Saturday, May 10, 2008
With House of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures finally joined all their major monsters (sans the Mummy) into one movie...
...well, it's really two movies, in my opinion.
Boris Karloff returns to the Frankenstein saga, this time playing Dr. Nieman, a surgeon who's been imprisoned as a result of his experiments. He escapes with his assistant, a hunchback named Daniel, whom Dr. Nieman has promised to cure his condition, giving him a new, more powerful body.
After their escape, Neiman and Daniel encounter a traveling horrors roadshow, and the two kill the proprietor and take his place!
This horror roadshow features as one of its main pieces the skeleton of Count Dracula, and after Neiman pulls the stake from the chest, Dracula is revived!
Nieman compels Dracula to help him get revenge on Hussman, who was responsible for Nieman being imprisoned, and Dracula does so by seducing Hussman's daughter!
Things go wrong, however, and when Nieman and Daniel flee Hussman's estate, Dracula tries to catch up to them in order to regain his coffin before sunrise, but Nieman betrays the Count, tossing the coffin aside as the wagon speeds along, which dooms the Count, who can't get to safety.
And that pretty much ends the first story in this movie. Dracula never actually meets up with the Frankenstein Monster or the Wolfman!
And now, the second part starts...
Nieman and Daniel run into a band of gypsies, and rescue a girl, Ilonka, who's being mistreated by them. Daniel falls hard for Ilonka, and she appears to care for him, despite his deformity. The trio continue traveling, and come to Castle Frankenstein, where they discover the Monster and the Wolfman frozen in ice, after the townspeople had flooded the castle in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman."
Nieman thaws them out, and tells Larry Talbot (who reverts to human form after being thawed) that he can cure him of his lycanthropy, but in reality, he wants to revive the Monster to exact revenge on some former associates!
So, Daniel's been promised to be cured of his deformity, and now, Ilonka's falling for Larry! Even after Daniel tells her Larry's the Wolf Man, she still loves Talbot. And while this is going on, the Wolf Man kills a man, inciting the villagers (who weren't happy to see the horrors roadshow to begin with).
This really speed up the next night, as Niemann revives the Monster, and Talbot turns into the Wolf Man! Ilonka shoots the Wolfman with silver bullets, but she's killed while doing so.
This enrages Daniel, who blames Nieman and tries to choke him to death, but the Monster, apparently sensing Nieman was responsible for reviving him, throws Daniel out a window, and carries Nieman outside, where the villagers are already carrying torches and pitchforks.
The villagers set fire to the marsh brush, causing the monster to flee with Nieman, walking right into quicksand, which drowns both of them.
Honestly, I only have two real complaints about this movie... first of all, there's the whole lack of meeting between Dracula and the Monster & Wolf Man, which would be rectified in "House of Dracula" (itself an inferior movie to this one). And secondly, at the end of the movie, when the monster is carrying Nieman into the quicksand, it's way too obvious that Karloff was expecting to be able to come right out of the muck as soon as the director shouted "Cut!" -- but that is really a minor quibble.
The whole feature is very fast-paced, with nary a chance to catch one's breath. In many ways, it almost feels like someone took a movie serial and pared it down to one single movie!
Of course, of all the characters in this flick, only the monsters would go on to "House of Dracula," and later, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." And we'll cover the first of those next week!