Universal Monsters in Review: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Just when you think you’ve seen all Universal has to offer in the monster department, when perhaps you believe all that remains are nothing but phoned-in poor imitations of the forebearers, there comes a movie that pleasantly surprises. Nothing brings me more joy than to admit how wrong I am…at least when it comes to movies. My disposition or assumption (I should say) is due to the lack luster attempt of the previous film, The Son of Frankenstein. I know. I know. How can I say such a thing? Well, its true. Despite the charismatic lead of Boris Karloff as the monster and one of the more tantalizing roles for Bela Lugosi as Igor, the story and direction seemed flat and untangle and the motivations felt totally absurd, especially for the creature and his resurrection. Karloff had evolved the monster in Bride of Frankenstein to a talking, understanding, wanting thing, only to be thrown back into the pit of mindless wanderer/murderer in the sequel. And you can tell on screen how much Karloff was done with the role. He’d taken it as far as he could. After that, what can you do but walk away? And so he did. Let me say, quickly, before I eat up more time here, that I adore Karloff. His signature role will always be the Creature/Monster, the unwanted child of Baron Frankenstein; however, with that said, I was equally impressed with Lon Chaney Jr.’s role as the Creature. Despite being tethered to the flat-lined story of Son of Frankenstein, you can feel his excitement in having the opportunity at playing the Monster. And Bela…oh my. It may be blasphemy to say this, but I think he makes a better Igor than he did as Dracula. Before you start igniting those torches and sharpening your pitchforks, let me say before I hand over this review to our esteemed and more talented guest author, I absolutely loved Ghost of Frankenstein. The acting was top notch. The story made tangible sense. And the plot had deeper meanings than just the typical phone-in message we’ve been getting with other Universal monster sequels. Okay…I’ve said far too much probably! Without further delay, let’s see what our guest has to say about The Ghost of Frankenstein.
THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN
By: David Sgalambro
Just when you believed the “Frankenstein” Monster had truly perished in the boiling sulfur pit, at the end of the third film based on Mary Shelly’s beloved novel, he and his creators spirit both return in the fourth installment of the series titled The Ghost of Frankenstein.
The film was released in 1942 by the infamous monster makers, Universal Studios and directed by Erle C. Kenton. The movie has the signature black and white shadowy feel from start to finish, but the drastic change from its previous predecessors is that Lon Chaney Jr. (known the year prior as The Wolfman) replaces Boris Karloff as the horrifying monster. We once again see the return of the maniacal loner Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi who reprises one of his finest roles, and the incredible talent of Make-Up Artist Jack P. Pierce providing all the fun ghoulish disguises.
I personally am a big fan of all the Frankenstein movies (the first always being my favorite) so the chance for the monster’s story to continue is more than welcomed by me and especially coming from the masters, Universal Studios. Just like all their pictures, I can get visually lost in this one as well. All the scenes ranging from the old quaint village to the Frankenstein laboratory, the film holds you firmly with its intriguing backgrounds and its petrified motionless landscapes.
All these classic monster movies were a huge part of my childhood that I carried over into my adult life because in my eyes, they are always a wonderful reminiscing treat to watch. I would rank The Ghost of Frankenstein right in the order that the series was numerically released, placing it fourth, as my favorite Universal Studios Frankenstein movie (excluding the incredible & hilarious masterpiece Abbott & Costello Meets Frankenstein).
A group of angry villagers are once again complaining to the town’s mayor that the Frankenstein name has a curse upon them. With destructive intent, they return to the infamous castle only to find an unfriendly Ygor (played once again by Bela Lugosi). With deadly explosives, they think they killed two birds with one stone, but unknowingly they awoke and unleashed the murderous Monster from the castles’ now cracked and exposed dried sulfur pit. Igor is thrilled to be reunited with his old friend and swears to find the second son of his creator Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (played by actor Cedric Hardwicke) who specializes in Diseases of the Mind, and convince him to bring back the strength to his father’s creation.
As the film progresses forward we are introduced to Dr. Frankenstein’s two laboratory assistants Dr. Kettering (played by Barton Yarborough) and Dr. Theodore Bohmer (played by Lionel Atwill) who along with the great doctor, have just successfully removed, repaired and replaced a damaged brain from a patient’s skull. Next we meet Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter Elsa (played by Evelyn Ankers who was also in The Wolfman) and her boyfriend prosecutor Erik Ernst (played by Ralph Bellamy) whose job is to basically keep the angry villagers at bay.
There are a few touching moments in this film (just like every Frankenstein film thus far) that deserves an honorable mention which included a child by the name of Cloestine Hussman (played by Janet Ann Gallow). We once again see a subtle side of the creature as he comes to her aid and rescues her ball, but unfortunately kills two villagers in the process (that’s just poor Frankie’s luck). The big guy is apprehended but of course breaks free and escapes with the help of his buddy Ygor. They show back up at the Frankenstein residence and of course chaos erupts with Dr. Kettering being the unfortunate victim.
The title and the premise of the movie happens midway through the film when a ghostly apparition of Dr. Frankenstein’s father (also played by Cedric Hardwicke, but in an elderly state).appears and gives him advice with regard to saving his creation by transplanting the deceased Dr. Kettering’s brain into the skull of the monster.
With beloved inspiration from the past, Dr. Frankenstein is set on a new path and calls in the aid from his last living assistant Dr. Bohmer. The sudden ruckus of the laboratory brings the attention of Ygor to the lab who suddenly joins in on the fun. Once he hears the details of the operation, he begs the Doctor to use his brain instead, but was quickly denied. A later secret conversation between Ygor and Dr, Bohmer leaves the films promising ending now horrifically speculative.
At one point the Monster gets a full explanation about his upcoming brain transplant operation and decides to leave the Frankenstein residence. He walks back to town and kidnaps little Cloestein with intentions of wanting the Doctor to use her brain in the transplant instead. With a little convincing, the child is returned into the arms of Elsa and the evening’s normal procedures will move forward as planned. Hours before Dr. Frankenstein’s operation, Dr. Bohmer upheld his end of the verbal contract he had made with Ygor and removed his brain. Working solely, he ultimately presents Ludwig with Igor’s contribution.
The operation was a success but left us with a comedic image of Lon Chaney Jr. lying down with a huge bandage upon his monstrous head. The new Lugosi/ Chaney twist to the story and the whole build up to the end is somewhat brilliant, with the results now pending by the assistant’s underhanded scheme. I personally thought the idea was perfect for the film, giving the audiences exactly what they wanted back then … a shock!
The film then plays out that two weeks have passed before the villagers once again storm the Frankenstein residence demanding answers about Cloestein Hussman and Dr. Kettering disappearances and their unbelievable alibis. They send in Erik Ernst first giving the good doctor a chance to explain his intentions for the operation on a more calm and intelligent level. He states that he finally made amends for his family’s dark past and that the monster now has the brain of Dr. Kettering instead, and that all the problems for the villagers were solved.
He brings the prosecutor into the room where the Monster had been hiding, and for the first time since the operation, he speaks to the Monster and after a long pause from the giant … The Doctor was shocked when he heard …??? … Igor’s voice behind his father’s infamous creation. Definitely a great highlight in the film as Lon Chaney Jr. does his best lip-sync job, mimicking Bela Lugosi’s brutal and demanding lines.
The movie’s dramatic finale begins with the anxious angry towns’ people busting down Frankenstein’s front door and entering the residence in an uncontrollable rage. They are able to quickly get little Cloestein out safely, but some of them are quickly subdued by wall vents that release a knockout gas that the doctor had installed in case of violent patients.
