House of Frankenstein (1944)
Overview: It’s like The Avengers of the Universal Monster movies.
House of Who: You’re possibly wondering why a movie called House of Frankenstein is in The Wolf Man section of this project. It’s because while this movie shares a name with the famous doctor (and his creature in this incarnation), there are no living Frankensteins featured in the movie, and the monster only rises from his slab three minutes before the end. Instead, the lion’s share of the drama, pathos, plot, and even the love story rests on the shoulders of Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man.
Mad Scientist: The villain of the piece is the imprisoned Dr. Niemann, a doctor who loves trying to put human brains into dogs and who is played by the original and best Monster, Boris Karloff. Niemann is aided by a murderous hunchback, Daniel, who is viewed by every other character as a monstrosity due to his disability. Ilonka, the Gypsy dancer, is actually more forgiving of Talbot being a werewolf than she is of Daniel having kyphosis, which I guess is a sign of the times.
Niemann escapes from prison and goes on a mission of revenge upon the men who had him imprisoned when they discovered his ungodly experiments. To get his revenge he briefly recruits Dracula, and then the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Dracula appears for twenty minutes and plays the hits by turning into a bat, biting someone, hypnotizing a lady, spreading his cape out, and getting turned into a skeleton by sunlight.
Chaney: The star of the show is Lon Chaney. These movies work with the more humanity they put into the monsters. Frankenstein’s monster is never better than when he is the tragic figure at the centre of Bride of Frankenstein, and Chaney constantly injects his portrayal of the cursed Talbot with tragedy and regret. He wants to be rid of the curse and will ally himself with whoever will help him, no matter how dubious they are.
Overall: This is a very fun movie packed full of monsters and mad scientists. It is like a child telling a story and putting all of their favourite characters in there. At an hour and seven minutes long it moves with breakneck pace and gives everyone (except The Monster) something to do. Karloff is fantastic as the mad scientist and both Lon Chaney and J. Carroll Naish give their monsters enough tragedy to make them sympathetic even when they’re killing indiscriminately.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures