The first of two "All Star" films featuring
Universal's three most memorable ghouls: The Frankenstein Monster,
Count Dracula and The Wolf Man. In this one, we are also
to Boris Karloff as a mad scientist, J. Carroll Naish as a
quasi-Quasimodo, and more character actors than you can shake a stick
at. Yet despite all this, the movie is something of a
disappointment, although with this cast, a passable script and good
production values, it can't help but be fun.
For reasons unknown, the screenwriters could not come up with a way for all three monsters to appear at the same time. The Dracula episode is short, well-done but extremely pointless. Its main attraction is John Carradine, who proves even in limited footage that he had what it takes to play filmdom's most famous vampire. Lacking the ghoulishness of Bela Lugosi, Carradine had style, grace and class to make for a more sophisticated Count, and could have easily starred in his own series of Dracula films. Unfortunately, the Count goes down for the count early in the film, before the Wolf Man and the Monster even appear.
The story proper concerns Karloff's attempt at combining his own work with that of the late Dr. Frankenstein. To that end, he revives Larry Talbot and the Monster, who were both frozen in the flood that destroyed the castle at the end of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Meanwhile, his hunchback assistant Daniel has fallen in love with a gypsy girl, and wants Karloff to give him a better body, preferably that of Lon Chaney. J. Carroll Naish's tender portrayal of Daniel raises the film to a higher level than its sequel, HOUSE OF DRACULA. He loves the girl, he's deformed and self-conscious, she loves Talbot... yes, it's all ripped off from Victor Hugo, but it does give the film an overtone of tragedy, one that is underscored (if overtones can be underscored) by the fact that by the end of the film (spoiler alert) everybody has died a horrible death!
Karloff is fine, if a bit subdued, as the mad scientist, while Chaney does his usual yeoman's job as Lawrence Talbot, forever cursed and forever forgetting to lock himself up on a night of a full moon. Glenn Strange, a rugged cowboy and bit part player later to be known on TV as Sam the Bartender in Gunsmoke, takes over as The Monster. He never gets a chance to infuse the Monster with much of a personality, but on a purely visual level, he makes for the most impressive Franky since Karloff. Unfortunately, in both HOF and HOD, he never gets to do much damage, and fans must wait for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN to see Strange's Monster get some quality screentime.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN represents the moment when the Universal Monster Cycle began to run out of plausible ideas for continuing the sagas of all three monsters. The series probably should have ended with FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, but HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN has just enough fun elements to justify its existence, something that cannot be said as enthusiastically for HOUSE OF DRACULA. - JB