Craig J. Clark — Feb. 24th 2013
When it came time to make House of Dracula in 1945, Universal Pictures must have known its classic monster series was winding down for good. The second film to bring Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster together, it doesn’t appear to be too concerned with plot continuity. There are also coincidences aplenty since Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) both arrive at the door of the same blood specialist (Onslow Stevens) without once revealing how they managed to come back to life after being felled by sunlight and a silver bullet, respectively, at the end of House of Frankenstein. This is probably for the best, though, because when screenwriter Edward T. Lowe (who also penned House of Frankenstein) gets around to bringing Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) aboard, his explanation for how the monster came to rest in the mud-filled cave beneath the doctor’s house is patently ludicrous. Sometimes it’s best to just leave things unexplained.
Since the film bears his name, it’s fitting that Dracula get the most attention, at least at the start. After being given little more than a glorified cameo in House of Frankenstein, Carradine — here passing himself off as Baron Latos — uses his expanded screen time to exude menace and sexual temptation, particularly when it comes to the doctor’s beautiful assistant (Martha O’Driscoll), who quickly falls under his spell. The same is not the case with the doctor’s less beautiful assistant (Jane Adams), a hunchback who hopes to benefit from his experiments with spore concentrate, which can apparently be used to soften and reshape bones. This comes in handy when the doctor determines that Talbot’s transformations are caused by pressure on his brain, which can be relieved by a simple skull operation, but Dracula requires a different kind of treatment and the doctor soon learns the folly of giving blood transfusions to a vampire. The film also features Lionel Atwill (in one of his final screen appearances) as the local police inspector — the kind of role he could probably play in his sleep by this time.
As with House of Frankstein, the directing chores on House of Dracula were handled by Erle C. Kenton, who made a few more films before jumping to television in the ’50s. And as for Universal’s monsters, this wasn’t quite the end of the road for them since the studio would bring all three back one last time for the 1948 horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. In many ways the movies were becoming parodies of themselves anyway, so ending the cycle with an outright spoof was only logical.
Made in 1948 and directed by Charles Barton, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the first in a series where the irascible Bud Abbott and his pudgy pal Lou Costello met up with various creatures from Universal’s stable of monsters. Of course, if the studio had known it was going to be such a huge success they probably wouldn’t have stacked the first one so full of monsters. In addition to the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster (again played by Glenn Strange), the film also features Bela Lugosi’s final appearance as Count Dracula, a role he hadn’t played since the original in 1931. I guess it’s a good thing the cape still fit.
Totally ignoring the fates that had befallen all three of them at the end of House of Dracula (pretty much par for the course for Universal at this point), this film casts Abbott and Costello as railroad baggage handlers who receive a frantic call from Chaney (taking his last turn as the Wolf Man), who phones from London to prevent them from delivering two crates containing the bodies of Dracula and the Monster to a wax museum where they’re to be put on display. They go ahead and deliver them anyway but lose the bodies (that is to say, the bodies get up and walk out on their own volition, which Costello witnesses but Abbott does not), which puts insurance investigator Jane Randolph, who pretends to have a thing for Costello, on the case. Meanwhile, Costello is being played up to by the beautiful Lenore Aubert, who secretly plans to transfer his brain into the body of the Monster at Lugosi’s request. I’ll bet he’s never felt so wanted in all his life.
The first time I saw Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein I wasn’t entirely sold on it despite its reputation as a classic. Maybe that’s because I had only seen the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man at that point, so I didn’t know how much their respective series had already fallen into self-parody by the time this came around. In fact, the argument could be made that this film takes the monsters more seriously than some of the films that preceded it. Not that we believe for one minute that the bumbling Costello is actually in danger of losing his brain, but we believe in the threat that the monsters pose to him (and, to a lesser extent, Abbott). Still, it’s a pity this took the place of a House of the Wolf Man, which surely must have been considered at least in passing. As it was, the Wolf Man would have to wait another six decades to find his home.
Made independently in 2009, House of the Wolf Man was written, produced and directed by Eben McGarr, who shot it in black and white and in the Academy ratio of 1.33:1 for verisimilitude’s sake. He even recruited Ron Chaney, the grandson of Lon Chaney Jr. (which makes him the great-grandson of Lon Chaney), to play the sinister Dr. Bela Reinhardt, who picks a rainy night to invite five strangers to his spooky estate to find out which one will inherit it. They include jock Dustin Fitzsimons and intellectual Sara Raftery (who are fraternal twins), geek Jeremie Loncka, sultry siren Cheryl Rodes, and great white hunter Jim Thalman. They are all greeted by Reinhardt’s creepy servant Barlow (John McGarr, who’s made up to look like Warren Publishing’s Cousin Eerie) and try their best to keep their wits about them — no small feat, all things considered.
Like the films that inspired it, House of the Wolf Man is on the short side, clocking it at 76 minutes, and the first hour or so is more or less the preamble to the monster melee that occurs once Reinhardt reveals his true nature to his guests. “My heir will be chosen by the process of elimination,” he tells them early on and he means that literally. Not even the eleventh-hour intervention of Frankenstein’s Monster (who’s being kept in the basement because of course he is) and Dracula can save them from the Wolf Man’s curse. I only wish the ending of the film didn’t feel so abrupt. A little denouement would have gone a long way.