Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF DRACULA (Universal 1945)

Since I’ve already reviewed HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN back in 2015,  we now turn our attention to HOUSE OF DRACULA, the last “official” entry in the series (though the Universal Monsters would ‘Meet Abbott & Costello’ three years later). The film tries to put a new slant on things, using science to conquer the supernatural, but winds up being just a hodgepodge of familiar horror tropes without much cohesion. HOUSE OF DRACUA does have its fans, but I’m not one of them.

John Carradine  returns as Count Dracula, introducing himself as Baron Latos to Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens ) and seeking a cure for his vampirism. Edlemann discovers a “peculiar parasite” in Dracula’s blood, and believes he can cure him through a series of transfusions. But the Count, that sneaky devil, has his fangs set for Edlemann’s pretty nurse Militza (Martha O’Driscoll),  whom he hypnotizes with those hypnotic eyes of his. Drac reverses a transfusion, and turns Edlemann into a Jekyll & Hyde-type homicidal maniac.

Also looking for help is Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man, seeking relief from his lycanthropic curse. Lon Chaney Jr. once again takes the dual role, sporting a pencil-thin moustache this time (for his “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” series”). Talbot, fearing the full moon, gets himself locked in the local jail, where Edlemann and Inspector Holtz (Lionel Atwill, in his fifth and final different part in the saga) watch him transform before their very eyes. Tired of waiting for a cure, Talbot throws himself into the sea below Edlemann’s estate, is rescued by Edlemann, and the pair find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster in a cavern.

The procedure on Talbot is a success, and Edlemann promises his hunchbacked nurse Nina (Jane Adams) she’s next on the list. But Edlemann,    now gone mad thanks to Dracula’s tainted blood, kills his servant Siegfried (Ludwig Stossel, no relation to John!) and Nina, and brings The Monster back to life, just as Inspector Holtz and a gang of those angry villagers barge in, and chaos ensues as Talbot shoots Edlemann and The Monster is destroyed in a fiery finish lifted straight from GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (with Lon playing  The Monster!).

Carradine is good as Dracula, as he was in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (not so much in BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA , however!). His “hypnotic eyes” rival Bela Lugosi’s, and he makes a very suave vampire. Chaney, though, is way too whiney this time around, and when he’s finally cured I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to listen to his complaining anymore! Glenn Strange, in his second of three appearances as The Monster, is once again little more than a prop. Onslow Stevens tries as Edlemann, but is defeated by Edward T. Lowe’s ludicrous script, which constantly contradicts itself, often in the same scene! As for the rest, Atwill’s done the Inspector routine a thousand times before, Martha O’Driscoll isn’t convincing as Militza, Jane Adams does manage to gain some sympathy as Nina, and Skelton Knaggs’s part as a villager is  underwritten.

It’s not director Erle C. Kenton’s finest hour, either, though George Robinson’s cinematography helps a bit. HOUSE OF DRACULA seems like too much of a rush job, as if Universal just wanted to be rid of its Monsters once and for all. The Second Horror Cycle was winding down, and though the studio would bring all it’s Monsters back for ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, it took Hammer Films’ CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN  and HORROR OF DRACULA , along with the release of the Universal Monster Movies to television with SHOCK THEATER in 1957, to fully bring Frankenstein’s Monster, Count Dracula, and the rest of the brood back to bloodcurdling life.

 

Halloween Havoc!: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (Universal-International 1948)

anc1

It’s Halloween, and we’ve finally made it to the Universal Classic Monsters! Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Wolf Man had last appeared onscreen in 1945’s HOUSE OF DRACULA. Shortly thereafter, Universal merged with International Pictures and decided to produce only “prestige” pictures from then on, deeming their Gothic creature features no longer relevant in the post-war, post-nuclear world. The comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were also in danger of becoming irrelevant, victims of their own success, as audiences were beginning to grow tired of them after twenty movies in a scant eight years.

