Roy William Neill, 1943
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr., Ilona Massey, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi
Instead of getting a proper sequel, Universal decided that The Wolf Man should become part of a spin off series that would be known as monster mash up films. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first of these and was followed by House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is another loose follow up, though this is a comedy and not a horror film. These films are also supposed to be part of the Frankenstein series, which had already hit the absolute bottom of the barrel with Ghost of Frankenstein, the fourth film in that series.
The monster mash up films really represent the bottom of the barrel for Universal horror. Though at their high points these films are fun and campy, “budget” is often the word of the day and applies to acting, script, set, and effects. In this first outing, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is awakened from death several years after The Wolf Man by grave robbers pillaging in the moonlight. He rises as a werewolf, goes on a killing spree, and is admitted to a hospital in human form, where he tells the doctors he is a murderer. They just think he’s insane. He eventually leaves, hoping to find Dr. Frankenstein and thus a cure for his immortality.
The gypsy woman from The Wolf Man (Maria Ouspenskaya) agrees to guide him, though the villagers near Castle Frankenstein are less than helpful. While fleeing from them in wolf-man form, Talbot stumbles across a frozen area below the castle where he finds Frankenstein’s Monster (Bela Lugosi). They become friends and Talbot hopes the Monster will remember where his creators notes are hidden. Talbot also meets Elsa Frankenstein (the lovely Ilona Massey), the doctor’s daughter, and persuades her not to sell the castle until they can find her father’s research.
The villagers quickly catch on that Frankenstein’s Monster has awakened and the Wolf Man is about and plan how to destroy them and the castle. Meanwhile, Talbot’s doctor has followed him from England and becomes obsessed with Frankenstein’s research. Instead of killing the Monster and Talbot, he can’t resist reviving the Monster to complete strength, much to Elsa’s horror. The Wolf Man and the Monster face off against each other until the locals blow up the dam underneath the castle and both monsters are swept away.
Much of the problem with these monster mash up films is that the stories do not flow together and are broken into awkwardly blended segments. While I actually really enjoyed the creepy intro, which involves Talbot’s awakening and imprisonment at a hospital, this feels like two separate films, with Frankenstein’s Monster not coming onto the scene till halfway through. This is a problem with House of Frankenstein as well, which also has an excellent beginning (with Karloff as a mad scientist breaking out of prison), but descends into utter ridiculousness.
A bit of sad irony with this film is that Bela Lugosi was brought on to play Frankenstein’s Monster. His dialogue was cut and many of his scenes were shot with a stunt man/stand in, resulting in one of his most pointless performances. To make matters worse, Lugosi was originally considered for the part of Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein and then the Monster, which he deemed beneath him, surely his worst career move. He had a good part as the deformed, manipulative Ygor in Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein. At the end of Ghost of Frankenstein, Ygor’s brain is actually grafted into the Monster, so his final moments in the film involve speaking with Lugosi’s voice. Of course that plot element is completely avoided here (the mash up series completely avoids continuity at all costs), but it does seem horribly ironic that Lugosi was relegated to playing a bargain basement version of the Monster towards the end of his career. Such a physically demanding role surely should have been a younger man’s game and seeing his face under the Monster make-up is distracting.
Though I enjoyed the opening and nothing about this movie is worse than any of the other Universal horror sequels (not that that’s saying much), I don’t think I would recommend it. Larry Talbot is such a whiner that it’s hard to like his character. There is also an absolutely horrifying scene where the entire village, celebrating some sort of wine festival, breaks into the most annoying song imaginable about how “life is short and death is long.” Understandably, Talbot has a meltdown, but it would be nice to have a scene of him massacring some villagers while in human form. Alas.
If you feel compelled to watch this, it is part of The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection along with The Wolf Man, Werewolf of London, She-Wolf of London, and some special features. I think both of the monster mash up sequels are superior, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, but they can only be found in Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection and Dracula: The Legacy Collection respectively. I think Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was tacked on to the The Wolf Man box set for sheer lack of other sequels or more special features.