The Monster Rallies of Universal Studios continued on with 1945’s House of Dracula, where once again we get Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Hunchback, the Wolf Man, and the always-required Mad Scientist, but this entry pretty much ignored the events of the previous film while still casting the same actors, welcome to the wonderfully crazy continuity of Universal Monsters.
There are a lot of Dracula movies out there and the ones from Universal Studios were my meat and potatoes growing up, I didn’t discover Christopher Lee and Hammer Films until much later, but with House of Dracula, we get a rather interesting take on the world’s most famous vampire. In this film we find him seeking a cure for his vampirism and one must ask the question why? Have his centuries of murder, mayhem and blood-drinking gotten old? Does having no reflection become too painful? The movie opens with Count Dracula (John Carradine) arriving at the castle home of Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) to beg the good doctor for his aid in curing him of vampirism, “To seek release from a curse of misery and horror, against at which I am powerless to fight alone” and while Edelmann doesn’t believe in the supernatural he strangely agrees to help a man who showed up at his house with a coffin in tow. I’m no scientist but allowing a professed murderer to stay in your home seems like a really bad idea.
Also seeking a cure from Dr. Edelmann is one Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), who believes the doctor is his best hope at releasing him from his lycanthropic cures, but after witnessing Talbot’s transformation Edelmann believes that it isn’t the light of the full moon that triggers Talbot’s transformations but pressure on the brain, and the good doctor feels that spores from a hybrid plant could cure him. It’s at this point that people who have watched House of Frankenstein may be wondering why Talbot needs a cure when he should be dead, having been shot with a silver bullet fired by “love’s understanding hand” in that film. Then there is the issue of Dracula also meeting his demise in that movie as well, having been caught out in the sun and reduced to ash and bone, but both he and the Wolf Man are back for this outing with no explanation whatsoever. Also returning is the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) yet for some reason his return the screenwriters felt warranted a proper explanation.
The explanation for Frankenstein’s Monster returning starts with Talbot’s suicidal urges, leading him to jump off a cliff only instead of finding himself in the afterlife he ends up in a cave beneath the castle, this is where he and Edelmann come across the catatonic body of the Monster, still clutching the skeleton of Dr. Niemann. Apparently, after sinking into the quicksand, at the end of House of Frankenstein, the mud has somehow brought them beneath Edelman’s manor house, and because no self-respecting scientist can resist playing with Frankenstein’s Monster, Edelmann takes the Monster back to his lab to tinker with him. Due to the nervous urgings of his hunchbacked assistant Nina (Jane Adams), as well as Talbot who points out to the good doctor “This thing destroyed Frankenstein. It’s brought death to all who have tried to follow in his footsteps” Edelemann finally decides not to revive the Monster, or at least not until we get to the third act.
Meanwhile, despite his stated goal of wanting to be cured of vampirism, Dracula sets his mesmerizing eyes on Edelmann’s other assistant Milizia Morelle (Martha O’Driscoll) and tries to seduce her into becoming a vampire, telling her “My world is waiting for you, forsake the cross so that you can join me there” but lucky for her, Edelmann arrives in time to interrupt the seduction and we are left confused as Dracula’s true intentions and left pondering such questions as “If he does really want to become human what would be the point of creating a vampire bride?” and the even bigger question “If he does become mortal wouldn’t all those centuries he’s lived suddenly catch up with him and turn him into a pile of dust?”
Needless to say, this all seems to be a strange proposition for a creature of the night who has spent a millennium running around committing vile evil acts and the like. What should be noted is that most of the motivations of the Universal Monsters are pretty straightforward, Larry Talbot wants to end his suffering of being a werewolf, Frankenstein’s Monster is mostly a childlike creature lashing out at his tormentors, the Mummy wants to hook up with a reincarnated love and the Creature of the Black Lagoon thinks Julie Adams is hot and that white man should stay the hell out of his lagoon, but in this movie, while Talbot remains true to his goals Dracula’s motivations are all over the place and quite unclear.
• It’s kind of sad that Glenn Strange, who portrays Frankenstein’s Monster, gets eighth billing in a screen-credited cast list of only nine people.
• Dracula seeking a cure for his vampirism could be considered a nod to the 1936 Universal Monster movie Daughter of Dracula where Countess Marya Zaleska is trying to end the curse of her parentage.
• Dr. Franz Edelmann’s assistant Nina is a hunchback and at this point in the franchise one must start to assume that mad scientists consider this physical feature a requirement for working in a lab.
• Edelmann believes that it’s self-hypnosis causing glands to produce excess hormones that is the reason for Talbot’s transformation into a Wolf Man, which is all kinds of pseudoscientific bullshit. I’m solidly in the camp that his lycanthropy is supernatural in nature, how else can you explain his surviving death numerous times?
• During a blood transfusion, Dracula reverses the flow of blood and infects Edelmann with his own vampiric blood, turning Edelmann into a weird cross between Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dracula. This causes him to switch between a murderous persona and that of his kindly doctor one, and though he doesn’t cast a reflection he’s no true vampire as he’s killed by nothing more than a few bullets fired by Talbot.
• In this film Larry Talbot is finally freed from the curse of lycanthropy, ending his years of suffering, that is until Universal Studios decided to revive the franchise with a more comedic take on their classic monsters.
This sequel suffers from the same messing plotting of House of Frankenstein but is hampered even further by character motivations that make no sense whatsoever – if we are to believe Dracula really wants a cure I still don’t buy any self-respecting doctor would agree to help an admitted murderer, and even if you were to claim it falls under the “In the name of science” defence it’s still very thin – and while Larry Talbot’s motivations remain consistent his tragic wishy-washiness gets a bit tiring by this point as does his lame failed suicide attempt. Dude, you’ve been killed numerous times and entombed, how do you expect jumping into the ocean will work where being clubbed and shot failed?
This movie was originally to be called Wolf Man vs. Dracula but not only do these two characters never fight in this film they don’t even meet, which is most likely the cause of the title change and gives another strike against the finished product, because if you are going to feature a film with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man and fail to have any “Monster on Monster” action you’re going to end up disappointing some fans. It was at this point in time that Universal Studios was leaning more towards making more comedies and musicals and thus not as much money was being spent on producing these later entry Universal Monster movies, and the lack of budget really shows here, especially with the abrupt climax where the Monster is revived only to be killed a few seconds later. I’m sure director Erle C. Kenton and company did their best with what they were given but the end result was an absurd plot that is only watchable due to the cast’s extraordinary efforts. Padded with a lot of footage from earlier films House of Dracula is one that can be watched simply out of curiosity, and as long as your suspension of disbelief is fully engaged.
You can check out my other reviews here: Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror.
House of Dracula (1945)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
This film was the final “serious entry” of the Universal’s Frankenstein Saga and while the cast all provide performances that well exceed what the script demanded this is a low-entry offering that is more forgettable than it is bad.