A house of horrors meets a heaping helping of horsefeathers

There’s a lot to be said for knowing when to step away from a series or concept. In the case of Universal’s monster franchise, they kept driving that gravy train into the ground with too many sequels and crossovers, instead of creating awesome new monsters and stories.

1944’s House of Frankenstein at least had a consistent, coherent plot, despite being an obvious B movie. House of Dracula is riddled with plotholes, unbelievable reactions, and shamefully poor use of Frankenstein’s Monster.

I would say Universal redeemed itself with the final group appearance of the Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but then they proceeded to run that concept into the ground as well with a total of seven A&C Meet… films.

Dracula (John Carradine) shows up at Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens)’s castle at five in the morning, introducing himself as Baros Latos and begging for a cure for his Vampyrism. Dr. Edelmann, who’s been sleeping fully-clothed in a chair in his office, is amazingly chill about a stranger entering his home at that hour and saying he’s a Vampyre. Maybe that’s a more common occurrence than I thought!

Dr. Edelmann and his nurses, Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) and hunchbacked Nina (Jane Adams), begin work on a possible cure. Nina is very disappointed he’s interrupting his work on curing her hunchback, but he assures her he’ll fix her next.

Dracula’s dirt-lined coffin is moved into the cellar while Dr. Edelmann prepares for the blood transfusions which he believes will turn Dracula into a normal human. (Odd how Dracula never sought a cure in any of his previous movies! Also odd how he managed to come back to life after his demise in the previous film.)

Dr. Edelmann is in the middle of these very important experiments when Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) arrives, desperately begging for a cure for his lycanthropism. He insists he can’t wait for Dr. Edelmann to finish what he’s doing, since a full Moon is coming up. Larry then goes to the prison and begs the cops to put him in a cell for his own safety, a request they fulfill.

That same night, Dr. Edelmann goes to see Larry, after learning where he went, and sees him transmogrifying into the Wolf Man as the full Moon rises. Convinced of the seriousness of his condition, Dr. Edelmann takes him to the castle in the morning.

Dr. Edelmann believes Larry’s lycanthropism isn’t caused by the Moon, but cranial pressure which can be cured with spores from clavaria formosa flowers. This mysterious plant’s spores allegedly reshape bones.

Larry doesn’t want to wait for more spores to be harvested, and jumps off a rocky ledge into the ocean.

Dr. Edelmann goes after Larry, finding him in a cave and transformed again into the Wolf Man. Because it’s such a smart idea to look for a werewolf during a full Moon, and to not have backup in case things get ugly.

Larry attacks him, but turns back into his human form when the Moon disappears behind clouds. As they’re making their way out of the cave, they find Frankenstein’s Monster partly buried in quagmire, and are quite nonchalant about it.

Also with the Monster is the skeleton of Dr. Niemann from the previous film, and Larry doesn’t say anything about their close acquaintance.

Dr. Edelmann takes the Monster into his castle via a tunnel leading to the cellar and starts reanimating him, but is prevailed upon by his nurses to stop. The Monster is too dangerous and powerful to risk yet another reign of terror.

Meanwhile, Dracula is trying to seduce Milizia and turn her into a Vampyre, efforts which are interrupted when Dr. Edelmann tells Dracula he needs another blood transfusion. Strange antibodies were found in his blood.

Nina is on to Dracula’s scheme, and when she tells Dr. Edelmann her suspicions, he prepares a different type of transfusion, one which will destroy Dracula.

Dracula hypnotises Dr. Edelmann and Nina so he can reverse the blood transfusion and turn Dr. Edelmann into a Vampyre. As bad as this film is, it’s notable for the only instance of Dracula turning another man into a Vampyre, albeit not in the usual way so as to avoid homoerotic overtones.

Now the stage is set for an increasingly intense parade of horrors.

House of Dracula was released 7 December 1945 and became a commercial success, though it’s not so highly-rated today.

Making a macabre mate for a monster

Bride of Frankenstein, the first sequel to the 1931 classic Frankenstein, premièred 19 April 1935 in Chicago and went into general release the next day. Universal’s horror franchise was at its peak during the 1930s, with big budgets and strong scripts guaranteeing A pictures.

