part of our 31 Weeks to Halloween countdown. But this week, things are a little extra awesome since the movie we're checking out - HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN - somehow contains not only the Monster, but Dracula, the Wolf Man, and even a mad doctor and a hunchback! It's pure monster mayhem as all five creatures have plenty of on screen time, and the plot creatively ties all of them together into a fantastic story. Monster mash-ups are always an absolute treat, and as we previously saw with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, it works so damn well bringing the beasts together on the big screen. The House of Frankenstein was destined for greatness as soon as the studio brought in the two legends of the classic monster movie genre: Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr! Although it was weird seeing Karloff in a Frankenstein movie and not playing the role of the monster, seeing him play a mad scientist is just as rewarding and enjoyable - honestly, the guy could do no wrong. And while the film is far from the most terrifying of the Universal Monster lineup, the sheer awesomeness of having all of these amazing actors playing such iconic roles together in the same film is just so good. It's definitely a little more of a lighthearted and sillier film than many others, but don't let that deter you from this essential classic horror viewing: The House of Frankenstein is honestly one of the best in the series and for good reason... it's the mashup of the century!
The film was written by Curt Siodmak (who also wrote the Wolf Man) and directed by Erle C. Kenton (who also directed Ghost of Frankenstein) and plays out as a sequel to both Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Son of Dracula - two films that were both released the earlier prior. In it, mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) and his hunchback assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) escape from jail and make a break for a new life. They stumble upon Professor Lampini's Chamber of Horrors - a terrifying traveling sideshow that was home to the skeleton of Count Dracula of Transylvania - and they kill Professor Lampini and hijack the show as a means of getting around. Long story short, Dracula rises from the dead after Dr. Niemann removes the stake from his heart in hopes he would kill Bürgermeister Hussman, the man who put him in jail. Later on in the story, the traveling horror show makes its way to Castle Frankenstein where Niemann hopes to find the notes of Dr. Frankenstein; Niemann hopes he can continue the doctors work. The duo find the Wolf Man and Frankenstein frozen in ice, and once thawed out, Larry Talbot - the Wolf Man - shows Niemann where Frankenstein's notes are. But instead of keeping his promises to both Talbot and Daniel to help give them new bodies and brains, Niemann becomes obsessed with utilizing Frankenstein's monster as a weapon against the men who wronged him and put him in jail. What follows is utter chaos as the Wolf Man is out running wild at night murdering townsfolk as Niemann works diligently on the Monster, hoping to create a revenge machine. Will the mad scientist Niemann be able to fully revive Frankenstein's Monster and use him as a tool for revenge? Will the Wolf Man ever be cured of his dreaded curse?! Find out in... THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN!
One of the only things that suck about this movie is the split it contains: Dracula is present in the first half of the movie, and the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster are in the second half. So while theatrical posters advertised that the monsters were "all together," they weren't truly all together in the same shot - although there's a small handful of shots where the two latter definitely are. I went into the film hoping to see some multi-monster action all at once and unfortunately you never get that, however, the creative plot cleverly places all of the creatures in just the right places, so they did a good job justifying why everyone wasn't just there together. But I still think it would have been bad-fucking-ass to have them all on screen raising a little hell together. For a time when many new films were very straight-forward and basic, The House of Frankenstein actually has a pretty in-depth and expansive storyline; there's a lot going on in this 71 minute movie! But like I said, the plot is really well written and well played out, and the acting in this movie is just impeccable; I think it was honestly one of the better acted films in the Universal Monster franchise up until this point. Daniel - the hunchback assistant to Niemann - is a very unsettling character due to his awkwardness and fascination with Ilonka, a dancing gypsy who joins their traveling party, and you can feel the tension in all of the scenes he's in. It's awesome.
The Monsters overall look great - Larry Talbot has a pretty fantastic transition scene into the dreaded Wolf Man, Count Dracula looks fucking spooky and evil and awesome, and Frankenstein's Monster looks good - maybe a little wonky in the face but honestly it could have been a lot worse. The Wolf Man definitely looks the best but Dracula's appearances on screen are probably my favorite. John Carradine has this amazing facial expression with wide eyes and raised eyebrows that make me both laugh and want to hide at the same time. With everyone looking great, the plot telling a great story and an ending that may not be the best but is far from the worst, The House of Frankenstein is absolutely a must-see, essential classic horror film for anyone who has an interest in the monsters!