A more jaded man than I could suggest that Universal’s plan to start merging their horror characters into one big story like a giant, gothic blender was nothing more than a desperate ploy to keep their monstrous mob relevant and profitable – however, my counter argument would simply be this: fuck you, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is goddamn awesome and you goddam know it.
True, it seems arguably like a business ploy to keep their characters relevant after a decade of chasing people around dusty crypts, but let’s not forget that Lon Chaney Jr.’s moping Wolf Man only debuted two years earlier and FMTWM plays chiefly as a direct sequel to his first movie while also keeping the continuity from 1942’s Ghost Of Frankenstein surprisingly intact in story and characters, if not in casting…
So charge up your neck bolts and soak up that full moon, because for the first time ever, the Universal Monsters are sharing their universe.
Four years after emotional sad sack Lawrence Talbot was shot dead by his father to cure his terminal case of snarling lycanthopy, his body is disturbed by grave robbers who have weirdly chosen to loot his corpse 48 months after being stuffed into the family crypt. However, as they remove the bundles of wolf’s bane that packs the coffin, a quick blast of moonlight brings Talbot back to life who doesn’t regain his senses until he finds himself in a hospital in Dublin like the aftermath of some messed up bachelor party.
Dr. Frank Mannering treats the wreck of a man but the authorities are sceptical at Lawrence’s claims that he’s a man who publically snuffed it years ago, however when the moon pops back up, Talbot does his monster thing, scrambles out into the street and noshes on an unlucky constable. Realising that he can no longer die – which is all the notoriously depressed Talbot desperately wants – our hero seeks out the old gypsy woman who’s werewolf son infected him in the first place and the two go on a road trip across Europe (no, really) in order to seek out the journal of Dr. Frankenstein in the hope they’ll something that will kill or cure Larry outright.
After understandably pissing off the traumatised village people by asking about Frankenstein (plus wolfing out and eating a serving girl couldn’t have helped either), Talbot discovers the Monster frozen in a block of ice and enlists the powered down hulk to aid him search for what he needs, but the key to everything turns out to be Elsa, the original Frankenstein’s granddaughter, who is aware of her family’s legacy which has also claimed her father and uncle. As Talbot desperately searches for a way to conclusively kill himself once and for all, disgruntled villagers move against this strange little cabal, but will Lawrence’s alliance with the Monster manage to hold after a climactic dose of moonshine?
A genuine high point of the legion of sequels that spun out of Universal’s orginal classics, the secret of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man’s success lies within the second part of that title – that conflicted ball of fanged anxieties known as Lawrence Talbot. It’s not every movie that has has the balls to have it’s hero go on such a desperate journey just to find a fool proof way to freaking kill himself, but it’s a surprisingly engrossing thing to watch, especially as his journey to snuff his own candle takes him gradually out of his world and into Frankenstein’s as smoothly as someone lowering themselves into a warm, gothic themed jacuzzi.
This is emphatically Lon Chaney Jr’s show and even the musical chair recasting that pisses on some of the overall continuity doesn’t slow his roll (to round up, Chaney played The Wolf Man in ’41, played Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy in ’42, went back to being a wolf for this flick in ’43 and then went on to be Dracula in the same year – could you see the MCU doing that with RDJ?) and he still infuses his greatest character with bucket loads of self loathing that somehow doesn’t make the guy an unbearable whiner. Actually, for horror’s most depressed leading man, The Wolf Man turns out to be quite an affable guy, bonding both with the old gypsy woman to the point where she treats him like a son and striking up a partnership with Frankenstein’s Monster after rescuing him from a massive ice cube which technically (and adorably) makes them roomies, I guess. However, Talbot’s loud and public melt down during a town festival is a particular highlight when he’s spectacularly triggered by an innocent song lyric that mentions living forever and causes him to have a major shit attack, grab the singer by his lapels and scream directly into his face “I DON’T WANT TO LIVE ETERNALLY!!” Way to work through your problems, Larry…
The classic Universal atmosphere is locked in with full force as the film doubles up with the shadowy city streets of The Wolf Man, the shadowy streets of a Bavarian village from Frankenstein and the shadowy and misty woods of both and the film boasts some superlative sets and model work (the climatic dam burst that sweeps castle Frankenstein away is top notch).
Some may have an issue that the film takes the “Meets” of the title a bit too literally as the titanic brawl promised by the bitchin’ poster takes during the last three minutes of the movie, but luckily the showdown between these two horrific heavyweights is actually pretty sweet as they rip a laboratory a new a-hole while they scrap. What doesn’t hold up nearly as well is the rather goofy science deployed that’s as random as some of the Bavarian accents and one-time Dracula Bela Lugosi simply doesn’t really “get” what makes the Monster tick and his jerky movements and moaning are a pale reflection of what Boris Karloff brought to the role – but then, if Robert De frickin’ Niro can’t beat the original, what chance does Legosi have? Still, Legosi admittedly fucking brings it during that final, brief fight as he screams, roars and hurls lab equipment around like it’s football practice.
While far more simpler than some of the subsequent monster mashes that happened in it’s wake, there’s a nice sense of purity about Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man that just feels relentlessly classic as it eases it’s two horror icons together for a three minute battle for the ages and despite how brief the fight is, it genuinely feels like history is being made before your very eyes. Remember, the title is Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. MEETS. So, y’know… Technically no harm, no foul.