Retro Review: ‘House of Frankenstein’

Nowadays Marvel gets all the credit for creating a franchise of interlocking films to form frank1a cinematic universe. But sadly often overlooked is the fact that the Universal Monsters franchise beat the superheroes to the punch with this style of story-telling decades before. Monsters such as; Dracula, the Wolf-Man, and Frankenstein’s creation each had their own films to introduce themselves to audiences, but slowly we began to see connections between the different pictures. When the time came for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man it become clear that these films all shared the same world.  This movie picked up right where the Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein left off and the two monsters had an epic clash. Naturally these icons of horror needed a movie to be their equivalent to the Avengers and they got it in 1944 with House of Frankenstein.

frank2A mad scientist, played by horror legend Boris Karloff, and his hunchbacked assistant escape from prison during a thunderstorm and adopt the guise of Professor Lampini who runs a wagon sideshow of horrors. The duo have two goals in mind; to get revenge of the burgermeister who imprisoned them and find the records of Dr. Frankenstein in order to duplicate his horrific experiments. Luckily for them the remains of Dracula happen to be in Lampini’s wagon, and they resurrect the infamous vampire to kill the burgermeister and seduce his daughter-in-law as well, just for good measure. As Dracula is carrying out his plot of revenge, the scientist finds Frankenstein’s castle as well as the remains of the famous monster and the Wolf Man, both frozen from their battle in the previous flick. Needless to say both of these horror icons wreak havoc of their own on the populace until they, like Dracula before them, are defeated…..for now.

As a horror fan, this is a movie that gives me a kick every time I watch it, the idea of all of these legendary monsters of the silver screen in a single movie should put a smile on the face of any fan of the genre. That is not to say there are no flaws in the House of Frankenstein. When one reads about the earlier drafts of this picture, when it carried frank3titles like; the Devil’s Brood and Chamber of Horrors; you cannot help but think it could have been a far superior film. In fact these previous incarnations of the picture featured the Mummy and the Invisible Man as well in this collection of terrors. Likewise the casting has a good many letdowns as well, while Boris Karloff is fantastic as the mad scientist, the role he made his own as Frankenstein’s creation is left to a stuntman in Glenn Strange. The soulfulness and pathos which Karloff famously brought to the role in Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein are a distant memory as Strange simply groans and stomps around.  In the role of Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi who is synonymous with the part was sadly unavailable, leaving the great John Carradine to don the cape. This is no sleight against the legendary patriarch of one of Hollywood’s most famous clans, but Carradine lacked the mystique, charm and charisma which made Lugosi filmdom’s most famous bloodsucker. Carradine does deserve credit for playing the villain incredibly close to Bram Stoker’s source material. Of course Lon Chaney Jr. reprised his role as the cursed Wolf Man and delivered a fantastic performance once again as Hollywood’s most famous werewolf, shifting perfectly between the troubled and damaged Laurence Talbot and the ferocious monster he becomes in the moonlight. But despite these downfalls, House of Frankenstein has become a firm favorite for lovers of classic horror. It may contain more laughs than scares but it has a certain magic and entertainment value for fans of the genre.