The now Ygor/Monster, Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Bohmer are back in the laboratory when all of a sudden the Igor/monster suddenly goes blind. He reaches out and grabs Dr. Bohmer demanding an explanation when Dr. Frankenstein comes forth and tells the reason for the failure. He says that the Monster and Dr. Kettering had the same type blood, but not the same as Igor’s, which caused the brain to react incorrectly with the sensory nerves.
The now blind Ygor/Monster grabs Dr. Bohmer and begins blaming him for the tragic results from the botched brain transplant. Then with his temper flaring, the Ygor/Monster pushes the doctor into a large piece of laboratory equipment which instantly electrocutes him to death. The now blind giant is left stumbling around the laboratory and begins clumsily knocking over everything which sets the place ablaze. The final scenes show the Frankenstein Monster engulfed in flames and sporting a hideous melting face, which I’m sure made the audiences scream. Then they show the helpless monster becoming trapped under beams of burning rubble, as the large residence begins collapsing around him.
Surprisingly the movie never goes back to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein character after his medical speech to Dr. Bohmer and the Ygor/Monster, so I am going to assume that he also met his demise by the unruly fire. But luckily, the majority of the town’s people managed to escape from the burning home along with Elsa and Erik, who wind up walking off into a dark cloudy “sunset-ish” type night and ending the classic film on a somewhat happy note.
My Overall Review:
Like most of the Universal Studios monster movies, what’s not to love about them? Yes some are better than others, but every single one of them captures a moment in time where a film can just be scary based on its premise, musical score and overall feel. Just because we are now four movies into the Frankenstein saga doesn’t mean there’s still not an intriguing tale left to be told. I once again congratulate the studio for coming up with a brilliant and sinister idea to keep the franchise alive. I felt the role of the monster was played a bit over the top at times by Lon Chaney Jr., but he was still able to incorporate a level of fear into us as the abnormal creation. Bela Lugosi on the other hand definitely nailed another monumental part in these ageless classics as the one and only suffering Ygor.
The only complaint I have about the film is that Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein is probably the most boring (mad) doctor in all of the Universal Monster films. I’ll assume the studio writers probably went with the more subtle approach to the story, being he was the second son of the lunatic creator, but actor Cedric Hardwicke practically performed a lobotomy on me with his dullness.
But between loving the unexpected ending, featuring the lip-syncing dialogue from the Ygor/Monster and the overall feel of another ageless B&W Universal Studios classic monster movie, I still recommend this film to everyone of all ages. My advice is start from the beginning and watch them all in the chronological order they were made in, to achieve your best Frankenstein viewing experience.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4 stars.
DAVID SGALAMBRO is a horror writer at J. Ellington Ashton Press and a contributing Writer at Resident Rock Star Magazine. He was born in New York, but spent the majority of his life sweltering down in Florida. Growing up, he was obsessed with every 1960’s Monster magazine on the newsstand (He still has hundreds of them that he can’t bear to part with ….ever) and any Horror movie his eyes could watch (He blames some of his lunacy upon seeing the original Night of the Living Dead at the age of nine). His continuous love for the genre has kept him in movie theaters throughout his life indulging in all of the decade’s bloodiest moments, but not up until recently has he tapped into his own dark inner voice as a writer, and brought forth his compelling debut novel published by J. Ellington Ashton Press titled NED. It’s his first attempt at the literary game and he credits his love of Horror for its terrifying content. David is currently working on his second novel which once again explores the darkest depths of his maniacal mind for inspiration and creativity. David’s other current literary escape is as a contributing writer for a music publication called Resident Rock Star magazine out of Colorado. With them he gets the freedom to write about what’s happening in the current music scene pertaining to his own personal taste, Heavy Metal.
In David’s own words, “I would would like thank Thomas S. Flowers for asking me to be one of his reviewers on this very important and very cool webpage. I am also honored to find myself on a list that includes such amazing and talented authors in the literary world of Horror. And as always…. Stay Brutal !!! – David Sgalambro.
Universal Monsters in Review: The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
Just looking at Lon Chaney, one can easily imagine how much of a pain in the ass those prosthetics were. Countless hours in Jack Pierce’s chair. Being sculpted and wrapped in gauze. Unable to speak, really. Mostly immobile, except for those infamous lurching motionless typical for a mummy caricature. Starting before the break of dawn and by the end of the day, you’re ripping off the mask just to allow your skin to taste fresh air once more. The same for most icons who donned the monster grab, Boris Karloff being one of the first and most notable of Jack’s creations in Frankenstein and the original The Mummy. Glenn Strange also suffered as Frank. And not forgetting Bela Lugosi, who underwent hours on the slab as Frankenstein and Igor (I don’t think Dracula required any amount of pain, at least not cosmetically). What does all this have to do with The Mummy’s Ghost? Well, its no secret that Lon Chaney did not care for the role as Kharis, in either of the three time he played the role. However, there is a slight difference in his acting, I think, with this movie then with the predecessor, The Mummy’s Curse, also filmed in 1944. In Curse, Chaney seemed too constrictive. And the plot…well…phoned in, mostly. The mummy’s motivations did not make much sense to me in Curse; however, in Ghost, the motivations are made a little more clear and we can understand now why the mummy is so murderous. I’m not saying there are not any plot-holes. By George, there are plenty of those. But at least with Ghost, we can relate to the monster a little more, and you can also tell that Chaney was having more fun with the role, being able to act more than any other time he wore the rags, which says a lot for a character that cannot speak and is partially immobile. And the ending… Well, I think you’ve heard enough of me rambling. Lets see what our special guest has to say regarding The Mummy’s Ghost.
The Mummy’s Ghost
By. Tim Busbey
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
An ancient curse that has survived for 3,000 years is coming to America! In ancient Egypt, the princess Ananka and lowly commoner Kharis fell in love and pledged themselves eternally to each other. Although buried together, Kharis is given a sacred potion that grants him eternal life – and an eternity to search for his lost love. Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis and John Carradine as an Egyptian priest star in this engaging story of a couple’s true love that survives the centuries and the unending curse that haunts them. The Mummy’s Ghost unearths hope for romantics everywhere with its surprising finale!
As a kid, I loved the classic monster movies: Dracula. The Mummy. Creature From The Black Lagoon. Frankenstein. The Wolf Man. I eagerly devoured them all, along with reading the classic literature some of them were based on. I especially remember watching “Creature From the Black Lagoon” in 3-D sometime around 1983 when I lived in a suburb of Detroit. The technology wasn’t quite what we enjoy now, but as a 10-year-old boy, it was pretty cool.
However, I never delved deeper into the Universal Movies monster movies and watched the many sequels they created to capitalize on the originals’ successes (sound familiar?). Until Thomas so kindly invited me to take part in this series and sent me a list of movies to choose from, I had never even heard of many of them. So I sort of randomly chose one from the list of movies that were remaining on his list at that time. I’d always liked The Mummy so I chose one of its sequels, “The Mummy’s Ghost.”
From the opening scene set in an ancient Egyptian tomb, I was transported back to my childhood, remembering those black & white films from long ago, telling the tales of vampires, mad scientists, hirsute men and ancient Egyptians. Yet somehow, what was fun and enthralling as a kid has a different impact as an adult.
It was still a fun way to spend an hour, watching this 70-something year old film, but it didn’t capture my imagination quite the same way. Maybe I’ve just seen too many movies now. Or my expectations are higher. Or they just make better films now. Hmmm. Whatever the reason, I wished I could go back and feel that same sense of joy I felt when watching the original Universal films 30 years ago.
The story of “The Mummy’s Ghost” is nothing groundbreaking, as a princess falls in love with a commoner, and the pair end up cursed to eternally search for each other. Of course in this case, the princess is an ancient Egyptian princess reincarnated in a 1940s co-ed, and the commoner is a 3,000-year-old mummy brought back to life through a ritual performed by a mysterious priest.