That “prestige” thing didn’t work out so well, and Universal went back to what they did best…. producing mid-budget movies for the masses. Producer Robert Arthur developed a script called “The Brain of Frankenstein”, giving it over to Frederic Rinaldo and Robert Lees. Lou Costello hated it, and the team’s gag writer John Grant was brought it to punch things up. Horror icons Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr, and Glenn Strange were recruited to reprise their most famous roles, and the title was changed to ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, the template for all horror comedies to come.

Lou Costello (Wilbur Grey) and Bud Abbott (Chick Young) deliver two crates to a house of horrors. The crates contain Count Dracula and Frankenstein's monster. The vampire wants to transplant Wilbur's simple brain into the monster so he will be completely under Dracula's control.

For the uninitiated, Bud and Lou play a pair of inept delivery men charged with transporting two very large crates to McDougal’s House of Horrors, said to contain the remains of Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster. Lou gets creeped out when Dracula’s coffin keeps opening (mainly so they could use the old “moving candle” gag), which of course Bud doesn’t see. The two fiends escape and McDougal has the boys arrested for stealing his property. They’re bailed out by a beautiful woman, but it’s not Lou’s girlfriend Sandra, it’s Joan Raymond, an undercover insurance investigator hired by McDougal.

Bud doesn’t understand how two gorgeous women can go ga-ga over short, fat Lou. What he doesn’t know is Sandra is Dracula’s assistant, a female mad scientist out to help revive the Monster by transplanting Lou’s pliable brain into it. Add Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man himself, into this mix trying to put an end to Dracula’s grandiose scheme, and you’ve got a recipe for horror and humor that ends in a climactic Monster Battle Royal and a guest “appearance” by The Invisible Man (voiced by the one-and-only Vincent Price !).

anc3

The monsters play it straight, leaving the comedy to A&C, except for a funny bit when Lou scares the bejesus out of the Monster! Lugosi dons Dracula’s cape onscreen for the first time in 17 years, though he still toured with the stage play on occasion. With those hypnotic eyes and double-jointed hand gestures, the 67-year-old Lugosi still conveyed the power of the evil Count. He’s charming under the guise of Dr. Lejos, but as Dracula he’s still the deadliest vampire of them all. This was Bela’s last good role in a major motion picture, and takes advantage of it, showing his acting talents hadn’t diminished one bit. Unfortunately, he received no further scripts of this caliber, and found himself mired in dreck like BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA , Ed Wood’s no-budget efforts, and his own tragic opiate addiction.

anc4

Lon Chaney Jr.  returned to the studio that made him a star after being dismissed with the rest of Universal’s contract players after the merger. He’s less whiny than usual as Talbot, playing the nominal hero dead-set on stopping Dracula’s quest for world domination. Chaney still makes an athletic werewolf, as his physical acting had always outshone his sometimes awkward way with dialog. When they find Talbot’s room a shambles after the moon rises, Bud quips, “Boy, what a bender he must’ve been on last night”, possibly a veiled reference to Chaney’s problems with the bottle. In a funny bit, Talbot explains, “In a half hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf”, to which Lou replies, “You and twenty million other guys!”.

anc5

Glenn Strange once again portrays the Frankenstein Monster, as he did in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA. His shambling, psychotic version of Mary Shelley’s creature is an instrument of pure destruction, totally unlike the Karloff original. Strange’s Monster has no soul, and who can really blame him, having suffered through all those brain transplants over the course of the series. Lenore Aubert as Sandra is both beautiful and deadly, Jane Randolph is okay as the plucky heroine, Frank Ferguson blusters his way through the part of McDougal, and Charles Bradstreet has the thankless role of Sandra’s assistant who suspects foul play.

anc6

Abbott and Costello are… well, they’re Abbott and Costello! The duo had spent years honing their schtick in burlesque, on Broadway, radio, and in films. Teaming them with the Universal Monsters helped put them back on top and opened the floodgates for a slew of ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET movies. They met THE KILLER BORIS KARLOFF, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (again with Boris), THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE MUMMY, and even THE KEYSTONE KOPS! The boys are in top form here, their timing and snappy patter routines sharp as ever, and are the comic glue that holds the horrors together.

