40×40: House Of Frankenstein (1944)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton.

“Last night I suffered the tortures of the damned.”

Why Did I Get This?

This is the penultimate movie in the Universal Frankenstein box set I picked up (don’t get me started on the missing Abbott & Costello movies again), following Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, Ghost Of Frankenstein and Son Of Frankenstein.

No Lugosi this time, sadly, but we’ve got Karloff as the mad scientist, Lon Chaney Jr is back as Lawrence Talbot, and Lionel Atwill is back as yet another character – this time playing the authority type, rather than a villainous doctor. I’m sure he had other kinds of stock roles, but it’s nice to see him pop up again and again in this series.

Also this time we get John Carradine as Count Dracula – first time seeing him in the role for me, having previously only seen him in 1983’s House Of The Long Shadows.

This is the first of the series that feels totally dedicated to throwing the monsters together and worrying about a plot later (though I suppose Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman was sort of that way inclined too), so let’s see how this one holds up…

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

Dr Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff), and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), escape prison and steal then reanimate the corpse of Count Dracula (John Carradine), in order to extract revenge against those who wronged them. They then travel to the ruins of Castle Frankenstein in Viseria where they discover and bring back to life the frozen bodies of the creature (Glenn Strange), and Lawrence Talbot, the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr). Niemann promises to find a cure for Talbot’s curse and Daniel’s physical condition, but before long becomes obsessed with bringing the monster back to full power and taking revenge on betrayers.

Here we go again then, with another mad scientist quickly becoming infatuated with reanimating the creature. This time, it’s not a relative of the Baron Frankenstein, but the brother of Fritz, the original creator’s assistant, who appears to have been jailed for experimenting with brain transplants for dogs.

Here’s the thing about Karloff though… however preposterous his lines are, however ridiculous the stories or theories he shares, there’s something about his voice and deliver that makes them seem perfectly reasonable or plausible. I don’t know if it’s the tone of his voice, or the calming, gentlemanly delivery (even when he’s at the point of obsession with reanimating a corpse), but if he told me my only chance of survival was to switch my brain with that of an Irish Setter, I’d take it in good faith and tell him to have at it.

That being said, in his early scenes in this movie, he’s bedraggled and bearded, filled with violent thoughts and intent, and you completely believe he’s capable of enacting them… or at least getting his devoted assistant to carry them out on his behalf.

Daniel’s doting sidekick is quite a sympathetic character, tortured by his physical appearance and desperate to do whatever he can to please Niemann in the hope his experiments will be able to give him the body he desires. When he falls in love with Viserian Gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo – sweet and charming, if occasionally a little childish), only to have his hopes dashed by her sudden but inevitable obsession with Lawrence Talbot, I genuinely felt for him. Not least because Talbot barely seemed to notice or care about her for the bulk of the scenes they shared, focusing instead on how dreadful he felt about being a werewolf once a month.

Still, her sudden love of Talbot coupled with her resourcefulness means she’s willing and capable of melting down a silver charm to make a silver bullet and try to end his curse (though sadly not before he kills her). I suppose it must be pretty tough to tell a convincing love story in amongst a film as crowded as this one, not to mention in less than 70 minutes, but it works well enough even if it feels a little rushed.

‘A little rushed’ would probably be a reasonable description of much of this film, in fairness. As the poster and trailer makes clear, we’re dealing with five big characters in just over an hour, so giving them all a truly satisfying storyline could be difficult. For me, the one that feels least satisfactorily is the reanimation of Carradine’s Dracula.

Nothing to do with his performance, which is suave, creepy and perfectly fine – although his subservience to the demands of Karloff’s doctor doesn’t feel like any Dracula I’ve seen before. This Dracula is an instrument of revenge wielded by Niemann… for about ten minutes, during which he weasels his way into the life of a couple of newlyweds to drain the life of their relative, then gets burned to death in sunlight following a horse chase.

Dracula, like the Wolfman, doesn’t seem to be able to keep track of time in this movie – the sun rises before he expects it, just as Talbot seems to be taken by surprise every time the full moon rises. You’d think at least one of them would be able to keep track of a watch or a calendar.

While we’re on Talbot, the Wolfman transformations in this one are largely detail-free – either a straightforward wipe between yak fur and shaved face, or completely off-screen. Whether this was a budgetary or timing choice, I don’t know, but it just felt like they’d got particularly good at it in the last movie, so it’s a shame not to see them here.

Elsewhere, the monster itself feels quite sidelined throughout much of this movie. Glenn Strange is perfectly fine under the makeup, but he’s barely used, only really getting up off the operating table for the last few minutes of the movie to throw Daniel through a window after he turns against Niemann.

There’s a fondness between the creature and the monster, after the former spends time reversing the damage done by years of being entombed in ice – somewhere between the Florence Nightingale Effect, and the imprinting of a chick on its parent, which is fairly odd considering the brain inside the creature is technically still that of the malicious, conniving Ygor. Though I suppose while there’s some level of continuity in this series, it’s far from watertight.

Away from the performances, the direction is steady stuff – nothing flashy, though special mention for the ‘setting up the lab’ montage Kenton chucks in around the midway point. While Son Of Frankenstein included a montage of Basil Rathbone conducting a series of scientific tests on the blood and physiology of the creature, this one includes a couple of minutes of Talbot, Niemann, Daniel and Ilonka cleaning, dusting, polishing and tidying up Niemann’s old laboratory. A little bit silly for me, but helps to make it memorable.

As does the regular torches and pitchforks ending, with another great fire and the creature carrying the injured Niemann directly out of the burning building and into a patch of quicksand which swiftly engulfs them both… until next time.


A bit of a rush job, which still manages to feel a little longer than it actually is, but with elements that are better than I remember.

Chaney’s morose Talbot is wearing a little thinner this time, but Karloff and Naish make for a great villainous pair with the latter having the added bonus of being fairly sympathetic. Carradine isn’t treated particularly well, but his section of the film works just fine and even includes a couple of fun human-to-bat transformations for good measure.

Probably the weakest of the series so far, but by no means a washout and there’s still enough good stuff here to recommend.

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