Erle C. Kenton, 1944
Starring: Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., J. Carrol Naish, Anne Gwynne
Mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) has long been planning revenge on the town that imprisoned him for digging up and experimenting on corpses. His new friend, hunchback Daniel (J. Carroll Naish), greatly desires a new body and helps him escape from prison. They go on the run together and come across a traveling carnival act led by Professor Lampini, who has a horror exhibit centering on the skeleton of Dracula. Niemann kills Lampini and takes over his act. The first stage of his revenge plot is to revive Dracula, who entrances a young girl and kills a villager before crumbling to dust in the sunlight. Niemann next finds the frozen bodies of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man and thaws them out. Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, begs Niemann for help, but before long he transforms by moonlight and kills someone. Daniel, the hunchback, has rescued and fallen in love with a gypsy girl, but she turns her attentions to Talbot and promises to help him fight his curse. When both monsters are set free on the countryside, the villagers get wind of things and chaos breaks loose.
A loose sequel to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the first of several monster rally films produced by a somewhat desperate Universal, House of Frankenstein reunites Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, a mad scientist, the Wolf Man, and a hunchbacked assistant. Originally intended to also include a number of other Universal monsters, including the Mummy and the Invisible Man, budget prevented this. All of the monster rally films include this line up, including House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The fact that Universal regularly reused shots and sound clips from other Universal monster films, including Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein, shows how low they were scraping in the bottom of the barrel for plot, effects, and budget.
The fifth or sixth film in the Frankenstein series, this ties with #4, The Ghost of Frankenstein, as the weakest entry in the franchise. There are numerous continuity issues, so many they are not worth listing here. The monster mash up films are all guilty of this to varying degrees and it is best to approach the film without expecting that it is a sequel to any of the original Universal monster films. Or, actually, without expecting anything at all. While I found House of Dracula (a sequel to this film) to be absolutely delightful, House of Frankenstein starts off great, thanks to Karloff, but frequently lags or just outright doesn’t make any sense. It gets confused and caught up in the numerous plot lines, each one a different bid to drag in a separate Universal monster. Niemann’s revenge plot in particular makes absolutely no sense. He hopes to switch the brains of the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, though I have no idea why or how that seemed like a good idea to the script writers.
The acting, as with many of the Universal horror sequels, is questionable at best. Though Karloff is fantastic as Dr. Niemann, the script rapidly runs out of steam for his character. J. Carroll Naish (The Beast With Five Fingers) is good as the hunchbacked Daniel, but quickly descends into parody when he falls in love with a gypsy girl and becomes consumed with jealousy when she falls for Larry Talbot. Chaney, Jr. is dumber than ever as Talbot aka the Wolf Man, though the script certainly doesn’t do him any favors. Carradine is thrown in to the mix and isn’t able to reach the heights he does in House of Dracula. I have never liked Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster, partly because his portrayal represents the depths to which the character has sunk. The Monster is also barely a side thought in most of these monster rally films, particularly in this one. George Zucco (Universal horror regular) has a too brief cameo as Professor Lampini and I wish he had more time in the film.
Despite its flaws, there are some reasons to watch House of Frankenstein. There is an absolutely fantastic introduction scene with Karloff. It’s so wonderful that even though the film runs out of steam at about the half an hour mark, anyone who loves Universal monsters should certainly watch the beginning. Overall it is campy and fun and throws in enough monsters and mayhem to chug through it’s 70-minute running time, though it feels more like a loose anthology than a cohesive feature film. The film is available as part of Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection, along with the entire Frankenstein series.