Tuesday, November 27, 2012

House of Dracula a guilty pleasure

(Editor's note: I'm reading, and soon will review, Tom Weaver's excellent book, "John Carradine, The Films." However, I don't always agree with Weaver's opinions of low-budget cinema, and he didn't care for "House of Dracula." I did, and here's my review for Plan9Crunch -- Doug Gibson.)

House of Dracula, 1945, Black & White, Universal, 67 minutes. Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Starring Onslow Stevens as Dr. Edelman, John Carradine as Count Dracula (aka Baron Latos), Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster, and Skelton Knaggs as Steinmuhl. Schlock-meter rating: Seven stars out of 10.

House of Dracula is a guilty pleasure. Filmed just as WW 2 was ending, it and its companion piece, House of Frankenstein, signaled the permanent slide of Universal horror films as second-billed B movies. The sets are cheaper, plot explanations are often ignored, and the direction is quick and economical. Still, these films are a lot of fun and boast much higher production values than their competitors of the time from Monogram and PRC.

The plot is quite bizarre. Both Dracula (Carradine) and Talbot the Wolfman pop up at an eerie castle run by the famous doctor Dr. Edelman (Stevens), who seems to exist there only with his deformed nurse and beautiful daughter. Nearby is a village full of stock rural Europeans that Universal always seemed to provide as a backdrop to these films. Anyway, both Dracula and the Wolfman seek cures via a combination of psychiatry and medicine, a theme that was explored in Dracula's Daughter. Edelman seems rather unperturbed by all this, and goes about helping the two. However, Dracula can't keep his lips off the doctor's beautiful daughter's neck, and Talbot the Wolfman somehow escapes from his self-imposed prison while a wolf and discovers the Frankenstein Monster hiding in a cave. Edelman manages to kill Dracula, but not before the Count contaminates Edelman's blood with his own. Much to the doctor's horror, he transforms often into a dreadful creature, unable to control a desire to kill, and another to bring back the Frankenstein Monster to life.

Viewers, just sit back and relax. Let this goofy but fun plot unfold and enjoy a handful of Universal monsters fight it out on the screen. Carradine is better than expected. He plays his role in a subtle manner, which is smart because he lacks Lugosi's passion. Chaney is a contrast of self pity and ferocity, depending on whether the moon is full. Strange has little to do as the Frankenstein Monster but wave his arms wildly. Stevens' transformation to madman is chilling at times. He casually has his faithful nurse murdered. Veteran creepy character actor Skelton Knaggs adds atmosphere as a villager who whips up the town against the doctor. All in all, House of Dracula is worth a midnight rental.

-- Doug Gibson

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