A sequel was in the works since the very successful preview screenings of the 1931 film, though director James Whale was very reticent to revisit the story. When he was finally convinced to take the job, he rejected several scripts from different writers. Finally, the work of William J. Hurlbut and Edmund Pearson was accepted and submitted to the infamous Hays Office for approval in November 1934.

Filming began 2 January 1935, with a budget almost equal to that of the original, $293,750 ($5.48 million in 2020). Shooting was projected to take 36 days, but went ten days over, wrapping on 7 March. Director Whale shut down production for ten days because O.P. Heggie wasn’t available to play the Hermit on schedule.

The final cost was $397,023 ($9.27 million today), over $100,000 ($1.86 million today) over budget. The final edit was finished just days before the première.

BOF earned $2 million by 1943 ($29.6 million now), with a profit margin of $950,000 ($14 million today). By and large, critics highly praised it, a reputation which has remained consistent over the last 85 years.

In 1988, BOF was added to the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and it routinely appears on those incessant best-of lists.

Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their buddy Lord Byron are hanging out on a dark and stormy night. When the fellows praise Mary for her novel Frankenstein, she stresses her intention was to impart a moral lesson, not merely to entertain. She also says there’s more of the story yet to be told, since neither monster nor creator perished.

We then shift to the end of the 1931 film, when it looked as though the Monster was burnt alive in a windmill as a mob of angry villagers cheered. This euphoria is quickly dashed when they realise Dr. Henry Frankenstein is also probably burnt to a crisp along with his creation.

Hans, father of Maria (the little girl the Monster accidentally drowned in the first film), wants to see the remains to prove this menace is gone. Towards this end, and against his wife’s wishes and the Burgomeister’s orders, he makes his way to the still-burning windmill.

Curiosity kills the cat when Hans falls through a hole leading to a flooded cavern under the windmill, where the Monster lurks. Both Hans and his wife are killed. The Frankensteins’ servant Minnie (the hilarious Una O’Connor) comes upon the scene next, and flees in terror.

No one believes Minnie when she says the Monster is still very much alive.

Henry (Colin Clive) is taken home, where his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) realises he’s not dead, just wounded and shocked. After Elizabeth lovingly nurses him back to health, Henry tries to settle down to a quiet, peaceful life, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men.

Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), Henry’s old mentor, visits and suggests Henry continue his experiments with reanimating the dead. Elizabeth has a very bad feeling about this.

Pretorius shows Henry a bunch of miniature people in jars—a king and queen, a ballerina, an archbishop, a mermaid, a devil. There’s a bit of humor when the king escapes his jar to be with the queen, resulting in Pretorius picking him up with tweezers and putting him back in his jar.

Creating a life-sized human is the ultimate goal, and Pretorius suggests they make a mate for the Monster. Pretorius will create the brain, and Henry will collect body parts.

Meanwhile, the Monster saves a shepherdess (Anne Darling) from drowning, and has his kindness repaid by screams. After two hunters wound the Monster, they alert the villagers, and presently an angry mob captures the Monster, takes him to a dungeon, and chains him up.

The Monster manages to escape and flees into the forest, as the mob continues hunting him. At night, he enters the cabin of a blind old hermit playing the violin, and for the very first time makes a friend. For so long, the hermit has been praying for a friend to take away his loneliness. The hermit also teaches him to speak.

Their newfound mutual happiness is short-lived, as very soon two lost hunters arrive and recognise the Monster. They can’t see the pure, kind-hearted creature the hermit does, and provoke him into accidentally burning down the cabin.

While hiding in a crypt, the Monster spies Pretorius and two other guys grave-robbing. After the other two leave, Pretorius tells the Monster about the plan to create a wife.

But will Henry hold up his end of the bargain in bringing this creature to life, and will the two monsters live happily ever after?