Eventually the mummy is reunited with his long-lost love, but there is no happy ending for these two.
I did not watch the previous film in the Mummy series, but from things I read, it seems as though there were some continuity changes/issues with this film. Luckily, those weren’t an issue for me. That being said, here is what I did and didn’t like about “The Mummy’s Ghost.”
What I Liked
Lon Chaney, Jr., turns in a strong performance as the title character. In some scenes, he manages to bring a lot of emotion and character to a dead creature, or undead if you like. His mummy was not some mindless death machine, hell-bent on destruction. He was a star-crossed lover, searching for his beloved. Yes, he killed because, well this is a horror movie. But beyond that, he had a real motivation, a reason for his actions.
John Carradine, another legend of the Universal Monsters series, adds just the right supporting touch as Yusef Bay, who originally is helping unite the lovers, until he realizes his true feelings for Ananka, leading to his betrayal of Kharis.
And the ending. Oh the ending. How can you not help but feel for the mummy. He finds his beloved, reborn in the body of a beautiful young woman, only to have her turn into a 3,000-year-old corpse at the end of the movie. It’s the ultimate story of lovers who are destined to be together, yet fate also seems to be against them. The story has been used in many a modern film, just usually without mummies and priests.
What I Didn’t Like
There was a little too much aimless shuffling/wandering by the mummy. And at times, the way they had him shuffle was just comical. At one point, he was shuffling sideways. Why would a mummy need to shuffle sideways? But that’s a pretty nitpicky point, to be honest.
When he’s not shuffling, he’s killing. But they are some of the most boring, lifeless (pun intended) deaths ever seen on-screen.
Even though I hadn’t seen the previous mummy films, the continuity lover in me wishes they would have kept the previous stories as part of this movie so it would make sense to longtime viewers.
The script does the veteran actors no favors, leaving them at times struggling to bring life to their characters and make you feel anything for them at all.
Luckily, there was only one more movie in the Mummy series after this. It was included on the same DVD with “The Mummy’s Ghost” but I haven’t dared to watch it yet. I probably will sometime when I’m desperate for something to watch, or just feel the need to watch a really bad movie.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give “The Mummy’s Ghost” a 6.
Tim Busbey is an award-winning editor and journalist who currently is the Assistant Editor at Richland Source (www.RichlandSource.com) and Ashland Source (www.AshlandSource.com). Tim also does freelance book editing and is a partner with Erin Al-Mehairi in Hook of A Book Media and Publicity. When he’s not editing other people’s stories or reporting on all the happenings in Ashland, Ohio, Tim writes sci-fi, thrillers and horror.
Universal Monsters in Review: Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Looking back on the start of this series, I’m wishing we’d done these reviews in chronological order instead of random selections. Tracking the progression of certain characters now that we’re in our twilight hours of Universal Monsters in Review, it is becoming quite difficult. Considering especially Frankenstein’s monster, which has already appeared on film four times since the original 1931 fright flick. AND, ole Frank-in-monster has also changed hands twice already, from the granddaddy, Boris Karloff (who defined the role as Monster), to Lon Chaney Jr. (who played the Monster in Ghost of Frankenstein) and now with Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, and the more questionable of choices for Universal Studios, Bela Lugosi. Later on, Glenn Strange will also don the endless hours of makeup and prosthetics in future Frankenstein movies. As for the Wolf Man, his progression is much easier to follow. In fact, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man is considered to be a direct sequel from the original 1941 The Wolf Man. It ALL can get rather confusing. Oh well. What is done is done. Perhaps moving forward in our discussion here, we should consider Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man has not a direct sequel from Ghost of Frankenstein, but rather, a sequel for The Wolf Man. And besides, most of these movies are basically stories in and of themselves, holding only quasi connections to the originals. As I will be your host for the evening, shall we begin our review?
Here’s a synopsis so that we’re all on the same page:
Larry Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr.) grave is being robbed, but strangely, despite the passing of four years since the events of The Wolf Man, his body is remarkably preserved. And covered with blooms of Wolfs Bane. The grave robbers soon realize that perhaps Mr. Talbot is not as dead as they originally believed. The next scene, we find Larry in an asylum, recovering from an operation performed by good natured yet strictly scientific Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles). Inspector Owen (Dennis Hoey) finds him there, too, wanting to question him about a recent spate of murders. Talbot escapes and finds Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), the old gypsy woman who knows his secret: that when the moon is full, he changes to a uncontrollable werewolf. She travels with him to locate the one man who can help him to die – Dr. Frankenstein. The brilliant doctor proves to be dead himself, but they do find Frankenstein’s daughter, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey). Talbot begs her for her father’s papers containing the secrets of life and death. She doesn’t have them, so he goes to the ruins of the Frankenstein castle to find them himself. There he finds the Monster (Bela Lugosi), whom he chips out of a block of ice. Dr. Mannering eventually catches up with him only to become tempted to to use Frankenstein’s old equipment to fully power the monster.
Before this series, in the long ago, before I had ever dreamed of becoming a published author and creating my own tales of fright, Frankenstein meets the Wolfman was the first Universal Monster movie I had seen. I’d watched bits and pieces of the other movies before, scenes made infamous and those that became direct inspirations for other movies that I had watched. But this one, this was the first. Gathered together with a group of buds for a “guys movie night.” The host’s dogs, Bear and Willie, begging at our feet and scheming for morsels of popcorn. Displayed on the big screen of some monstrous TV birthed from the late 90s, my eyes beheld for the first time, in its completion, a Universal Monster movie. Later on, inspired by this film, would go on to watch The Wolf Man, and then later Dracula and Frankenstein, and so on and so on. There is not much that I remember from that first screening, only that it did ignited a desire to see the others, to return to the past of cinematography. And my History in Film classes in college certainly helped with that desire too. Going back and watching the movie again, for this review, after consuming most of the others, all of the originals, the story played out a little more defined in my mind. And at bottom, I have to say, this is not a Frankenstein movie, at all. This is a Wolf Man movie. And it is a movie about certain ideals and the dangers of obsessive behavior and mob mentality.
The story focuses almost/nay exclusively on Larry Talbot’s quest for an end to his life. The movie opens at the Talbot crypt four years after the events of the original Wolf Man film. And Larry is still somehow alive, though seriously injured. The place on his skull where his father had struck him with the silver cane is fractured. Next, we see Larry’s collapsed body being discovered by police and ushered quickly to the hospital. The doctor, a very scientific minded Dr. Mannering, is shocked at how fast Larry recovers from his surgery. Its all very supernatural. Keep that word in mind while watching this movie. Screen writer, Curt Siodmak, the creator of The Wolf Man character, is taking us on a journey in which the ideals of supernaturalism and science (logic) will clash, head to head. I found it somewhat thought provoking that Larry is completely obsessed with ending his life and that the monster, representing science, is a misunderstood creature…well, until the end in which he becomes an unstoppable machine. There’s a quote from Siodmak that I used in my debut novel, Reinheit, it goes, “You’ll find superstition a contagious thing. Some people let it get the better of them.” And while watching Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, you get a sense of what he’s saying. The villagers on the stage of this idyllic Germanic town, full of song, wine, and good cheer, also harbor anger and resentment, not just to the Frankenstein name, but also strangers and gypsies, mostly fueled by antagonists who insight the rage of the community by reminding them of the injustices that had transpired in the past. Is all this starting to sound familiar? Considering Curt Siodmak was a Jew escaping the growing threat of Nazi Germany, it ought to sound familiar.
