Thursday, January 31, 2019

Houses of Horror

House of Frankenstein (1944) was the first of the classic Universal monster movies that I remember seeing.  I couldn't have been more than eight or nine and, for some reason, had been allowed to stay up late one Friday night and watch ITV's regular late night horror film.  In truth, it isn't that great a film: I've seen it several times as an adult and it revealed itself as poorly scripted, rickety and overly episodic, in that it failed to integrate its roster of monsters particularly well.  But, to my younger self, it was a magnificent experience, introducing me to the Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster in one go.  It also featured Karloff himself as the mad scientist reanimating them all and threw in his hunchback assistant (J Carrol Naish) for good measure. As a child, it thrilled me to see John Carradine's Dracula reduced to a skeleton by the sun's rays and Lon Chaney Jr turning hairy when the full moon appeared.  The Monster has little more than a walk on role at the end, but geys to hurl people through sky lights before being chased into a swamp by a gang of flaming torch wielding villagers.  It set me off on a lifelong love of horror movies.

What I didn't know then was that Universal, eager to repeat the box office success of House of Frankenstein, quickly turned out a sequel along similar lines: House of Dracula (1945).  I eventually caught up with it when it was shown as part of BBC2's regular Saturday night 'Horror Double Bills'.  In fact, it might even have been on a double bill with House of Frankenstein.  Anyway, while its framing story integrated the monsters rather better than the earlier film had, feeling less episodic, it is a typically threadbare production from the dying days of Universal's B movie unit.  It incorporates a fair amount of stock footage from 1942's Ghost of Frankenstein, in which Lon Chaney Jr had played the Monster.  Which leads to a bizarre moment during the final fiery conflagration (composed mainly of the aforementioned stock footage) when Lon Chaney playing Larry Talbot, The Wolfman, finds himself pursued by the Monster, also played by Chaney in stock footage.  All that stock footage means that Glenn Strange, who is actually billed as the Monster, doesn't actually have to do that much, other than lie on a table and wander around a bit.  As far as continuity with the previous film goes, House of Dracula offers no explanation as to how both Dracula and The Wolfman, both pretty conclusively killed off in House of Frankenstein, are still apparently alive and well, (or undead and well, in Dracula's case).  There is some attempt at continuity with regard to the Monster's fate, as he is found, comatose, in a cave beneath the castle (which has mysteriously moved next to the sea following the previous film), where he had presumably ended up after sinking into that swamp. 

While the casting of the monsters is as before, Onslow Stevens replaces Karloff as the local mad scientist.  Although he isn't actually mad at the outset - that only happens after he inadvertently gets a transfusion of Dracula's blood and starts having nasty turns where he turns evil.  All very Jekyll and Hyde.  Actually, Stevens gives a performance and a half in what is essentially a dual role.  When he isn't being mad, Stevens apparently cures Talbot's lycanthropy (it was apparently the result of pressure on his brain) and establishes that Dracula's vampirism is the result of parasites in his blood, (which give him the ability to turn into a bat).  When he is evil, he revives the Monster for its climactic rampage, which results in the castle burning down.  House of Dracula moves through its 69 minutes briskly enough that there's little time to worry about all the absurd pseudo-scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena, let alone all the plot holes.  It is notable that Chaney only transforms into the Wolfman once during the film - this was apparently due to the fact that the make up department under the great Jack Pierce was running out of the Yak hair used for the make up and couldn't obtain any more due to the war.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home