A monstrous quintet

Premièring in NYC on 15 December 1944 and in L.A. on 22 December, with a general release on 16 February 1945, The House of Frankenstein was the first multi-monster movie. Prior, only two monsters had appeared together. In early drafts, even more Universal monsters were featured—the Invisible Man, the Ape Woman, the Mummy, the Mad Ghoul. Working titles included The Devil’s Brood and Chamber of Horrors.

This film marked the début of Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster. His predecessor, Boris Karloff, is said to have coached him on how to play the role. Karloff’s appearance was to be his last in Universal’s classic horror cycle.

A mad scientist, Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff), was thrown in prison for robbing graveyards in his quest to replicate Dr. Frankenstein’s work in bringing the dead back to life. His hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) is very eager for this project to take place, since he feels it’ll cure his deformity.

After their break from prison during a lightning storm, they run across the travelling Prof. Lampini (George Zucco) and help to push his circus wagons out of the mud. To repay the favor, Lampini invites them into one of the wagons.

This isn’t exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship, since Dr. Niemann and Daniel murder Lampini and take over his horror show.

Who should attend the next show but Bürgermeister Hussman (Sig Ruman), the reason Dr. Niemann was thrown in prison! As part of his quest for revenge, Dr. Niemann brings Count Dracula’s skeleton to life and convinces him to do exactly as he’s told.

While Hussman is walking home with his grandson Karl and his new bride Rita (Anne Gwynne), Dracula (John Carradine) pulls up alongside them and offers a ride. The Hussmans also agree to have a drink with him.

It doesn’t take long for Dracula to bring Rita under his spell with a hypnotic ring. That mission accomplished, Dracula assumes his bat form late at night and kills Hussman. It’s too late by the time Karl discovers their guest’s true identity and rushes to his grandfather.

Things go from bad to worse when Rita disappears while Karl is phoning for help. He races after Dracula’s departing carriage, but to not avail. Karl alerts a team of police on horseback, whom he gives chase with.

Rita is recovered after a road accident caused by Daniel throwing Dracula’s coffin into the path of the pursuers. Dracula himself is killed by the sunlight.

Dr. Niemann’s next stop is Castle Frankenstein, which is now in ruins. He and Daniel are ordered by cops to scram, since travelling shows like theirs aren’t allowed.

More trouble immediately follows when Daniel comes to the rescue of a young Romany girl, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), being whipped and turns the whip on the attacker. Daniel begs Dr. Niemann to take in the injured girl till she recovers. Since the cops also ordered the Romany out, she’s left without any familiar faces.

Ilonka is initially alarmed when she discovers Daniel’s a hunchback, but quickly becomes friendly and accepting again. Daniel’s been kind to her, so it doesn’t matter what he looks like.

While Dr. Niemann and Daniel are prowling around the ruined castle in the middle of the night, Daniel falls through the floor and into a cave. Explorations reveal the frozen bodies of the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), preserved inside ice blocks.

Daniel and Dr. Niemann light a fire to unthaw the bodies. First to be freed is the Wolfman, Larry Talbot, who demands to know why he’s being tortured like this. He can’t bear living with the curse of transforming into a wolf at every full moon.

Dr. Niemann promises to free him from the curse if he helps with reanimating the Monster. This promise is short-lived, since despite Larry and Daniel’s begging, Dr. Niemann refuses to work on anything but reviving the Monster and getting revenge on two other people.

Meanwhile, Larry becomes the Wolfman at the next full moon and kills someone. Daniel tries to tell Ilonka about Larry’s true identity, but she’s too in love with Larry to believe it. She screams at Daniel that she hates him and that he’s ugly, and runs away. Awash in anguish and unrequited love, Daniel begins whipping the Monster’s body.

The locals form a search party to find the werewolf after the body of the Wolfman’s latest victim is discovered. During the search, Larry tells Ilonka the truth about himself, and says Dr. Niemann won’t help him.

Larry confronts Dr. Niemann again while the Monster is being reanimated, and once again is rebuffed.

Everything comes to a head at once when Larry transmogrifies into the Wolfman again, the angry villagers converge on Dr. Niemann’s house, and the Monster is reanimated.

