40×40: House Of Dracula (1945)

Directed by Erle C. Kenton.

“Something tragic about him. He had the look of a man tormented by fear.”

Why Did I Get This?

This is (you may be glad to hear), the last film in the Universal Frankenstein collection I’ll be writing about. You may also have noticed I’ve avoided the original and Bride, because, simply put, far more intelligent and eloquent reviewers than myself have been writing about them for 80 years. Also because they’re not films that have gathered dust on my shelves over the years, whereas the sequels have pretty much been watched once, maybe twice, and largely forgotten until now.

I’ve enjoyed going back over the franchise, and have pretty much found something to enjoy, if not love, in each entry. I’m still pretty pissed off that the box set doesn’t actually contain the Abbott & Costello movie that appears on the back cover of the damned box set, and I really don’t have high hopes for this – the last in the Frankenstein franchise (Franchistein?), until the comedians took over – especially as the Monster appears to be something of an afterthought (and doesn’t appear in the title), but let’s see how it 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.

Doctor Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens), is visited by Count Dracula (John Carradine), and the Wolfman Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr), both of whom seek his services to be cured of their ‘curses’ – vampirism and lycanthropy. He agrees to use his scientific powers to help them both, discovers Frankenstein’s monster in a cave below his castle, and things go predictably awry.

From the sound of the splashy-yet-ominous score over the Universal logo to the credits which drip like blood down the screen, the opening of this movie makes it clear that while it might sit amongst the Frankenstein sequels, it’s very much a Dracula movie… at least to start with.

Despite being burnt to death by sunlight in House Of Frankenstein, Dracula is back without a scratch on him from the opening scene – and he can freely enter the homes of strangers without being invited, when he’s dressed in a top hat and tails and looking as debonair as John Carradine.

Likewise, the film doesn’t trouble itself with explaining how Larry Talbot came back from the wrong end of a silver bullet in the previous film – it’s more interested in getting the famous monsters into the same location than how they got there. While the werewolf makeup is pretty much as good as usual, the transformations in this movie feel much faster and shakier – as if the filmmakers have included more transitional steps in the time lapse sequences, but been a little sloppier with locking off the camera or ensuring Chaney is positioned just right. A minor quibble maybe, but definitely noticeable.

As for the ‘Mad Doctor’, I’m not familiar with Onslow Stevens in the slightest, but his Doctor Edelmann feels like one of the good ones… at least for the most part. He’s fearless in dealing with the vampire, and happily has himself winched towards a raging sea to find Talbot when he throws himself off a cliff.

Like Cedric Hardwicke in Ghost Of Frankenstein, he’s primarily the kindly, scientific type who wants to do his best by his patients. He also wants to use his talents to help his nurse Nina (Jane Adams), overcome her hunched back.

This felt to me like a nice twist on the usual ‘deformed sidekick’ trope. While I had some sympathy for Daniel in House Of Frankenstein, he was defined both by his deformity and his murderous loyalty to his master. Yes, Nina’s back is one of her main characteristics, but she is sweet, gentle, and does nothing to deserve her eventual, inevitable death at the hands of a possessed Edelmann.

That possession is another neat trick – part of Edelmann’s cure for Dracula involves blood transfusions between the two, but at a crucial point, the sneaky count (note, double check for spelling there), reverses the procedure and poisons the good doctor with his evil, immortal blood. While Edelmann quickly takes revenge and we’re treated to an unsatisfying, calm and painless death by sunlight of a sleeping Dracula, he finds himself tormented by visions of himself with wild hair and eyebrows in an eerie dream sequence that works really well.

Likewise, the change in lighting effects, hair and makeup really bolster Stevens’ performance as the evil version of the doctor – it’s bordering very close to Jekyll & Hyde here. That’s not a bad thing, though coming in with barely 20 minutes of the movie left, it’s a lot to squeeze in.

Elsewhere, the sets are predictably great – as pretty much all of these old Universal movies tend to be – with cavernous laboratories, lush bedrooms and eerie towns and underground caves (and another Inspector played by Lionel Atwill!). It doesn’t feel quite as episodic as, say, House Of Frankenstein, but the involvement of the Monster (Glenn Strange), feels like a bit of an afterthought – even more so than last time.

Yeah, he looks great, but he’s in it for all of about 20 minutes, and for the most part he’s lying unconscious on a gurney. Then, when he does get up and stumble about to avenge the death of his latest father figure, he just stumbles around and accidentally sets fire to stuff before getting burnt to death in some stock footage from Ghost Of Frankenstein.

It’s a fairly rushed ending to what feels like a fairly rushed film. Not entirely satisfying, but with just enough elements to keep things slightly new and interesting.


Watching this so soon after its predecessors doesn’t help it stand out as a particularly good entry in the series, I’m afraid.

That being said, it’s got a few interesting tricks and quirks of its own that make it worth a watch – there’s a lovely scene where Nina realises Dracula casts no reflection in a massive hall mirror, and the dream sequence in Edelmann’s possessed mind works really well.

Chaney looks tired and older than he did just a year earlier (I’m not putting that down solely to the moustache he sports here either), and his sombre melancholy that worked so well in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman has degenerated into a sort of angry, pessimistic whining by this point. However, his reaction to discovering he can stand in the light of the full moon without transforming is particularly lovely.

Personally, I could take or leave this one, but I’m fully willing to believe that could be due to watching it so soon after other, better entries in the franchise.

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