Universal Classic Monsters: “House of Frankenstein” (1944)

House of Frankenstein

Universal Studios was really starting to crank out monsters movies in the 1940s. This was the third consecutive film to feature the Frankenstein Monster, second in a row for the Wolf Man, and now Count Dracula was added to the mix. Working titles for this monster rally were “Chamber of Horrors” and “The Devil‘s Brood.”

Boris Karloff returns to the franchise that made him famous as Dr. Gustav Niemann, a deranged scientist who also claims to be the brother of an assistant to the original Dr. Frankenstein. It would have been more interesting if he was related to one of the bodies stolen by Dr. Frankenstein to create the Monster, explaining their uncanny resemblance. Dr. Niemann escapes from prison with a hunchback named Daniel, played by J. Carrol Naish. They murder and assume the identities of proprietors of a traveling chamber of horrors.

Dr. Niemann unintentionally resurrects Count Dracula, who is sadly not played by Bela Lugosi, but rather John Carradine. Carradine as the count is more subdued than Lugosi when trying to blend into society. He only reveals his true nature in private. It is in this first half of the film where Lionel Atwill pops up again as an inspector. Dracula and Dr. Niemann strike a bargain, but Niemann quickly betrays Dracula, causing Dracula to be disintegrated by sunlight when he cannot return to his coffin by dawn.

Dr. Niemann and Daniel continue to the village of Frankenstein to retrieve the Monster and the Wolf Man. This was a major continuity error as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” was set in Vasaria. They then travel to Vasaria, where Dr. Niemann’s laboratory is located. I guess one has to assume that the villages of Frankenstein and Vasaria are close enough that the mad scientist lairs can be zoned in either? This is another monster movie with an oddly touching subplot in which Daniel the hunchback falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl named Ilanka, played by Elena Verdugo, who is herself in love with Lawrence Talbot. What is it about Lawrence Talbot and his connection to gypsies? Lon Chaney Jr. is tragic as ever and is put out of misery when Ilanka shoots him with a silver bullet.

Glenn Strange plays the Monster for the first of three times. I really prefer Strange as the Monster when compared to Chaney Jr. and Lugosi in the previous two films. They were icons in their own right and looked peculiar with electrodes protruding from their necks. Boris Karloff was not well known before the first “Frankenstein” in 1931. The same can be said for Christopher Lee in Hammer Films’ “The Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957. Conversely, how bizarre was it for Robert De Niro to appear as the Monster in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel? It’s better to have a lesser known actor portraying the Frankenstein Monster, so the audience cannot look past the makeup.

“House of Frankenstein” was Boris Karloff’s swansong to the Universal Frankenstein franchise and it was a fitting finale. Karloff is dragged to his death by the Monster while being chased by angry villagers, reenacting Karloff and Colin Clive in the climax of the original “Frankenstein.” Karloff’s journey from monster to mad scientist had come full circle. Even though the film’s title, “House of Frankenstein” doesn’t make much sense as the primary location is Dr. Niemann’s laboratory, it is probably the most heralded of the monster rallies.

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About domcappelloblog

New York based screenwriter.

Posted on June 27, 2013, in Horror, Universal Classic Monsters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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