Arising from the shadows of the past

Released 13 January 1939, Son of Frankenstein marked the final time Boris Karloff played the Monster, the first time Béla Lugosi played Ygor, and the last A production in the Frankenstein franchise. It was a huge shot in the arm to Universal’s declining horror reputation.

On 5 April 1938, an almost-bankrupt L.A. theatre screened Frankenstein, Dracula, and King Kong. It was a major moneymaker and inspired many other successful revivals. Universal, seeing dollar signs, decided to make another Frankenstein sequel.

James Whale, director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, didn’t want to do another horror film. In his place, Universal chose Rowland V. Lee.

Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s son, moves his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and their little boy Peter (Donnie Donagan, now 85 years old) to the family castle upon coming into his inheritance.

Wolf’s enthusiasm for this new chapter of his life isn’t shared by his family, nor anyone else. The house gives Elsa and Peter the creeps, and the locals deeply resent their existence. After all, Wolf’s dad created a monster who terrorized them.

Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) visits on the first night to try to warn Wolf away. Krogh’s right arm was torn from the roots by the Monster when he was a boy, something he’s never forgotten. He tells Wolf the Monster may still be at large, committing murders, despite being believed dead for years.

Across from the castle is Henry’s old lab, whose roof was blown off when the Monster was destroyed. Wolf eagerly goes to explore it after breakfast, and encounters Ygor. Earlier, Ygor peered in on Peter while he was sleeping.

Ygor is a body-stealing blacksmith who survived a hanging and now lives in the old lab, away from the eyes of the world. His neck was permanently deformed by the hanging.

Ygor takes Wolf to the family crypt, where his grandfather and father are entombed. Also in the crypt is the Monster’s comatose body.

Ygor says they’re friends, and that the Monster does things for him. The Monster is now comatose because he was struck by lightning under a tree while hunting. He can’t die because Henry made him live for always.

Ygor demands Wolf reanimate the Monster, on condition he not be seen by anyone.

With help from Ygor, Wolf hauls the Monster’s body up into the lab and tethers him to the table he was brought to life upon. Ygor pushes Wolf’s loyal assistant Benson (Edgar Norton) out of the door, but ultimately relents when Wolf explains how valuable Benson is.

Wolf and Benson meticulously examine the Monster every which way to determine what kind of state he’s in. Startling discoveries are two bullets in the lung and very unusual blood.

Ygor is hauled before the court to spill all he knows about Wolf and his experiments. If he doesn’t cooperate, he’ll be hanged again, properly this time. Ygor argues he was legally pronounced dead, and is told to leave and not cause trouble.

After concluding his extensive examinations, Wolf says as a human he should destroy the Monster, but as a scientist, it’s his duty to reanimate his father’s creation.

After Benson turns on the generator, the process initially seems to work very quickly. However, the signs of life fade away, appearing mere reflexes. Wolf declares the Monster is too comatose to reanimate.

While dining with Krogh, it comes out that Henry’s lab was built by the Romans, over a natural sulphur pit used as mineral baths. The sulphur is now over 800 degrees. Krogh doesn’t know how Wolf can bear to work with those sulphur fumes.

Peter’s innocent babble also reveals the Monster indeed reanimated and is on the loose. Full of a foretaste of horror, Wolf rushes off to the lab.

Ygor is nowhere to be found when Wolf arrives, but Wolf does find the Monster. Differing from the previous two Frankenstein films, he now wears a fur vest and can no longer talk.

When Ygor arrives, Wolf insists the Monster can’t leave. No one can know he’s there, despite Ygor’s claim the Monster only does what he tells him. Wolf also says he must continue his experiments. The Monster can walk, but his mind isn’t well yet.

Back at the castle, Wolf tells Benson what happened and swears him to secrecy. Despite his sheer terror, Wolf is determined to finish his work and become the greatest scientist of all time. He trusts the Monster will only do what Ygor bids him.

Trouble begins when Benson disappears. Ygor reports he ran away in fear of the Monster, but Wolf is terrified the worst happened.

And thus begins a new wave of horror as the Monster prowls through the town and the villagers seek blood revenge on Wolf.

