HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN(director: Erle C. Kenton; screenwriters: Edward T. Lowe/story by Curt Siodmak; cinematographer: George Robinson; editor: Phil Cahn; music: Hans Salter; cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Gustav Niemann), J. Carrol Naish (Daniel), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Lawrence Stewart Talbot), John Carradine (Count Dracula), George Zucco (Prof. Bruno Lampini), Anne Gwynne (Rita Hussman), Peter Coe (Carl Hussman), Sig Rumann (Burgomaster Hussman), Elena Verdugo (Ilonka), Michael Mark (Frederick Strauss), Frank Reicher (Ullman), Glenn Strange (Frankenstein Monster), William Edmund (Feyos); Runtime: 71; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Malvern; Universal; 1944)
“The horror story makes absolutely no sense, but it is so nutty that it makes for a diverting watch.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Universal was pleased with the box office returns of its offshoot horror sequel of two studio monsters mixing it up in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, so it upped the prize in its second sequel by adding Dracula to the monster mix. The horror story makes absolutely no sense, but it is so nutty that it makes for a diverting watch. George Robinson’s stylish camerawork greatly helps, and the addition of John Carradine as Count Dracula is smashing–though he departs too soon from the fray. Director Erle C. Kenton wisely keeps to the now familiar storyline and battles to keep it from straying too far off course into camp. How this mess worked out so well, is perhaps a minor miracle.
The film opens as lightning snaps open the cell of the mad Dr. Gustav Niemann (Karloff), convicted of performing unauthorized experiments on the dead in imitation of Dr. Frankenstein. He escapes from Neustadt Prison along with his menacing hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish). The unholy duo come across the traveling caravan of carnival impresario Professor Bruno Lampini (George Zucco), which features a Chamber of Horrors containing the skeleton of Count Dracula in a coffin with a stake in his heart. Niemann is bent on getting revenge on the three men responsible for sending him to prison Burgomaster Hussman (Sig Ruman), Ullman (Frank Reicher) and Frederick Strauss (Michael Mark), and asks Lampini to drive to Reigelberg. When he refuses Niemann orders Daniel to snuff him, and they steal the identies of Lampini and his assistant while stealing their caravan. Daniel has been promised by Niemann that as soon as they get the records of Dr. Frankenstein his back will be straightened out, as he will then have all the info he needs to carry on Dr. Frankenstein’s legacy.
In Reigelberg, Niemann and Dracula make a pact that will benefit both parties–the doctor removes the stake and gets the coffin ready for Dracula to return every daybreak and in return Dracula will murder Burgomaster Hussman. In the film’s best scenes Dracula disguises himself as a baron and joins the Burgomaster, his grandson Carl (Coe), and his flighty American wife Rita (Gwynne) for a night of wine drinking. After accomplishing his mission and luring Rita to join him through the powers of his magical ring, he’s overtaken in his getaway stage by the police and turns into a skeleton before he can return to the safety of the coffin.
Niemann drives on to Visaria and the castle of Frankenstein without Dracula, and on the way takes along a gypsy dancer, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), who was rescued by the smitten Daniel when she was beaten by the gypsy leader of another caravan. Niemann discovers in the castle ruins the frozen bodies of the Wolf Man, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), and the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange). He revives them, plotting an insane revenge of transplanting his captive enemies’ brains and body parts into the monsters. But things begin to go awry when Ilonka falls for the troubled but handsome Talbot, which drives Daniel insanely jealous. When the doctor shows no willingness to help his ugly servant get Ilonka back– he’s only interested in reviving the two monsters and continuing with his research now that he has Dr. Frankenstein’s records–the stage becomes set for the hunchback to turn on his master. In the closing act, the crazed Niemann tries to escape from the ensuing townies by wrongly choosing to cross over quicksand.
Karloff might have revived Frankenstein and the Wolf Man from their frozen states, but couldn’t revive the story from that point on. It was just a matter of time before everything went down in the quicksand. But it was entertaining, though a far comedown in value from the original 1931 films of The Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein.
REVIEWED ON 3/1/2004 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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