Like its immediate
FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) promises the thrills
of The Frankenstein Monster, Count Dracula and The Wolf Man all in one
film, but does not allow any two monsters to appear on screen at the
same time until the movie was almost over. The filmmakers apparently
assumed that 1945 audiences, who had just lived through Hitler,
Mussolini, and World War II (now there was a sequel!) would somehow not
be able to deal with more than one Universal ghoul at a time.
The film begins with the dubious premise that Count Dracula and Lawrence "Wolf Man" Talbot would both show up separately at the house of a famous doctor on the same day, both looking for a cure to their supernatural ills. Seriously, what are the odds? Dracula is again played by John Carradine, who does wonderfully well in the role. Talbot is played, as always, by Lon Chaney, Jr. Sadly, despite showing up on the same day, Drac and Wolfie never meet.
Dracula begs the doctor to look for a cure of the curse that has tortured him since time immemorial. He has been thinking about this for a long time, and it is now or never, a decision that will alter his life forever. Yet he gets one eyeful of the doctor's leggy nurse and - poof! - all thoughts of change immediately fly out the window like a bat out of hell. Old Drac is also something of a risk taker in this film, as he keeps scheduling all of his important business for 5:59 every morning, just before the sun comes up. Alas, you can only play that game for a few centuries before it catches up to you, and before he even gets a chance to suck any blood, the evil Count succumbs to the morning sunrise, leaving nothing behind but the usual phony-looking skeleton. Where did his clothes go? And if the movie is titled HOUSE OF DRACULA, why is the Count yet again a pointless throwaway character? And exactly where is his house anyway? And, while we're at it, didn't both Dracula and Talbot both die in the previous film?
No time to answer these questions, because we now shift to the doctor (Onslow Stevens), who is having a strange dream which features a quick clip of Boris Karloff from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1936). Unbeknownst to the doctor, he has been infected with vampire blood (hey, if you're gonna play around with monsters, this kind of stuff is bound to happen). He is now a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character, who not only dreams of previous monster movies but also changes into a bloodthirsty killer whenever there is a lull in the story.
In between murderous rampages, the doctor attempts to cure Talbot of his lycanthropy. The cure involves some sort of spores, and a layer of silly putty that relieves pressure on the skull, or, as every mad doctor calls it, "the cranium". I never went to Mad Medical School, but it all sounds like hooey to me.
So far I have said little about The Monster, henceforth known here as "Frankie". That is because Frankie spends most of the film lying on a slab in the doctor's office. How did Frankie get into the film? Let's just say he found one of the holes in the plot and stepped right through. The doctor, who doesn't think his medical plate is quite full enough with Dracula and The Wolf Man on his list of "Things to Cure", now decides that Frankie deserves to be revived, because, after all, the monster cannot possibly be responsible for his own crimes. Just what the world needs - a bleeding heart mad scientist.
Glenn Strange plays Frankie again but unfortunately, he is strapped to that damned slab until the final two minutes of the movie. The doctor has been trying to revive Frankie throughout the film, but there's always one thing or another interrupting him ("Tell the Mummy those bandages have to stay on at least another two weeks!") and so it is not until the last seconds of the film that Frankie receives enough required electricity to enable him to break free from his restraining straps.
Finally, things seem to be heating up. Frankie's on the loose, ready to unleash a reign of terror. And here come the rent-a-mob villagers with torches! Well, the villagers with torches do show up, take one look at Frankie, and run away like Monty Python's Knights of the Round Table running from a killer rabbit. Frankie's reign of terror begins and ends with him knocking one policeman on his butt before Talbot rushes in and set the poor creature on fire. Proving that some days it is better just to stay in bed, or on a slab.
HOUSE OF DRACULA is amusing enough in a campy way, but it is it is also the final nail in the coffin of the once classy and terrific Universal Studios horror movie cycle. The next step was pitting all the Monsters against Universal's dynamic comedy duo in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, a film which surprisingly manages to capture some of the spirit of the earlier Frankenstein films while also being one of the team's most entertaining vehicles. ½ - JB