The deeper meaning in Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man is commendable, but there are still some unresolved issues with the movie itself. I felt like the entire movie was brilliantly set up and had a wonderful progression as we followed Larry on his quest toward suicide. The end felt tacked on. Dr. Mannering’s character did not feel fully vetted nor relatable. His motivation seemed very sudden. From wanting to take Larry back to the hospital to becoming obsessed with seeing how powerful he could make the monster. Everything until then was golden. And like with most Universal films of this era, the final scene was very abrupt. With the manic villager blowing up the dam, releasing the river, destroying Castle Frankenstein, along with the Wolf Man and monster, and the town itself, presumably, all happens within a span of 60 seconds. Boom. Boom. The End.
Judging the film as a whole, yes,while Mannering’s character did feel very unbelievable regarding “re-charging” the monster, and with the ending being rushed to its final conclusion, the other meanings are hard to dismiss, how our obsessions, be it science or superstition, will ultimately destroy us in the end. Its a powerful message, especially when considering the history of the screen writer and the decade in which the film was made. Looking at the film as a direct sequel to The Wolf Man, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man was an excellent continuation in the story, introducing new branches to the werewolf mythos. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect. Except for perhaps Bela Lugosi as the monster. To me, despite trying very hard to be a dim witted creature, he still sounded too suave. Watching Bela as Frankenstein’s monster was too disconnecting and his mannerisms seemed desperate to separate himself from his more iconic role as Dracula. Honestly, some actors just aren’t built to play certain roles. One could surmise the same about Chaney and how he should never have played the Mummy. My favorites for the film were Maria Ouspenskaya, who was was once again wonderful, as was Lon Chaney, likewise at his best as the very tragic and sad Larry Talbot, both utterly magnetizing and wonderfully depressing.
My rating: 4/5
Universal Monsters in Review: House of Frankenstein (1944)
I have a bad habit of assuming how movies will turn out. Show me a cast of characters and maybe a movie poster and chances are you’re going to get what you get. With a title like, “House of Frankenstein,” one ought to be able to safely assume the movie is going to be something similar to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and the great insurgence of American vaudeville. Goofy. Slap-stick. Silly. However, that is not the case with House of Frankenstein. The cast was wonderfully selected, with Boris Karloff returning not as the stumbling monster, but as the mad scientist. The story, though not without blemish, is interestingly layered. The pace holds steady, clocking in a traditional 70-80 mins. While Karloff holds your attention whenever he’s on screen, the character who impressed me the most is unknown character actor J. Carrol Naish who played the hunchback Daniel. Yes, he uttered the expected “Yes, Master,” whenever addressing Karloff’s character (Dr. Niemann). But there were other moments, especially concerning love interest Rita Hussman (Anne Gwynne) in which he truly shines. This is the second Frankenstein movie in which I found myself more in awe with the hunchback than with the monster. Names have changed, but motives remain the same. The pursuit of life after death, the creation of life, and the improvement of the human form. The latter was played up more with this movie than the others, as both Daniel and Larry Talbot desire new improved bodies, free of their respective so-called flaws. Oh yes, the Wolfman is in this picture, as is Dracula, played by a new actor, John Carradine. I’m not sure why they didn’t just hire Bela Lugosi, who is known to work for cheap. But look at me blabbing on. Before I chase another rabbit, lets see what our special guest has to say about House of Frankenstein.
House of Frankenstein (1944)
horror, fantasy, science fiction
By: Channy Dreadful
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay Writer: Edward T. Lowe Jr. (billed as Edward T. Lowe)
Story Writer: Curt Siodmak
Main Cast: Boris Karloff as Doctor Gustav Niemann, J. Carrol Naish as Daniel the hunchbacked assistant, John Carradine as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot (AKA the Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster
Detailed plot summary:
may contain minor plot spoilers!
The movie begins on a dark and stormy night in the jail cell of Doctor Niemann and his evil hunchbacked assistant Daniel. Lightning crashes and the wall separating Niemann and Daniel crumbles down and the two men escape from the prison that once contained them. The duo embarks on a journey to search for Doctor Frankenstein’s research so Niemann can also reanimate the dead.
While running through the trees, they arrive on a dirt road and see the travelling horror show owned by the great Professor Lampini stuck in the ditch. Niemann and Daniel help pull him out and request that he take them with him to repay their act of kindness. He reluctantly agrees, and the three men begin their journey.
Lampini tells the men about his most popular attraction, which he claims is the real skeleton of the late great Dracula himself — stake through what-used-to-be-his-heart and all. He then continues on with the folklore of the vampire, and how if anyone ever removes the stake from where it stands Dracula himself will return and will cause havoc throughout the world. Niemann laughs at his accusations and doubts the man’s stories. The carriage comes to a fork in the road and Niemann requests that they go to Reigelberg so they can talk to the burgomaster there – who, unbeknownst to Lampini, was the man who had had Niemann arrested. Lampini argues and said that is not where his next show will be taking place, so with a nod of approval from Niemann Daniel then kills Lampini and the man driving the horse-drawn carriage.
The scene then cuts to Burgomaster Hussman of Reigelberg, his grandson Carl, and his fiancée Rita discussing whether or not to attend the traveling horror show that is set up on display in town for tonight only. With much convincing from Rita, they decide to attend.
Her face lights up upon their arrival and they see many freakshow-esque horrors on display. Niemann, acting as Professor Lampini, arrives on stage and begins introducing the main act, the skeleton of Dracula. The crowd heckles and claims the man to be a fraud, but the burgomaster says to Carl that he recognizes that man from somewhere. Once the show is over and the curtains close, Niemann idly removes the stake from the skeleton’s heart and Dracula begins to reform and appear right before their very eyes. Niemann tells Dracula that if he does what he requests of him he will not stake him, and will have his coffin ready and prepared for him before the dawn of each day for when he returns.
The burgomaster, Carl and Rita all start to walk home when they get picked up by a carriage. Unknowingly by the group, Dracula, who introduces himself as Baron Latos, is also on that same carriage. After some conversation the burgomaster invites Latos to his home for a few drinks. He accepts the invitation, and once they arrive Dracula is left in the room alone with Rita. Rita gazes into his eyes and becomes entranced as she stares upon the ring he’s wearing. Dracula asks the woman what she sees and she claims to see a strange world, a world of people who are dead but are alive. Dracula states that it is the place he just returned from, and Rita says it frightens her and that she is scared of it. He comforts and informs her that if she wears his ring it will drive away her fears. He then slides the ring on to her finger and she begins to see the world as Dracula does and is instantly under his spell. He tells his that he will come for her before down and he bids the burgomaster farewell and leaves his abode.
The burgomaster begins work in his office, and finally comes to the realization as to where he recognizes Lampini from, and that he is actually Dr. Gustav Neiman. He begins to call the authorities as Dracula returns to his home and transforms into a bat. He flies to the burgomaster and begins to kill him and drink his blood.
During the murder of the burgomaster, Rita is upstairs along with Carl and she begins speaking in a very strange way and he begins to get frightened. He then notices that she is wearing a ring that he had not seen her wearing before and recognizes it, coming to the conclusion that it once belonged to Dracula. In a panic, Carl rushes downstairs only to find his grandfather dead with two bite-wounds exposed on his neck. Carl calls the police informing them of what happened. While Carl is talking to the police Rita leaves with Dracula in a horse-drawn carriage. Just as they are leaving, the policemen on horses arrive and chase after them. The carriage crashes as the sun starts to rise. Dracula scrambles to get to his coffin (which had fallen out of the carriage) but does not make it in before his turn back into a skeleton. The ring slides off of Rita’s finger and she is now free from Dracula’s spell.
Niemann and Daniel witness all that happens and leave Dracula behind and continue on their way in search of any and all research that Doctor Frankenstein may have left behind. Eventually the two make it to the village of Frankenstein’s, and discover the ruins that were once his castle. Within the ruins they discover an ice cave, in which they find frozen in solid ice the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster. Niemann and Daniel build a fire and are able to free the two creatures from the ice. The Wolf Man wakes up and begins to turn into his human form Larry Talbot, who asks the men why they would free him and the monster that lives within.