Many horror fans ask, “Yeah, but where does this fit in the Universal horror canon?” My answer to that is, “WHO CARES!” ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN stands alone as a horror-comedy classic, and should be enjoyed as such. It’s your last chance to see Lugosi in his definitive role, Chaney as the cursed Larry Talbot, and Strange as the demented Monster. Plus Bud and Lou at the peak of their comic power. That’s more than enough for me, and will be for you too when you watch ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Happy Halloween all you monster lovers out there!

 

Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1944)

hof1

Frankenstein’s Monster! The Wolf Man! Dracula! The Mad Doctor! The Hunchback! And just about every classic horror film trope you can think of! They’re all here in Universal’s “Monster Rally” HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Throwing everything scary they could think of at you but a kitchen sink full of spiders, Universal decided if one monster was good, five is better. Boris Karloff as mad Dr.Neimann leads the parade of horror all-stars that includes Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man), John Carradine (Dracula), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Arnz), and George Zucco  (Professor Lampini).

hof2

The movie is laid out like a serial, with the chapters kept moving swiftly along by director Erle C. Kenton. Neimann and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel escape from prison and come across Professor Lampini’s traveling Chamber of Horrors. Lampini claims to have the skeletal remains of the original Count Dracula, and he and Neimann discuss vampire lore. When Lampini refuses to take the pair to Reigleburg, Daniel kills him and his driver. Neimann’s on two missions: one to find the secret diary of Dr. Frankenstein, and the other to exact revenge on the men who imprisoned him. Hussman is the burgomeister of Reigleburg, and when Neimann sees him, he inadvertently pulls the stake from Dracula’s remains. The Count returns to life, and strikes a bargain with Neimann. Dracula (using the alias Baron Latos) offer a ride in his coach to Hussman, grandson Karl, and Karl’s wife Rita. After killing the old burgomeister, Dracula kidnaps Rita. Karl calls Inspector Arnz and his men, and they hunt the vampire down. Dracula is destroyed when he can’t make it to his coffin before sunrise, but Neimann and Daniel escape and move on to the town of Frankenstein.

hof3

They stop at a gypsy camp where Daniel is enamored by the beautiful dancing gypsy Ilonka. She’s beaten by her man, and Daniel nearly kills him. Neimann reluctantly lets her go with them as they search the grounds of Castle Frankenstein. Discovering a “glacial ice cavern”, they find both Frankenstein’s notebook and the frozen remains of The Monster and The Wolf Man. Thawing them out, the group head for Vasaria and Neimann’s old lab.

Neimann and Daniel abduct Strauss and Ullman, the last two men responsible for Neimann’s sentence. The doctor announces his plan to put The Wolf Man’s brain in Strauss’s body and Ullman’s in the Monster. Things get hectic as Larry Talbot keeps changing back and forth into the Wolf Man, Ilonka falls in love with Larry, Daniel gets jealous, and the Monster is revived. The final striggle finds the Monster dragging Neimann to his doom in the quicksand laden marshes.

hof4

J. Carrol Naish steals the acting honors from the horror vets as Daniel. Naish was a superb character actor who was nominated for Oscars twice (SAHARA, A MEDAL FOR BENNY). He played ethnic parts well: Italian, Arab, even Chinese, but was an Irishman from New York himself. Naish’s last film was also with Chaney, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN (1971). Elena Verdugo, Anne Gwynne, Glenn Strange, Peter Coe, Sig Ruman, and Phillip Van Zandt also appear in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Hans J. Salter’s music score is one of the best in horror pics, and George Robinson’s moody camerawork sets the spooky tone. Two more sequels were made, HOUSE OF DRACULA and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN,then the Universal Monsters were seen no more. Giant bugs and outer space aliens took their place, until Universal released their monstrous backlog of movies to television in the late 50s, where they found a new audience of mostly kids eager to be scared by the old boogeymen. The Monster Boom was back on, and soon there was “Famous Monsters” magazine and TV horror hosts from coast to coast and Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett singing The Monster Mash. The Universal Horrors are still going strong today, thanks to DVDs and TCM and readers like you, still interested in watching them and reading about them. Thus ends a month-long series of “Halloween Havoc!” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some horror films!