Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writer: Edward T. Lowe
Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman, William Edmunds, Charles Miller, Phillip Van Zandt, Julius Tannen, Hans Herbert, Dick Dickinson, George Lynn, Michael Mark, Olaf Hytten, Frank Reicher, Brandon Hurst, Glenn Strange, and J. Carrol Naish
Composer: H.J. Salter
Release Date: 12/15/1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
After escaping from jail, the evil Doctor Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) revives Count Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) in order to exact revenge on the men responsible for his imprisonment. Upon completing the initial stage of his plan, Niemann travels from Visaria to his own personal laboratory—where he intends to revive and later perform a brain transplant procedure on Frankenstein’s monster. A complication arises, however, when Niemann’s hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) rescues and falls in love with a gypsy girl named Ilonka (Elena Verdugo); but grows mad with jealousy upon learning of her romantic attraction toward Larry Talbot.
House of Frankenstein is a flawed but entertaining inaugural chapter in Universal Studios’ Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolf Man crossover saga. While the titular monster serves only to increase the tension between Daniel and Niemann, this production should be commended for making excellent use of the mad scientist trope.
His murderous activities notwithstanding, Daniel manages to elicit sympathy due to the tragic pathos conveyed by J. Carrol Naish. A compassionate audience reaction is made possible by Daniel’s unrequited love for Ilonka, who, in spite of her abusive treatment of the hunchback, succeeds in arousing the affections of her otherwise detestable savior.
It should be noted that Larry Talbot seems to have undergone virtually no development of personality following his predicament in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man; nevertheless, the conflict inherent to Larry’s character exemplifies a sense of urgency that remained unexplored in prior installments. Desperate to be cured of his affliction before the next full moon, Larry urges Niemann to uphold his end of the bargain; unconcerned with the potential loss of innocent life, Niemann displays remarkable nonchalance when met with the pleas of a tormented soul searching fervently for release—a response that, from the viewer’s perspective, further accentuates the apparent futility of Larry’s inner struggle.
Having come full circle in Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man respectively, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man are reduced to pawns in Niemann’s convoluted revenge plot. House of Frankenstein makes similar use of Count Dracula/Baron Latos, whose cameo could have been excised completely without detriment to the film’s pacing.
In contrast to the preceding Universal Monster classics, House of Frankenstein fails to provide a resonating analysis of the human condition and the intrinsic flaws therein; however, even this generic monster mash is not entirely devoid of insightful subject matter. Specifically, Dr. Frankenstein’s unholy amalgamation of scientific and supernatural forces once again proves to be a corruptive influence, with Doctor Niemann plotting to murder, mutilate, and experiment upon his enemies after obtaining the knowledge that drove his predecessor to commit similar, if more altruistically motivated, abominations. Though not exceptionally subtle or profound, the above commentary on “playing God” will appeal to fans of the Frankenstein legend.
Despite being the first Hollywood film to include Frankenstein’s creature, the Wolf Man, and Count Dracula in the same narrative, House of Frankenstein fails to employ each monster in a satisfactory and complementary fashion. That being said, the combined talents of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, and J. Carrol Naish redeem this offering from the one-note gimmick that inspired it. Also worth praising is the performance of Glenn Strange, who gave new life to the Monster after his uncharacteristically bizarre manner in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man—an improvement that can likely be attributed to Karloff’s extensive coaching of Strange.
Overall Quality: 6/10
If you enjoyed this post, please click the follow button or enter your email address in the subscription box to stay tuned for more updates.