Niemann offers Talbot help and says that if he can help him find Frankenstein’s research that he will be able to build him a new brain which will be free from the Wolf Man, and that he can live the life he had always wanted. Talbot agrees and the men start searching and tearing down walls and removing bricks until they finally discover a book written by Henry Frankenstein titled “Experiments in Life and Death”.
Now that they have finally found what they were searching for, Niemann, Daniel, Talbot and the monster return back to Niemann’s lab to begin working on the monster and returning him to the world of the living. Talbot begins to panic and requesting that the Doctor begin work on him first, seeing as that evening there will be a full moon. Niemann shoos him off, saying he must work on the monster first, but to begin his work he will first need to find his two nemeses who helped put him in jail, Herr Strauss and Herr Ullman.
With the help of Daniel he finds the men, kidnaps them and takes them back to his lab. He explains that he needs Ullman’s brain for the monster to be able to come back to life and that he wants to put Talbot’s brain into Strauss’s body so that Strauss will be the one who has to carry the curse of the Wolf Man.
Will he succeed? Will Talbot get the life he always dreamed of? What will happen to Niemann and Daniel if the monster is resurrected from the dead? For answers to all of these questions and more you will just have to watch House of Frankenstein.
Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine’s acting is nothing but of the highest quality as per usual. The group put on an amazing performance, giving you the feel of true classic horror and provided the stepping stones to many horror movies that we see in more recent years.
The reveal of Dracula was well played out, starting with being a skeleton in a horror freak show and having the stake still in his heart. It was dark and mysterious and you are left wondering if the skeleton was just a set up to make Lampini money or if he somehow got his hands on the real skeleton of Count Dracula. His transformation scenes, turning from skeleton to vampire and from vampire to bat as well as bat to vampire, were amazingly done for the time and looked more realistic than many things that I see today. A lot of directors and special effects crew can really take a few pointers and learn how to properly achieve a fun but effective transformation scene by watching this film.
I absolutely loved the death of Dracula in this film. It was dramatic and the setting was brilliant. In a way, the audience kind of feels bad for him because he is trying so hard to crawl to his coffin and make it in before the sun rises, and he gets so close to doing so before the first beam of light hits his skin and all that is left of him is the bones that we see at the very start of the film.
Later in the film, the discovery of the monster and the Wolf Man was done in such a creative and different way that really drew in my attention. It’s definitely possible that this is the logical progression from the events of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), where the monster and Wolf Man get swept in a flood at Frankenstein’s castle, starring the same actors. The hidden ice cave below Frankenstein’s castle in a way was very reminiscent of the Thing (1982) for myself, which did not come out before this film but it is a movie that I have seen long before this one. It was creepy, damp and cold and I was unsure of what to expect. Although it was completely unrealistic or possible, it made for an exciting scene to watch. Keep in mind, this is a monster movie, so how realistic do the locations really have to be as long as they keep the audience interested?
My favourite part of this film is the inclusion of three of the most famous universal monsters, Dracula, the Wolf Man and the monster. It is one of the main reasons why I chose this movie to review in the first place — well, that and Boris Karloff. I have always been a fan of his work and this was one of his movies that I had not had the pleasure of viewing before. All in all, whether we see them come back from the dead or not, it was great seeing all three in this film with different goals and wanting different outcomes for themselves, which only would be made possible by the doctor.
My cons for this film are very minimal and for the most part situational. Although I loved the transformations scenes, there was a time where Dracula turned into a bat and it was very obviously not real and was controlled by strings. I can hardly take any points off due to this seeing the film came out in 1944 and they used all of the technology available to them at the time.
My only other complaint would be the possible universe continuity error being the fact that Boris Karloff plays Doctor Niemann in this film, but in previous Universal Monster movies he plays Frankenstein’s monster. A little bit confusing, but something that you can easily look past seeing as he looks much different in this film then he does playing the monster in Frankenstein (1931.) Glenn Strange has also played the monster in previous films as wells. I am assuming Karloff would have reprised his role as the monster, but the screen time the monster gets in House of Frankenstein is so minimal that it would be a waste of an amazing performance that he could provide.
When Thomas S. Flowers reached out to me and offered me a chance to write a blog post for his website, I was absolutely thrilled. He continued and explained the project to me and sent me a list of movie titles from the Universal Monster series that were still left to choose from. There were a few, including this one, that I still hadn’t seen yet so I did a bit of research and decided to choose this one because of the monsters that were in it. I was not wrong to choose this movie. It was absolutely brilliant from start to finish with hardly a complaint that was relevant to the year that this film came out. The transformation scenes, even nowadays, were brilliantly executed and were even better than a lot of others that we see today in more recent films. Although there were a few minor continuity errors (which is one of the very few reasons I didn’t give a perfect score,) it did not take me out of this film and it was still really enjoyable to watch. Overall I rate this movie a solid 9/10 and recommend that you add this one to your horror movie collection.
Chantel Feszczyn — also known as Channy Dreadful — is one creepy ghoul hailing from a small city in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is a regular podcast voice frequenting on the podcasts, with the first being Dead as Hell Horror Podcast, and as well the likes of The Resurrection of Zombie 7, Land of the Creeps and Whedonverse Podcast. For the last three years she has brought her focus towards written reviews, posting occasionally on her Tumblr blog and recently moving to her new website dreadfulreviews.com — where she posts weekly reviews discussing movies, comic books and horror-themed merchandise.
Universal Monsters in Review: Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Frankenstein’s monster rises again in this third installment in the Frankenstein series, if you can call such a questionable connection, a series. Son of Frankenstein is notable, certainly, as the last time Boris Karloff reprises the role as the monster. And from what I was able to glimpse on screen after multiple viewings, it was not all too surprising why Boris let others, such as Lon Chaney, Lugosi, and Strange take up the mantle. Son of Frankenstein is a very unusual movie. And a hard one for any fan of classic Universal monsters to review. There were so many things I loved about the film. And there were many things I found to be down right deplorable. Most of what I disliked came mostly from my issues with the treatment of both the monster and with Dwight Frye (an underappreciated actor, among many, in his day). If you’ve seen the originals, the movies that started…well, everything, then you’ll probably have noted how there was a certain kind of story being told regarding the monster in both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein that was either altogether ignored or erased in Son of Frankenstein. I’m not saying it was a bad movie, not at all, but with the absence of James Whale, the directorial differences are noticeable, especially with the monster and it’s relationship with its maker, or in this case, the maker’s son. Well, before we get too far down the rabbit hole, lets give this movie a proper introduction, shall we?
Here’s a quickfire synopsis:
Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returns to the Baronial manor from the United States with his wife Elsa ( Josephine Hutchinson) and son Peter (Donnie Dunagan). He is not made welcome by the locals who are still terrified of his father’s works and the monster he created. The local Burgomaster gives him a sealed briefcase left by his father and inside Wolf finds his father’s scientific notes. At the manor he the past quickly reveals itself both from the grave warning of inspector Krough (Lionel Atwill) and an accidental meeting with Igor (Bela Lugosi) who asks him to heal the monster his father created, thought to be in some sort of coma. Desiring to reclaim his father’s lost honor and to prove his genius, Wolf’s initial attempts to re-animate the creature seem to fail but when Peter says he saw a giant in the woods, it appears the creature has risen yet again. When people are mysteriously killed in the village there is little doubt that the monster is responsible.
