Tuesday, September 15, 2015

House Of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Frankenstein
Director:  Erle C Kenton
Starring:  Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, J Carrol Naish, Anne Gwynne, Elena Verdugo, Lionel Atwill
Rating:  "Approved"

Talbot's body is the perfect place for the monster's brain that I will add to and subtract from in my experiments.

                       ~Dr. Gustav Niemann

After the very successful Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, Universal decided "Dudes, lets put even MORE monsters together in a movie!"  This began the final part of this cycle which were referred to as the "Monster Rally" films.  You got one movie, but all your favorite monsters appeared in them.  This was The Avengers team up before it became a thing.  Rather than be a build up to something like that, this was a method of trying to craft some longevity and breath new life into the monster movies.  This first one would see the return of Count Dracula (though still not Lugosi), The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, a mad scientist and a hunch back.  I kinda feel like the latter two are a bit of stretching it, but damn that poster sells them, doesn't it.  Essentially now we have this as Frankenstein 6, The Wolf Man 3 and Dracula 4 (Yes, I'm keeping track).
Now, this movie once again feels as if its two films.  The first half is very much a standalone piece in its own right.  There is a set of characters who pretty much come and go and are finished at the halfway point never to return again.  This starts with our main character Dr. Gustav Niemann and his hunch back associate breaking out of prison in hopes of learning Dr. Frankenstein's secrets.  They wind up murdering a travelling horror side show guy and taking over his carriage.  This is where Dracula makes his return in the form of the third actor to play him.  John Carradine fills the role and he's okay, but there's not much to go on.  The previous year he had been played by Lon Chaney Jr. (I WILL PLAY EVERY MONSTER), but due to the fact that he was returning as the Wolf Man here, he couldn't do the dual role thing.  This story is decent and much more interesting than the first half of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, but it would have been nice to have tried to weave Dracula in with the other monsters instead of being the introduction monster and stand alone.
The Monster in the film marks the debut of Glenn Strange in the role.  He ties Karloff in the Universal realm of playing him three times.  Strange is decent in the shoes and electrodes, but there's not much here.  The Monster is pretty much frozen in ice or tied to a table until the final minutes of the movie.  He's used as a big climactic reveal/conflict in the movie instead of being a prime player.  More of an instrument of destruction than anything.  Even though the film's title is House of Frankenstein, this is more of a Mad Scientist Meets The Wolf Man, But Not After Meeting Dracula First movie.  I get it though, the Frankenstein name is the one you use to put the butts in the seats as it was the most popular of the series.
Boris Karloff was a huge added bit of value to the film.  He returns to the series that made him famous, but not as the monster, in a very human role.  And he is such a joy to watch her as Dr. Niemann.  You can also tell that Karloff is delighted to be there and having plenty of fun in the role.  He's pretty vile and quite clever.  I also love that Karloff isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.  You can clearly see that it is him during scenes like the prison escape and then again with the monster carrying him in the finale through the "Quicksand!"
Once again, this feels more like a guest spot for the monster, but honestly he had been given more movies and more spotlight than the others at this point.  And had the previous film not taken away his ability to speak, he might have been easier to factor in for the screenwriters.  We do get more Larry Talbot which is a plus because Chaney is so great in the role.  They even throw a love triangle in the mix with Talbot, a gypsy woman and the hunch back, which starts a domino fall to everyone's demise in the end.  I'm not sure either, but this may be the introduction of the silver bullet into the vampire lore (Silver was already a thing, but I'm not sure the bullet form had come around yet).  
While light on the monster, House of Frankenstein is still a very fun movie.  Its neat to see all of these monsters share the same world and the same film.  People leaving this film back in the day must have been having conversations about how the other monsters in Universal's arsenal could fit into a movie.  These rally films were quite popular back in the day.  People loved them.  And I also think this film is a lot of fun and each monster in it does get to do the things they do best, even if none of them do battle.

NEXT TIME: Dracula gets home court.

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