House of Frankenstein (1944) – Erle C. Kenton

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Boris Karloff headlines in this classic Universal film as I continue my exploration of Frankenstein on film for Sci-Fi Chronicles. Karloff plays Dr. Gustav Niemann, who, alongside his hunchback companion Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) escape from prison. It seems they were imprisoned due to experiments that were similar to those conducted by  Frankenstein, and hey, Niemann had a brother who worked with someone in the family!

After their escape they come across a traveling show with morbid displays, including the bones and coffin of Dracula (John Carradine), whom he restores to life and strikes a deal. The vampire posing as a Baron insinuates himself into a local family as he chooses his victim, Rita Hussman (Anne Gwynne).

But Dracula doesn’t show up alone in this picture, though he is quickly betrayed by Niemann. This short film, barely an hour-long is a triple threat, Drac shows up, the monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.).

Niemann and Daniel next end up in the small hamlet of Frankenstein, on the run. The events of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman are referenced (I had a tough time trying to track that one down, so I simply moved onto this one). Daniel falls for a gypsy girl, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) but she doesn’t return his affection, so he helps Niemann search for the Monster and clues in the hope of having a strong healthy body made for him.

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There’s no real surprises or important character arcs or revelations, this one is meant only as a thrill ride for those Saturday matinees. You know the baddies will get their just desserts and that the monsters will fight… Once they’re thawed out.

Niemann convinces Talbot (the Wolfman) that he can help him on exchange for helping find Frankenstein’s records. But we know, from his betrayal of Dracula, that he cannot be trusted.

For such short film, there’s a lot going on, and it’s too bad that it was made in the style it was. It could have been crafted into a rather epic gothic tale. It also feels like two films patched together to make one whole film, the Dracula storyline, is completely standalone, and doesn’t affect the Frankenstein/Wolfman story at all, nor vice versa. It could have been excised completely, and the rest of the story could have been padded out more.

But with what? At this point, even with the inclusion of the other monsters, this one just feels like a bit more of the same recycled stories we’ve had in the other films to date. Which is too bad, as it is a fun, if melodramatic world to play in, where it seems there always seems to be an angry mob with torches and pitchforks just in time for the climax, and everyone comes from a big family where at least one of them is a mad scientist.

Oh well, the next Frankenstein film up for review is a personal favourite… stay tuned!

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