In a nutshell, that’s the basic jist of the movie. And a very different one at that, though not too far removed from what we might expect from a “mad scientist” story. Wolf von Frankenstein returns to his fatherland hoping to reclaim the honor of his legacy, his fathers work, and their family name. Admittedly, it is very confusing to follow the movie chronologically. Did papa Frank escape the castle in Bride of Frankenstein to ship off to England or the States or wherever to bear a son…? As the monster demanded in Bride, “Live…you must live.” And we assumed he did just that. Son of Frankenstein takes place more or less a generation later. There’s cars in the movie, not just carriages. But certain aspects of the script beg-to-question if the baron ever escaped. Wolf confesses he didn’t know his father very well, only what others told him, and of his “great work” and genius. It doesnt make sense for Wolf to travel to the hobble town of Frankenstein if his father was there to warn him. The only way for the context of the plot to make sense is to assume, no, papa Frank did not survive and did not accompany his pregnant bride to England, the State, wherever. He died and now his son is retracing his father’s steps. Understanding how Son of Frankenstein is not a direct sequel to Bride of Frankenstein is very disappointing. But it also seems the norm when it comes to Universal monster additions, especially when dealing with a third movie.
The set is designed with an eye for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, very expressionistic with shadowed backgrounds and twisted vaulted archways, something we might expect from a Tim Burton film today. The storm is raging as the Frank family find their way to the baronial manor. The house is oddly constructed with tall porch-like hallways and odd decor dinning areas. The son, Peter, with his blonde curls no doubt represents absolute innocence, while Igor represents evil, with the creature pulled somewhere between. Bela Lugosi gives us one of his best performances, I think, as Igor, though I will not hide my disappointment with the exclusion of Dwight Frye, who apparently was given an unaccredited role as “villager” in Son of Frank. Lugosi did wonderfully in the part of twisted vengeful Igor. In fact, the entire movie could have just been about him and it would have been fantastic. If we admit that Son of Frankenstein is its own standalone movie, loosely connected to the first, it is understandable why the powers that be did not cast Dwight as Igor, but still…it seems wrong to have him only as a lowly “villager.” Even in Bride they gave Dwight a more noteworthy role as Karl, one of Dr. Pretoruis’s henchmen.
The evolution of the monster is the most disappointing things of the movie. In the original movie, the creature had just been born and was thus learning and discovering. In Bride the creature was more or less coping with it’s created plight, desiring a mate, failing, and thus accepting its fate. Doomed. However, in Son it seems as if the creature took several steps back to the bumbling newborn, instead of the seasoned creation. By the third installment, it would be safe to assume the creature had progressed in some way, some understanding, as Igor stated to Wolf, “Your father made him to live for all time.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a creature with that kind of wisdom, of a being that lived for “all time?” Sadly, we do not get that creature in Son of Frankenstein. We’re drawn back to the basics. I like to think that is where James Whale would have taken the story, had he directed this film. There are some wonderful scenes, no doubt. As the creature lifts the boy and is ready to throw him into the sulfur pit, the creature changes it’s mind. When the boy helps the creature up the ladder, it’d expression is thought provoking. Maybe, once again, the monster just wanted a friend. Or maybe the monster just wanted to be good. To be given the chance.
A twist in the story is discovering that Igor is somehow controlling the monster, though this is never fully explained. The motivation makes sense, not wanting to be hanged, again, Igor deploys the creature to dispatch the men on the jury who sentenced the poor laboratory assist to the hangman’s gallery. He wants revenge, understood. But nothing is resolved. Igor is shot by Wolf. Killed. The creature discovers the body and goes berserk. The last moments are very rapid. Not to mention odd, especially with the leading actor, Basil Rathbone, who seems too…comedic for the role. I’m not saying Basil is a comedian by trade, most of his credited roles were in 1940s noir films, but there’s a strange way he carries himself that seems too satiric. And his swashbuckling slaying of the monster was, while fun to watch, altogether unnecessary. Listening to Basil playing as Wolf, I can’t help but imagine Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. And this is juxtaposed with some rather serious and horrifying moments in the film. Listening to inspector Krough describe how the creature had severed his arm as a boy, “torn by the roots” as he says, it is very disturbing. Also, whenever Igor is on stage, there is a real feeling of something sinister going on and his lines are ever so marvelous, as he says, “They hanged me for stealing bodies…(pause) so they said.”
The elements in Son of Frankenstein are endless. Father, husband, son, doctor…mad scientist even? Ultimately, the movie asks us what is truly important. Our legacy, our names, or are our families what’s most important, in the here and now. Should we be so concerned with righting the past that we forget about those in our lives today? It would seem, in this regard, the creature was nothing more than a ghost…one we’ll no doubt see later in this review series when Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) emerges from the sulfur pit to haunt our dreams once more.
My rating: 3.5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.
Universal Monsters in review: Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein (1948)
I had the absolute pleasure of watching this film for the very first time last night. As chance would have it, a storm was passing through the area. Lightening flashed and thunder boomed, rattling the glass, as I watched, popcorn in hand, one of the last of the Universal Monster Classics to ever don the silver screen. 1948 in film must have been a very strange era, or at least for self-acclaimed film historians such as myself. Certainly there were plenty of post-war film noir going on, but even those would be fizzing out. The real change would be the approaching dawn of Atomic Age Cinema of the 1950s. Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein is truly the last Universal Monster picture before the monsters turned to the atom bomb. While enjoying the rambunctious comedy of 40s famed duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the return of both Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman and Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Chaney had played the role of every single classic monster, aside of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but when the role for the Wolfman came up in A&C meet Frank, and I’m paraphrasing here, the role could go to no one else, he owned the Wolfman as much as the Wolfman owned him, or so he said. And if I’m not mistaken, this would be his last entry as the mythical full moon howler. The role of Dracula however was more ambiguous. Believe it or not, Bela was not the original casting for the famed night stalker. Bela was 66 years old when we dawned the cape and cowl for the last time, and technically first since the original 1931 Dracula. He’d played Dracula-esk roles since 1931, but never technically Dracula himself. You can see from first glance how aged the actor was, but nevertheless, was still mesmerizing and a powerful presence on stage. Film historians have commented that while Chaney as Lawrence Talbot was wonderful, Bela returning as Dracula is what really stole the show. Regardless, A&C meet Frankenstein is a wonderful footnote in the history of film, an important tale at the precipice of another era to come. Today, we’re joined with a equally fantastic author who has a special love for the movie. So, without further delay, let us see what our guest has in store for us.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Universal’s greatest horror comedy
In 1948 the classic Universal monsters Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, had long since reached the high tide mark of their popularity. In order to maximize continual profits the three had been featured alongside each other in two films, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (1941 and 1945); both of which had been commercial successes. But their final swansong was yet to come. Teaming up with America’s hottest comedy duo of the time, the originators of many a nightmare were to have one final goodbye. And what could have been a terrible pastiche, a jumping of the shark long before The Fonz donned a set of water skis, turned out to be arguably one of the finest comedy-horrors ever produced.
Jump forward forty years and I was a wee child of no more than four or five. At the time my Gran had some films recorded from the TV, designed to shut me and my brothers up when we came over to visit. Of the features that had been taped there were two in particular I would watch over and over. Both were black and white which even then felt like an outdated concept; black and white usually meant ‘boring’ to me, however these two enthralled me as equally as any modern movie could. Those two films were ‘Them’ a feature about giant radioactive ants, and ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.’
Back then I found the comedy funny and the monsters… well, not scary, but enthralling, fascinating, exciting. Horrific would be too strong a word to describe the characters I’d seen watered down and aped on re-runs of shows like the Munsters. But the action and danger was still there. The pull to the nightmare inhabitants of the shadows had begun its influence.
Looking back I am pleasantly surprised at just how well this stands up. It is an out and out good movie. Not a good movie for its time, or a good movie because it inspired something greater, but a straight up, honest-to-God good movie.
