Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man / House of Frankenstein
At the end of his first movie, Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) was clubbed to death with a silver-headed cane by Claude Rains. Now a pair of petty graverobbers accidentally bring him back to life. Doomed by lycanthropy to never be truly dead and at peace, Talbot is determined to find a permanent cure. The Wolf Man's old gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) advises him to seek out Dr. Henry Frankenstein, an expert on life and death. She and Talbot journey to Visaria, but the infamous Doctor is long dead and the castle on the hill is a deserted ruin. What does Talbot find encased in ice at the remains of Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory? The Monster, of course, here played by Bela Lugosi, who, as Ygor, found his brain placed in the Monster's body at the climax of Ghost of Frankenstein. Surprising nobody, Talbot thaws the Monster. With the assistance of Ludwig Frankenstein's daughter Elsa (Ilona Massey), Dr. Frank Mannering (Patric Knowles), and the Frankenstein notes, Talbot hopes that his life energy can be drained away forever, offering "hope for me to die." Plus, with Talbot jumper-cabled to the Monster, the procedure could also benefit the creature's dangerously destabilized brain. So onto the slabs they go. Laboratory gadgets buzz and spark. But the full moon rises and Talbot's monthly transformation begins. Things go from bad to worse when the villagers discover that the Monster is free yet again. Actor Dwight Frye Dracula's Renfield and Frankenstein's hunchback Fritz shows up long enough to rouse the rabble. The climax literally brings the house down with a flood of biblical proportions while the Monster and the Wolf Man grapple in unholy battle.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is stylishly effective, rollicking good fun. It sports moody direction by Sherlock Holmes series specialist Roy William Neill and a crackerjack screenplay from veteran writer Curt Siodmak. (Said dubious Siodmak: "Whipped cream is good and herring is good. So [Universal thinks] they should be better together.") Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man has only one weak spot Bela Lugosi as the Monster. Too short and too recognizably Bela, he was further hampered by editing that removed all scenes where he spoke, scenes that during a test screening had provoked an unfavorable reaction from the test audience. Moreover, also cut was an explanation of the Monster's blindness (another leftover from Ghost of Frankenstein), rendering Lugosi's closed-eyes flailing about all the more cartoonish. Fortunately, Chaney fares better and this entry works more successfully as a Wolf Man sequel than as a Frankenstein sequel. For all that, this is a rock'em-sock'em, easily satisfying outing. It was a box office success, so of course there was more to come.
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If you like two monsters in one movie, you're sure to love three. So House of Frankenstein (1944) brings back Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man, and Count Dracula in one all-out Monster Mashup. Boris Karloff also makes a welcome return, this time dishing up pounds of exposition as a mad scientist, Dr. Gustav Niemann, who escapes from prison he transplanted a man's brain into a dog thanks to one of the more unlikely coincidences we're ever asked to swallow. Assisted by faithful hunchback Daniel (sympathetically played by J. Carroll Naish), Niemann hopes to continue the work of his idol, Dr. Henry Frankenstein. Of course, bringing vengeance to those responsible for sending him to prison is in the plan as well. He murders a carnival master (George Zucco) and steals his identity. Turns out that an attraction in the carnival's Chamber of Horrors is an open coffin displaying the skeletal remains of Count Dracula, stake still in his ribcage. Niemann pulls the stake, reviving the Count (wowza! John Carradine materializing in a nifty special effects bit) and commands him to dispatch Niemann's enemies.
Later, at the ruined castle we saw destroyed by flood at the end of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Niemann resurrects the frozen Wolf Man/Lawrence Talbot (Chaney again). By kidnapping two more of his opponents, Niemann schemes to shuffle brains like a cups-and-ball game. Doing so, he says, will cure Talbot and revive the Monster (Glenn Strange, who leaves an impressive stamp on the role, considering). Before we have time to think about this too hard, a pretty Gypsy girl gets involved, and that means trouble for Daniel even before the obligatory mob of V.W.T. (villagers with torches) shows up on cue.
House of Frankenstein was number six in Universal's Frankenstein series, and the third each for Dracula and the Wolf Man. It's less a story than a patchwork of incidents that don't amount to much. The Monster spends most of his time on a slab. Dracula has no interaction with his compatriot monsters, so the first portion of House is basically a short Dracula film preceding a continuation of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. There's no "scary" moment in it. But there's some surreal fun to be had, and a boatload of today's Universal Horror fans got hooked as kids when they watched this film on Saturday TV. Sure, it's silly stuff, almost a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, but as with FMTWM it's buoyed by a better-than-you'd-expect script by Siodmak as well as atmospheric direction and design. For its initial release, House of Frankenstein was double-billed with The Mummy's Curse. The following year, the Big Three monsters returned for their final, not to mention redundant, hurrah in House of Dracula.
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The print quality here isn't as good as on the Son/Ghost of Frankenstein disc, but it still lives up to the high standards evident throughout this Universal Classic Horror series. Both look pretty good, with some speckling and signs of wear, most noticably in House. The black-and-white contrast is fair to excellent and detail is fine. Occasionally some minor edge artifacts are visible, but by and large the transfers are super. Likewise, the audio is good given the limited range inherent in the technology of the period. There are some sharp pops and a touch of distortion in a few places, but overall everything sounds healthy and clear. Both movies are in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
We also get the theatrical trailers, Production Notes (not as hefty as on other discs in the series), Cast & Filmmakers biographies/filmographies, and promo material for the Universal Horror Double Feature Series. Audio tracks come only in English, plus English captions and French and Spanish subtitles. Keep-case.