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Universal Classic Monsters: “Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948)

Abott & Costello

The end of an era. The final Universal Studios film to feature Count Dracula, The Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. Though this was a comedy starring the famed team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the plot is no more absurd than “House of Dracula,” while both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. play their signature parts straight, adding to the humor of the film. It’s so important in a horror / comedy for the monsters to remain scary.

It’s great to see Bela Lugosi return as Dracula. It’s hard to believe that he only played the count in two films as he is so identified with the role. And what of poor Lawrence Talbot? I thought he was cured of his lycanthropy in “House of Dracula?” I guess it was only temporary. Nobody plays torment like Lon Chaney Jr.. Glenn Strange may have more screentime as the Monster in this film than “House of Frankenstein” and “House of Dracula” combined. He even has a couple lines of dialogue.

Bud Abbot is caught up in a love triangle, but the monsters get in the way. Lawrence Talbot wants Abbott and Costello, who played a pair of dim witted baggage handlers, to assist him in his battle against Count Dracula. Even though Lawrence and Dracula only crossed paths briefly in “House of Dracula,” this film implied that they were sworn enemies. Actually, this may have been the first film to establish the vendetta between vampires and werewolves.

Count Dracula has arranged for the Monster to receive a new brain, which belongs to Bud Abbot. If only Fritz the hunchback hadn’t stolen the criminal brain seventeen years earlier. All the characters gather in a laboratory and all hell breaks loose. Dracula and the Wolf Man fall to their demise and the Monster gets burned on the docks. Abbott and Costello flee, then in a nice cameo, we hear yet another master of horror, Vincent Price voicing the Invisible Man.

Abbott and Costello would also meet Dr. Jekyll, played by Boris Karloff, and a mummy in the follow up films. Meanwhile, Universal Studios added one more classic monster to their stable in the 1950s, the Gill Man from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” in 1954. Luckily, all the classic monsters were not done for. They were merely dormant, waiting to be resurrected by Hammer Films.

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Universal Classic Monsters: “House of Dracula” (1945)

John Carradine as Dracula

Here we go again. Even though Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) were vanquished in “House of Frankenstein” a year earlier, they are both inexplicably resurrected for this third monster rally and coincidently arrive at the very same clinic in search of cures for their supernatural afflictions. Of course, this clinic is located in Vasaria. There seems to be a lot of villages called Vasaria in these movies.

Unlike all the mad scientists in the past, Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) is kind and sympathetic. He is the first doctor to have the common sense to not try and revive Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), who conveniently washed up in cave beneath the good doctor’s clinic. What are the odds? Lionel Atwill is again cast as an inspector and in a nice twist, the traditional hunchbacked assistant is now played by an attractive actress (Jane Adams).

Dracula does seem sincere in his intentions, but his lust for Doctor Edelmann’s other assistant (Martha O‘Driscoll) has him returning to his wicked ways and he infects Dr. Edelmann with vampire blood via a transfusion. Dr. Edelmann is able to stays sane long enough to destroy Dracula and cure Lawrence of his lycanthropy. A rare glimmer of hope for the Wolf Man.

Tainted blood of Dracula eventually morphs Dr. Edelmann into a “Jekyll & Hyde” type character and he goes on a rampage before reviving the Monster. The final scene of the laboratory burning to the ground was lifted from “Ghost of Frankenstein,” so that is Lon Chaney Jr. and not Glenn Strange thrashing in the flames. Though “House of Dracula” has some interesting variations of previously established hallmarks, overall it is not as fun as the previous monster rallies.

“House of Frankenstein” neglected any monster on monster action, but this film could have used some. John Carradine has more screentime as Dracula than he did in “House of Frankenstein,” but all the monsters played again second fiddle to a doctor. This was more acceptable when Boris Karloff filled that role, but this imitation Jekyll & Hyde character doesn’t quite measure up. It may have been different if Dr. Jekyll actually was a character in this film, but Universal didn‘t tackle Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation until “Abbott & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” in 1953. “House of Dracula” is probably my least favorite monster rally, save for poor Lawrence Talbot finally being liberated from his horrible curse… albeit temporarily.

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.