The cast is as authentic as you are ever going to get: Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster and Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man, and the opening credits that announces them is a cartoon sequence listing the monsters and setting things up nicely. This is something that would have definitely provided a hook for my younger self, and a scene that still looks pretty cool now. Once the role call is complete it dissolves into real footage, and within less than five minutes of the run time we are treated to a Lon Chaney Jr werewolf transformation, followed by the lycanthropic creature snarling with rage.
Make no mistake, this is going to be a monster movie.
The plot of the feature revolves around Abbott & Costello working as baggage handlers. One day two crates arrive and they are asked to deliver them to a horror museum by the unpleasant and bossy owner, leading to a few amusing exchanges. Below is just one in a list of highlights.
‘Well that’s gonna cost you over time because I’m a union man and I only work sixteen hours a day.’
‘A union man works only eight hours a day.’
‘I belong to two unions.’
Taking the crates to the museum and opening them up, the hapless Costello discovers their contents are nothing less than the two twins of terror, Count Dracula and the Frankenstein’s Monster! To add more to his woes we discover that his stunning girlfriend is in fact working with the evil Count and plans to put Costello’s feeble brain into the Monster to make it more obedient. Help is at hand as Lawrence Talbot arrives having chased the abominations from Europe, and tries to enlist the help of Abbott and Costello to thwart their dastardly plans. If only he could stop turning into a wolf…
The madness that ensues certainly makes for a tick list of old scary movie components: creepy castles, scary noises, chases, burning bodies, mad science labs, bat transformations, biting necks and possessed people.
But with all this horror where’s the comedy going to go? The answer… all over it.
Abbott and Costello are absolutely superb in this film. Their fast delivery of quick-fire patter is a joy to listen to. Snappy one-liners go hand in hand with great physical comedy, stupid voices and hilarious impressions. Costello’s impression of Dracula when he is so scared he struggles to talk makes me laugh even as I think about it, typing these words. This is rare as there is always a danger that comedy only works in context; taking it out of its social and historic birthplace can render it flat and useless. But not so with the gags and routines that literally fill this film from beginning to end.
However the success of a horror-comedy is dependent on striking that tricky balance between the two opposing genres. The trick here, and is the case in two other fine examples of this genre mash An American Werewolf In London and Shaun Of The Dead, is that the teeth of the monsters are kept as sharp as the wit of the script. All three monsters are in no way dumbed down. Dracula is cunning, he transforms into a bat, he hypnotizes people with his powerful stare and seduces beautiful women before biting them on the neck. Frankenstein’s Monster is lumbering and childlike, but still gruesome in appearance, brutish in strength and perfectly capable of throwing a screaming woman through a glass window, three stores up. The Wolf Man, just like in his 1941 debut, is a tragic figure in human form, constantly in internal agony over the monster inside; and a snarling, uncontrollably ferocious creature when under the influence of the full moon.
The threat is always there. The horror taken seriously. And that’s why this works so well.
The only scene to trivialize the monsters is a moment where Abbott believes the Wolf Man to be Costello dressed in his masquerade costume. The Wolf Man gets stuck in a bush and tumbles over branches as he tries to reach for his victim, whilst unaware of the monster’s true identity Abbott is berating it as he would his friend. This provides a good laugh, but is quickly extinguished when the creature finds its footing and chases the poor man. Suddenly we are back in the realms of horror movies as the slavering beast runs after its prey.
The mix is done right. Each component is allowed to be fully realized and interacts well whilst deftly not tripping over each other. Instead of piling up in a confused mess, the two elements run side by side, making for excellent companions.
The film is a fast moving feature, and all the better for it, with a building climax that doesn’t disappoint. In the melee of the closing moments we have the bumbling duo escape from the scientist’s lab whilst being pursued by Frankenstein’s Monster, all the while trying to avoid the brawling pair of Dracula and the Wolf Man who tear up the castle in a fight to the death. (I won’t tell you who wins).
There’s even room for a joke at the end delivered by master of horror, Vincent Price.
Some films are considered classics, but they aren’t really that enjoyable to watch, and I could name a lot of Universal monster movies within that. For every one that is genuine fun to sit through (eg The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein), there are countless more that are not (eg Werewolf of London, Dracula, The Mummy). Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein might not have the status of some of the others in cinema history, but I would wholly recommend it, not just as an introduction to the classic Universal monsters, but also as fine example of horror-comedy and most importantly because it’s a bloody good film.
‘That’s the wind.’
‘It should get oiled.’
JR Park draws from the crazy worlds of exploitation cinema and pulp literature for his literary inspiration. His family are both equally proud and disturbed by his literary output, dragged from a mind they helped to cultivate. He resides on the outskirts of Bristol in the UK and hopes one day they’ll let him in. Mr. Park is the author of several twisted tales of morbid doom, including Upon Waking and Terror Byte and Punch. He was also featured with a horrifyingly wonderful short in the horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. Besides giving his readers terrifying nightmares, Mr. Park is also one of the founding members of the up and coming UK Publishing team, The Sinister Horror Company, active in promoting other writers and attending numerous conventions.
Universal Monsters in review: Dracula (1931)
Behold! Dracula, the movie that launched a twenty-three year progression of monster movies we call Universal Classics today. Who could have predicted the success despite a rather tremendous stage career of not only the film but also the glowing eyed antagonist, Bela Lugosi? Dracula, the dashing, mysterious godfather of modern horror cinema, released at the Roxy Theater in New York City, on February 12, 1931. Even the cleverly crafted “fainting” rumors and “on-call” medical staff in the lobby orchestrated by nervous executives, hoping to induce some natural sense of morbid curiosity, was unnecessary. According to film historian Michael Fitzgerald, within the first 48 hours of Dracula’s release, the Roxy Theater had sold over 50,000 tickets. Horror had just become mainstream. Dracula’s acclaim paved the way for the other classics we’ve grown to love, our other Universal Studios Monsters, such as: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Wolfman, each owing their existence to the success of one film, even if said film wasn’t entirely all that great. But I think, in large part, the success, as it began at first, was due to the period in which the film released. Lets take a look back in time (key Twilight Zone theme).
The golden era of Universal Studios monster movies is one of most interesting bits of Americana cinematic history. Why? I’m glad you asked! As the roar of the 20’s was coming to an end, the decade that had ushered in high booms and some of the best silent pictures would eventually end in the same dramatic fashion. The Stock Market Crash, also known as “Black Tuesday,” on October 29th, 1929, while still under much debate among certain historical circles, we can say that following the panic, America went into the greatest depression she, thus far, had ever known. By March 1930, 3.2 million people would be unemployed. And while Americans were growing uncertain regarding the future in the face of food riots, strikes, and lamentable upheaval, even more uncertainty was developing on the horizon.
Beginning in 1928, against the backdrop of Germany’s almost two decade long depression following the end of the Great War, and the peoples utter discontent with what they considered a failure of Wiemar Democracy, the Nazi Party (The National Socialist Party) slowly began taking over the Reichstag (Reichstagsgebäude). Fascism was a darkening cloud over the Atlantic. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor. By 1935, the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws were established, and by 1939, with Germany’s invasion of Poland, World War II began.
