House of Frankenstein (1944) & House of Dracula (1945)

So Universal had gone through all the classic monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and the Wolf Man. Then they decided to mash the franchises together with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Then they figured “if two, why not three?” That’s where these movies come in. These are commonly referred to as the Universal “Monster Mash” movies. They have Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man all “mashed” together into one movie… and then another movie. Initially the Mummy was also going to appear in the film but they decided against it for budget reasons. (Anyway the Mummy was being played at the time by Lon Chaney Jr., who was already playing the Wolf Man.) So how do these films pan out? Are they franchise crossover successes or just lumbering clusterfucks?

House of Frankenstein (1944) – Boris Karloff returns to the Frankenstein franchise… but not as the Monster. Karloff is Dr. Gustav Niemann, a disgraced scientist who yearns to recreate the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein. When Niemann and his hunchbacked friend daniell (J. Carrol Naish) escape from prison, they steal the wagon of a travelling horror show featuring the skeleton of Count Dracula. Soon, they are able to resurrect the famed vampire (John Carradine) and use him to exact revenge on Niemann’s old foes. Ol’ Drac isn’t around too long though and soon they discover the frozen Wolf Man Larry Talbot (Chaney) and Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). Also they meet a gypsy dancer (Elena Verdugo) who Daniel falls in love with, but she has eyes for everyone’s favorite suicidal lupine Larry Talbot. Love triangles and a whole lot of talk about putting people’s brains in other people’s bodies ensues.

House of Dracula (1945) – Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) works with his two assistants, Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) and the hunchbacked Nina (Jane “Poni” Adams). Count Dracula (Carradine again) comes to Edelmann as part of his rather uncharacteristic quest to have his vampirism cured (also there may be an ulterior motive). For a movie that has his name in the title, he doesn’t stick around long. Shortly thereafter Larry Talbot (Chaney as always) comes ‘round seeking a way to die. Instead Edelmann offers to try to find a cure for his extreme lycanthropy. Oh, also they find Frankenstein’s Monster (Strange again). Um… stuff happens. This movie also features an actor named Skelton Knaggs as a suspicious villager, who may be one of the creepiest-looking actors in any of these damn movies. Lionel Atwill also co-stars, which means he may have played more characters in Universal Horror films than Chaney…

Well, neither of these movies are very good. They drag in the pacing and Dracula’s presence seems superfluous, though it does lead into the plot point of (spoiler alert) Dr. Edelmann getting infected with vampire blood. Resulting from his minimal presence, Carradine doesn’t make too much of an impression. He does do that “otherworldly” vibe pretty well but he doesn’t embody the character in any particularly memorable way. Glenn Strange is a competent Monster. He doesn’t bring the depth Karloff did and playing opposite Karloff himself merely reminds you of that fact. Plus, it may just be me, but his make-up seems off. Chaney’s tortured Talbot is just starting to get whiny at this point, though it was nice to see (spoiler alert) Larry finally get cured at the end of House of Dracula. Poor guy went through a lot, nice that it’s over. Anyway, The “monster mash” formula diminishes the strengths of the classic monster characters by short-changing them all in terms of development and screen time. Karloff and Stevens do the whole mad scientist thing well enough, but they can’t save these stupid movies. It would be a couple years before Universal found two leads who would…

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