After a relentless release schedule that saw Universal hock its horror characters onto audiences at a punishing rate, it was getting pretty clear that some of the sheen the pugilistic studio had created around these characters was starting to finally rub off. Also some of the musical chairs casting and inconsistent continuity must have made things a little frustrating to follow. Lon Chaney Jr. for example not only portrayed tragic wolfey boi Lawrence Talbot four times in five years between ’41 and ’45 (making him the Hugh Jackman of his day, I guess) but he’d also portrayed Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Mummy within the same time frame in solo adventures. As it stood, House Of Dracula was the final team-up movie before the “big three” horror legends were repurposed as comedy foil for Abbott and Costello three years later, so did it manage to bring anything new to it’s large, gothic table before its iconic antagonists were forced to pull on metaphorical clown shoes before their retirement?
Count Dracula, acting under the name of Baron Latos (seriously, the guy has more alias’ than Chevy Chase’s Fletch) approaches Dr. Franz Edelmann hoping that the good doctor can figure out a cure for his vampirism despite already taking liberties by having his coffin placed in Edlemann’s basement. Luckily, Edelmann agrees and figures out that multiple blood transfusions are the way to go, but as he starts the first treatments, Lawrence Talbot – part time Wolf Man, full time drama queen – also comes a-knocking with the exact same request, hoping to end his fuzzy, fanged torment. However, once learning that the Doctor is to busy to receive him, Lawrence gets himself arrested to wait out that night’s full moon in a jail cell where his eventual transformation is witnessed by Edelman, his assistant Milizia and a police inspector. The good news is that Edelmann agrees to treat Talbot and surmises that his transformations are actually caused by pressure on the brain (or something), but bad news is that he’s far too upset to wait and so the impatient bugger tries to kill himself by hurling himself off a cliff – also Dracula has once again decided to get up to his old tricks and has his sights set on using his hypnotic charms to ensare Milizia. And as if all that wasn’t enough, after his suicide attempt the unkillable Talbot unearths the inert form of Frankenstein’s Monster who was last seen sinking to the bottom of a well placed patch of quicksand and is promptly brought back to Edelmann’s castle for study.
However, Dracula has caught on to the the fact that the Doctor has figured out his most recent bout of villainy and counteracts Edelmann’s plans with a extra large serving of treachery that involves reversing the blood transfusion so that the Count’s would-be ally gets a dose of vampire blood which changes him into a Mr Hyde type madman who goes on a rampage of his own. Can Edelmann and Milizia be saved? Will Talbot ever get his cure? And can the movie think of a good reason to shoehorn the Frankenstein’s Monster in before the credits roll?
Those of you who were frustrated that the three main, monstrous characters never actually bloody met in House Of Frankenstein – the previous film in the series that had its iconic creatures act like they’d all gotten restraining orders against each other – still won’t have that particular itch scratched as once again fate screws us out of a vampire/wolf man/creature threesome (phwoar). Instead, the terrible trio of Universal’s beastly back catalogue finally find themselves relegated to being background characters in their own franchise as the centre stage is given to Onslo Stevens’ Dr Franz Edelmann, whose arc hues suspiciously close to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a classic character from horror literature that Universal didn’t have access to. Shakespeare may have once penned (or quilled) some poignant stuff about roses, names and the sweetness thereof, but the fact that this isn’t Dr. Jekyll makes his time in the limelight somewhat galling despite it being admittedly a pretty solid story. But the fact that the monster’s screen time has been doled out to technical non-monster, despite a spirited, third act rampage, just gets frustrating after a while. John Carradine’s Dracula, much his previous appearance, like goes out like a caped bitch midway through the film despite the movie actually being named after him while Glen Strange’s second stagger as horror’s most famous flat top involves him doing exactly nothing until literally the last five minutes of the movie when the script demands that someone had better end the movie with a fiery, destructive tirade and it had better be soon, dammit…
That leaves dependable old Lon Chaney Jr. and his snarling alter ego to make a dent for the home team but even Talbot’s usual epic self loathing seems one note and uninspired for the most part. Although, in a spoilerish side note, the fact that the movie finally gives the poor bastard a cure means that although we’re cheated of a Wolf Man Vs Frankenstein’s Monster rematch, the look on Talbot’s face after finally seeming the full moon rise without spontaneously sprouting hair and chewing on a jugular is legitimately a picture to behold after four whole movies of despair.
Aside from that, it’s pretty much business as usual with the film playing amusingly slapdash with it’s own continuity – Frankenstein’s Monster is found still clutching the skeleton of Boris Karloff’s character from House Of Frankenstein yet the story stubbornly refuses to explain how Dracula is still alive after getting an unwanted suntan during the same movie – and its desire to shoehorn in yet another hunch backed character (this time a nurse) is just weird. Also, the film curiously never really hints why Dracula suddenly decides to fuck up his cure and go creep on Milizia either, maybe he just does it because he has absolutely no restraint when it comes to women or he’s just simply bargin basement evil through and through but it makes his entire story fairly pointless all the same…
From this point on the Universal Monsters universe, as it came to later be known, was running on fumes with only the trio of Abbott And Costello monster romps and the short reign of the Creature Of The Black Lagoon left to provide interest, but the legacy is still rock solid which went on to inspire that other pantheon of classic things that creep in the dark – the rise of Hammer Studios.
So while this last, serious attempt at realising these cinematic icons lurches more than the Monster on low juice, it still manages to be an indelible piece of cinematic history that makes you incredibly nostalgic for cobwebs, crypts and rubber bats on strings.
The House Of Dracula is now closed for renovations.