This is, of course, just a brief look at the world during the era of Universal Horror. Only with the luxurious logic of hindsight can we contemplate why executives were nervous over Dracula’s success in the first place. Some things we can guess. This was a film, based on a stage play, based on a novel that was, at the time, rather dark and perhaps too sexualized for tastes during the 1930s. And across the pond, the world was in turmoil. And not just that, but Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces, the producers first pick as Dracula, had recently passed away. Who would they cast now? In the end, it boiled down to Lugosi, and mostly only because he was literally the last option and would work for cheap, about $500 a week. Certainly, the film was a risk for Universal, but as history proved, Dracula became one of the greatest escapes for worrisome audiences listening in on radio broadcasts about invasions, famine, poverty, and war. And of course this was no simple drive to the movies! Not at all. For the silent and talkie black & white era “going to the movies” was no humbug experience. Especially for theaters such as Roxy, in New York City. The Roxy was a Grand Theater, a “Cathedral of the Motion Picture.” Going to the movies to see Dracula was not the same experience as going to the movies today, to say the least. Going to the movies during the 20’s and 30’s was like going to the Opera in today’s standards. Folks got dressed up for cheap tickets and excellent performances. Live orchestras opened the night before the large velvet curtain pulled away revealing the white projection screen underneath. Going to the movies, was indeed The Greatest Show on Earth.
But that was then. Now, we’re sitting at 85 years since Dracula’s original release. What does Dracula say for today’s audiences. Well, to be honest I’d say most people probably feel Dracula is rather dated. Tod Browning’s directorial control seems very lacking in many regards. Consider the piece of cutout cardboard left on a lamp for one of Lugosi’s closeups. In fact, we should probably give more directorial credit to Karl Freund, famed cinematographer of 1927’s German Expressionist masterpiece, Metropolis. And the lack of a musical score gives one the impression of empty space, like watching a High School stage production than a big budget Hollywood movie. Its choppy. There’s a sense of discontinuity. Yet, despite all that, Dracula is, in my most humble opinion, incredibly dark and at times scary. The fact that the movie is, in its own way, still disturbing stresses something important about the kind of story being told. A horror story playing on fears realized in the hearts of humanity told since the first campfire. Dracula tells us about (though, i’d argue for socially different reasons between 1931 and today) our fears of the so-called foreign invader, fears of madness, fears of hierarchical purity (Nazis called this, Volksgemeinschaft; the United States called it, Eugenics), fears of the unknown, fears of losing free will (especially the freedom of choice), and fears of death.
One of the greatest (of many) appeals with Dracula is its quality of acting. While Dracula was Bela Lugosi’s signature role, a role he played beautifully and held audiences with his mesmerizing Hungarian accent, my favorite all in all is Dwight Frye’s portrayal as Renfield. Watching the movie, even now 85 years later, Renfield gives me the chills. His sensibility as Dracula’s minion, his raving lunacy, devouring spiders and flies alike, was delivered with pure genius and incredible character acting. Especially during the scene aboard the Vesta, when the London longshoremen discover Renfield hiding below deck, the look on his face looking up at them from the staircase is, to say the least, disturbing. And this pretty much goes for the rest of the supporting cast. Edward Van Sloan as Abraham Van Helsing was marvelous. And who could deny the captivating charm of Helen Chandler as Mina Harker, the subject of Dracula’s desire? Yes, Dracula has some production issues that could sway you away into settling with a few YouTube clips to satisfy your curiosity. If I could somehow convince you otherwise, I hope this review helped. There’s certainly an historic importance with Dracula, but not just that. Dracula was, regardless of the all its mistakes, a hauntingly human, and, as it was billed back in 1931, a strange [otherworldly] romance.
The Incredible Mr. Blasko!
“Who the heck is Mr. Blasko?” you may being asking yourself… And not to be nefarious or tricky on my part, Mr. Blasko is simply one of many names of one of the great pillars of horror, and certainly a reluctant one at that. The King of Horror Bela Lugosi, the man most recognizable as Dracula, was born Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko on October 20, 1882 in Lugos, Hungary, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His birthplace was only some fifty miles away from the western border of Transylvania and the Poenari Castle, the legendary home of Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula, whom Lugosi would portray to great acclaim on both stage and screen. Bela came from farmers and bankers but would never find his place there. He would be a runaway, a traveler in search of himself in the world. Bela became captivated by the touring theatrical troupes that came through Resita and set his heart on becoming an actor…
What is it about horror that seems to take hold of certain careers and never let go? For some stay for only a short while, a place for struggling up and comers to make a splash in the dark pool, a place for actors and actresses to earn their bones, so to speak. Consider the likes of Kevin Bacon or Johnny Depp for example, who played in Friday the 13th (1980) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) respectively…while both also growing to see much success, would often dabble in horror, they were never typecasted into horror as some tend to be. Its a tragic disposition for many of the classic actors, from their own perspective. They wanted to be actors and not just the strange ones, but as it would be, the world, or Hollywood for that matter, would only allow the strange and menacing portrayals they played so well. Some would dawn these cowls with glee, I think Vincent Prince is an excellent example of someone accepting that history would always look upon him as one of many faces of horror. Bela Lugosi fell into this…though from the very beginning it seem he was always destined for the cowl as King of Horror.
In 1919, when Bela fled Hungary (interesting side note: in 1914, Bela served in the Hungarian Army against Russia during The Great War, discharged in 1916 for health reasons, he would later support the Hungarian Revolution…however, when the revolution collapsed Bela found himself a wanted enemy of the new government) for Germany and broke into the Wiemar era films of the 1920s, he played in many dark films, including The Head of Janus and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was a great success in Germany. Its curious why he decided to immigrate to the United States…
Yet it was for our benefit, was it not? Bela came first to New Orleans during the last waning week of 1920 and then eventually made his way to New York City, working for a Hungarian theater as a stage actor. Again, he found great success performing for his native trope, making it all the way to Broadway. And he even made his way to film, in America, silent-pictures were still dominate and Bela had not yet mastered the English language. Though, it would be in 1927 when Bela’s biggest role would come to fruition.
It was in 1927 when Bela Lugosi first dawned the cope and cowl of Dracula. First it was a play, based on Bram Stroker’s gothic novel of the same name. Apparently, it was one of the more romantic and alluring renditions. According to his biography, Bela was handsome, mysterious and seductive, so much so that its reported audiences gasped when he first spoke with his strange albeit mesmerizing accent. Whoever cast Bela as Dracula for the stage is a genius. For in the minds of those who read the book, he was the perfect depiction for that haunting place known as Transylvania…this unknown, dangerous, yet, romantic place.
The introduction of talking pictures, also known as The Age of Sound, or just “talkies” for short brought a new era of filmography. Universal Pictures at this point had produced some of the most memorable silent-era films, including the more memorable Lon Chaney pictures, like The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and there were also Mary Philbin and Conrad Veidt pictures, The Cat and the Canary (1927), and The Man Who Laughs (1928) to name a few. In 1931, Universal set their sights on adapting the famous stage play, which was based on the famous novel by the same name, Dracula. The equally incredible Tod Browning would direct what would be nicknamed, “The Strangest Passion the World Has Ever Known, while Bela would make his own into a major Hollywood role, keeping to his adaptation of Dracula, Bela will forever be idolized and synonymous as the character. The 1931 film was a smash hit, and for obvious reasons. Despite the struggling of production, the film, even today, felt dark and foreboding. Bela was and still is the perfect Count immortal.
Bela would dawn the cowl of Dracula many times throughout the rest of his life, even in roles that were not technically Dracula, directors would want his essence of the immortal count. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, he would never venture far from horror. His most notable performances were Murderers in the Rue Morgue (1932),White Zombie (1932), International House (1933), The Raven (1934), Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). The 1940s would bring the era of spoofs, the terror ebbed away by the effects of another world war, in such films as, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). While none of these roles were especially noteworthy in isolation, Lugosi’s cumulative body of work during the 1930s established him as one of the first great stars of the horror genre. Nevertheless, throughout his entire career Lugosi was frustrated by his inability to break through into other types of films. In 1956, while in production of Plan 9 From Outer Space, he would be buried wearing the iconic costume.