THE HOUSE OF
There would be more Universal Frankenstein movie offshoots (there was already FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN a year earlier with Bela Lugosi as the creature), but this would be the final film about just the creature alone (in a manner of speaking). As with THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal Pictures dropped its very successful policy of having the Director also be the producer. The results were less than mediocre with THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (also the shortest of the movies, clocking in at 68 minutes), and with this final outing, Director Erle C. Kenton was just the director. Paul Malvern was the producer. Though Curt Siodmak had his name attached as story writer (Curt won his star in 1941 writing the highly successful THE WOLF MAN), Edward T. Lowe wrote the actual screenplay.
The movie begins on a dark and stormy night (whats new?). A couple of horse drawn wagons roll by. On them is touted, Professor Lampini's Chamber of Horrors: Dracula.
Meanwhile, at Nuestadt Prison, Dr. Gustav Neiman (Boris Karloff: FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, ISLE OF THE DEAD, BEDLAM, BLACK SABBATH, TARGETS), kept in a prison cell, strangles his jailer through his bars until the man returns his chalk. Though Dr. Neiman never met Dr. Frankenstein, he has spent his life trying to determine, through listening to half truths and rumor from a cousin who once worked for the man, how Frankenstein accomplished his research. He's drawn up a whole number of calculations on his cell wall, but it's all educated guesswork until he can get his hands on Frankenstein's journals. But how? Those journals have been blown up, burned, sent to Ludwig and burned again. They are as resilient as the creature himself!
A preposterous plot device, thrown out of left field without warning, provides for the escape of Neiman and his prison neighbor, Daniel. They come across the traveling Horror show of Professor Lampini and nationalize it (in a manner of speaking).
For a hunchback dwarf, Daniel has the amazing ability to very slowly move toward a person, face contorted with obvious intent, hands outstretched to strangle them (that's my interpretation, "to choke them" would have also been acceptable), while the victim does nothing except watch their doom gradually unfold: Perhaps while having a cup of tea to wile away the time it takes for Daniel to limp across the floor.
Dr. Neiman has revenge on his mind and he'll find it in the town of Reigleberg.
In Reigleberg, Herr Guzman the Burgermaster beats the Inspector (Lionel Atwill: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) in a game of chess. Then his American granddaughter Rita (Anne Gwynne: BLACK FRIDAY, THE BLACK CAT , THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. X, WEIRD WOMAN, I RING DOORBELLS, FEAR , THE GHOST GOES WILD, DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME, TEENAGE MONSTER), playfully drags them all and her new husband Karl, to Professor Lampini's Horror show. Neiman does the show as Lampini and is upbraided by the Burgomaster. After the show, Neiman accidentally brings the skeleton of Count Dracula (John Carradine: HOUSE OF DRACULA, THE HOWLING) back to full flesh (and fully clothed) life in an effect that was even cheesy for its time. In a snap, Neiman makes a deal with Dracula.
Dracula quickly and easily insinuates himself into the Burgomaster's life, gets the Burgomaster drunk, and puts the hypnotic moves on Rita, kills the Burgomaster, rides away with Rita with Karl hot on his heels. This looks like a job for Inspector Hans. He gives chase to Dracula! Then...
Actually, everything is so ridiculously quick. There's Dracula, played by an actor who doesn't behave, dress or looks remotely like Bela Lugosi (that top hat tilted at a rakish angle?), and who is quickly offed and out of the picture. Then the Frankenstein creature enters by doing nothing but being in ice (again) getting thawed (again) and spending nearly all of the rest of the movie silently laying on a table. Daniel abuses him for the flimsiest of reasons but I think mainly because - as in the first FRANKENSTEIN - we gotta have a hunchback dwarf abusing the creature. And the creature just lays on the table doing nothing about it.
This movie is supposed to be about the creature (Glenn Strange) who does nothing. They could have had a mannikin until the last two minutes. And when The Wolf Man comes in it gets really weird.
Bear in mind that, in their time, at least one of these movies were being released every year.
So the audience for these movies and how they all connect were right on top of it all. And after THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal began systematically butchering their entire line of monster franchises, not giving a damn about quality or their audience anymore.
*They even unceremoniously fired the Make-up Special Effects man whose work made them millions and helped save their studio, Frank B. Pierce. The audience noticed and returned the due respect with their absence. In the 1940s and early 1950s, MGM, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and United Artists would flourish while Universal floundered.
Dr. Frankenstein and his period took place in the early 1800s. Lawrence Talbot and his problems takes place in modern times (1940s was modern times for THE WOLF MAN). The idea that the monster slept frozen for well over 100 years makes sense within the logic of the story laid out over the course of the first three movies (until THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN came along in 1942 and destroyed the idea that Lawrence would or could ever meet Frankenstein the following year). But the idea that Dr. Neiman had a cousin who worked for Dr. Frankenstein is too much.
Dr. Neiman is getting his revenge, recharging the creature, dealing with his own Ygor - the humpbacked Daniel - and keeping the impatient Lawrence Talbot (who wants to die but can't) at bay.
Between all the conflicts and stories going on simultaneously, there is no time for characterization, and many characters presented as main characters go through a complete arc in the space of ten minutes or so and are never seen again. The entire timeline of the Frankenstein and The Wolf Man movies, as well as their previous outcomes, are all kicked to the curb. Plus there are all the murders going on. This looks like a job for the local villagers. They are quite a force when they all get together.
Lawrence (Lon Chaney Jr.: [all of the Universal Pictures Wolf Man movies and appearances of the 20th Century], THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, SON OF DRACULA, HOUSE OF DRACULA, THE MAD GHOUL, WEIRD WOMAN, THE FROZEN GHOST) goes through his moody brooding, which excites the attentions of the gypsy girl Elanka to no end.
Boris Karloff as Dr. Gustav Neiman, finally got his chance to be the mad doctor, but it didn't work. None of THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN works. There were way to many subplots, presented as main plots, going on. It's as if Universal Picture tired of their success with the Frankenstein franchise and wanted to end it all. The Frankenstein franchise had many good stories left to tell (it still does), but Universal wasn't up to it anymore. With Carl Laemmle Jr. and James Whale out of the series, they lost their touch.
Two Shriek Girls.
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