“I saw what I saw when I saw it!”

Released 15 June 1948, A&C Meet Frankenstein was the first of the duo’s seven A&C Meet… pictures. It made over $3 million at the box office, and remains one of their best-known and most popular films.

In London, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) places an urgent call to a Florida railway station’s baggage department, where Wilbur Gray (Lou) and Chick Young (Bud) work. He asks if there are two crates addressed to McDougal House of Horrors, and says under no circumstances are the crates to be delivered until he arrives.

During this phonecall, Talbot transforms into the Wolfman, and rips up his room. Wilbur thinks he’s put his dog on the line, and hangs up in disgust.

McDougal then arrives, demanding his crates. Wilbur doesn’t want to obey him, but McDougal insists. While Wilbur and Chick fetch the crates, he tells Wilbur’s girlfriend Sandra the crates contain Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. They’ve been insured for $20,000.

McDougal is furious at Wilbur’s mishandling of the crates, and orders him to take them to his House of Horrors so an insurance agent can inspect them. If Wilbur damages them, he intends to collect that $20,000.

While Wilbur opens the first crate, Chick answers a call from McDougal and assures him everything’s alright. Chick is quite bemused by Wilbur’s fear of the creatures in the House of Horrors, and even more so by Wilbur’s belief that the coffin inside the crate contains the real Dracula.

While Wilbur is reading a card about the legend of Dracula, he hears odd noises. The next time Chick is out, Wilbur sees the coffin opening. Chick thinks Wilbur is being ridiculous and wasting time, since these creepy goings-on only happen when Chick isn’t there.

Conveniently, Dracula (Béla Lugosi) has left his coffin and is lurking in the shadows by the time Chick investigates. Chick laughs while reading the card for the next crate, about Frankenstein’s monster, but Wilbur takes it very seriously.

While they’re opening this crate, Dracula gets back into his coffin. Wilbur is so freaked out to see Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange), he bumps into a guillotine and causes a dummy to get beheaded.

The next time Chick is out, Dracula puts Wilbur under his spell, and then brings Frankenstein’s monster to life. By the time McDougal arrives with the insurance man, both monsters are gone. McDougal has Wilbur and Chick arrested.

Dracula compels Frankenstein’s monster to his castle, where we learn Sandra is in cahoots with him. He insists she call him Dr. Lajos, to avoid suspicion.

Dracula doesn’t want to repeat Dr. Frankenstein’s mistake by giving the monster a bad brain. He wants the monster to have no intellect or will of his own, so he’ll bend to his master’s will. Sandra has just the brain in mind—Wilbur’s.

Talbot comes to see Wilbur and Chick, who’ve been bailed out of jail. He’s horrorstruck the crates were delivered before he arrived, and says he’s been tracking Dracula from Europe. Talbot believes Dracula wants to bring Frankenstein’s monster to life.

Talbot demands Wilbur lock him into his room, and not let him out no matter what, since the Moon will soon be full. Of course, Talbot has forgotten his suitcase, and Wilbur helpfully delivers it. He’s changed into the Wolfman by the time Wilbur gets there, but avoids detection the entire time.

In the morning, Wilbur and Chick meet undercover investigator Joan Raymond, who reveals she, not Sandra, paid their bail. Wilbur asks her to be his date to that night’s masquerade ball, to which he’s also taking Sandra.

When Wilbur and Chick unlock Talbot, they find him in a very disheveled state. They laugh off his story about being bitten by a werewolf, but he insists he’s completely serious, and that they have to find the missing monsters.

Sandra is upset Wilbur has come to Dracula’s castle with Chick and Joan, since she wanted him to come alone. While the ladies are changing into their costumes, Talbot calls and warns Wilbur he may be in the house of Dracula. Talbot also wants them to search the place.

Their search yields a lot of extremely creepy, unexpected things, among them the monsters. Yet again, only Wilbur encounters them, and Chick is convinced he’s making things up.

The plot thickens when Dracula meets Wilbur, and Sandra discovers Joan is from the insurance company.