Friday, July 24, 2015

'House of Frankenstein' really two films in one

By Doug Gibson

I watched an old monster classic, Universal's 1944 monster-fest "House of Frankenstein." Here is a quick review:

The Dracula cameo

"House of  Frankenstein" is really two films fit into one 60-plus minute feature. It involves mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann, (Boris Karloff) who escapes from a prison with his hunchback pal Daniel, played well by J. Carrol Naish. It seems that Niemann was imprisoned for helping Dr. Frankenstein years ago. Bent on revenge, he heads to the air of the burgermeister who sent him to prison. Improbably, he encounters Lampini's horror show, run by George Zucco. After killing Lampini, the pair resurrect Dracula (John Carradine) by pulling a stake out of his bones??!! Niemann and Daniel use Dracula to kill the burgermeister but old Dracula has the hots for his daughter (Anne Gwynne). After her husband (Peter Coe) and others go after Dracula to save the young lovely, Niemann abandons Dracula, who dies when the sun hits him.

Enter the wolfman

Niemann and Daniel head for the hills, and encounter a gypsy camp where Daniel falls in love with a young gypsy dancer, Llonka (Elena Verdugo). Somehow the wolfman Larry Talbot joins them and the obsessed Niemann convinces Talbot to help him resurrect Frankenstein. Meanwhile, the gypsy falls for the moody Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), much to Daniel's displeasure. It all ends badly, with Verdugo's gypsy killing Talbot to save him. Unfortunately, she's mortally wounded doing that, which upsets Daniel who goes after Niemann. At this point the Frankenstein monster, played by Glenn Strange, tosses Daniel out the window and carries a badly wounded Niemann into the swamp, where they both sink under quicksand.

A drab Dracula

True, it's convoluted as heck, but it all works OK, particularly with a great cast (Lionel Atwill is also somewhere in there) and capable direction over 71 minutes by Earle C. Kenton. Of the two tales, the first with Dracula is shorter and more crisp. There's nary any fat to the plot. The second tale, with the wolfman and monster, is a bit convoluted. However, the least effective monster acting is Carradine, who is so low key as the vampire that he seems more exhausted than undead. Fortunately, a few years later, Universal International was smart enough to go with Lugosi for the monster spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Naish is not bad with his tortured hunchback with the unrequited love for gypsy Verdugo.

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