“I’m going to repay you for betraying me. I’m going to give that brain of yours a new home in the skull of the Frankenstein Monster.”
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) featured two of Universal’s most famous monsters. I compared it to the current cinematic universe films Marvel and DC are producing. Well, if Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was akin to Batman v. Superman (except, you know, not mostly crap) then House of Frankenstein (1944) is how I predict the upcoming Justice League film to be, a total mess attempting to throw too much into one pot.
Dr. Gustav Neimann (Boris Karloff) was imprisoned 15 years ago for following in the footsteps of Henry Frankenstein by experimenting with life and sometimes switching the brains of animals and humans.
Seeking revenge against the man who imprisoned him, Bürgermeister Hussman (Sig Ruman), Neimann takes the first chance he gets to break out after a thunderstorm tears open his prison. Neimann and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) kill a showman of supernatural oddities, like the coffin and skeletal remains of Count Dracula. They use the showman’s horse and carriage to travel to a small village where Hussman lives.
Neimann revives Dracula (John Carradine) by pulling the stake out of his chest (because that’s just how easy it is now restore a vampire that two seconds ago had been nothing but a skeleton). He makes a deal with the vampire that will ensure Hussman’s death.
Neimann and Daniel later move on to Visaria and the remains of Ludwig Frankenstein’s castle, where Neimann hopes to continue the work of the Frankensteins. Along the way, the duo run into an abused but kindhearted gypsy (played by Elena Verdugo); Larry Talbot, aka the Wolf Man played by Lon Chaney, Jr.; and the barely-alive Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange).
Neimann seeks perverted success, Daniel wants to be normal, the gypsy girl wants to be with Larry, Larry is looking for peace, and the Monster…um…likes quicksand (inside joke for those who’ve seen the film).
There’s a lot going on here. Way too much, I have to say. This would be a heavy load for a two hour film, let alone a 71-minute one. What we have here are basically mini-Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula films all rolled up into one. And I mean mini.
Dracula is in less than 12 minutes of the movie, which isn’t just incredibly short but ultimately pointless. House of Frankenstein takes the time to set up Haussman, his daughter, her new husband, and a police inspector played by Lionel Atwill. Only none of them are referenced after Neimann and Daniel flee town, leaving Dracula to die again anti-climatically after doing hardly anything.
If the references to Neimann’s revenge against Haussman were eliminated from the beginning of the film, this entire sequence could be entirely omitted and have no effect on the overall plot. It’s a boring, useless detour meant to clumsily get Dracula into the movie and nothing more.
Then we have Larry and Creature. The Creature isn’t even worth talking about since he isn’t conscious until the last 8 minutes of the film and doesn’t do anything until the final three.
Chaney does a great job as per usual, but Larry’s story-line is just a cramped, inferior version of what was told much better in his last two films. The film doesn’t even have time to show him in werewolf form for more than probably a few minutes of the movie.
The screenwriter couldn’t even be bothered to make sense of Larry’s story. For example, it’s been established that Larry can’t die. Presumably silver isn’t an option, since he was killed with a silver cane in The Wolf Man (1941), that didn’t do him in for good, and no mention is made of it or other silver objects in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
But then, out of no where, Larry says in this film that a silver bullet can kill him. Then why did he go through all the trouble of finding a Frankenstein in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man if he could’ve just asked Maleva to shoot him?
Larry has made it clear that he wants to die. So why did it take him two tries with mad scientists to think of the silver bullet? Where’s your sense, movie? Where is it?! You can’t just pull things out of your butt like that when it makes no sense with the previous movies.
How’s everybody else in this monster disaster? With the exception of the always wonderful Boris Karloff, they’re horrible. Daniel and Ilonka, the gypsy girl, are overacting, melodramatic embarrassments and practically everyone else is stiff and boring.
House of Frankenstein is an emblem of what happens when too many ideas, characters, and stories are thrown into a movie. It’s all over the place and trying to cram in so much that it doesn’t do service to any of it. If you feel you must watch this, substitute for Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Wolf Man. That’s basically what you’re getting anyway but in the form of a bite sized candy bar that was always past its expiration date.