1/4, 1940s, Erle Kenton, Horror, Review, Universal Monsters

House of Dracula

#25 in my ranking of the Classic Universal Monster movies.

The appeal of House of Frankenstein was one part casting and another part happy accident. Boris Karloff simply made the film, and the subplot about the hunchback Daniels’ unrequited love was solid. House of Dracula has neither of those things. Oh, it still has a mad scientist and a hunchback as well as the three core monsters of Frankenstein’s creation, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, but the randomness of the narrative that the earlier mashup was able to paper over is front and center now. We don’t even get good monster on monster action.

Dr. Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) is visited in the middle of the night by Count Dracula (John Carradine) (who somehow survived being full dead in House of Frankenstein, but whatever) who visits to ask him to cure him of his vampirism. Edelmann agrees. Later on, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) also shows up and asks Edelmann to cure him of his lycanthropy, and Talbot dismisses him as just a psychological case (even after witnessing the transformation first-hand) but is still willing to help. When Edelmann doesn’t help fast enough, Talbot ends up throwing himself off the dramatic cliff outside of Edelmann’s house into the water below. When Edelmann goes down after him, timed so that he’ll show up in the final moments of Talbot’s transformation as the moon sets (drama!). The cave Talbot has been hiding in ends up the perfect environment to grow a specific mold that Edelmann needs for his experiments. Also, they find Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) still clutching the white skeleton of Niemann from the previous film.

The science of all of this stuff is specific enough to be ridiculous enough but not generic enough to just wave away. It’s in a weird middle space where if you think about it, it just doesn’t make sense, especially Edelmann’s efforts to cure Dracula. His idea is to do a complete blood transfusion from himself to Dracula to cure Dracula. I mean…wut? “This guy has a disease that makes him require blood to survive, so I’m going to put his blood in my body to cure him.” I mean, I can buy the transfusion idea in general, but from a supply no longer in another person’s body. I have no idea why Edelmann feels the need to connect himself to a machine that Dracula is on at all. The spore stuff for Talbot is fine, though. Generic and unspecific in a way that can work.

In the meantime, Dracula decides that he’s going to seduce and attack one of Edelmann’s assistants, Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll), in order to make her a vampire. Why is Dracula here at all? Is he there to find a new bride? If so, then why go through the whole transfusion thing. If this is Dracula being unable to fight against his nature, we need a whole lot more than what we get. He needs to be the main character. Instead, he dies when Edelmann opens Dracula’s coffin and lets light in on it. He’s gone from the movie now, and there’s about half of the movie left.

The rest is Edelmann going mad, managing to do surgery on Talbot, and then deciding that he should give the monster life and the strength of a hundred men because these people have no idea what to do with Frankenstein’s monster other than to have him grunt and throw his arms around in the final minutes of the movie. It’s just a series of events without any real connecting tissue where characters that were already dead die again because of course, all anchored by a less than interesting central performance from Stevens.

And I can’t emphasize enough about how these monster team up movies have so little monster on monster action. The only big sequence was in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man where the monster and Talbot really went at it while a flood hit them. It was something. Here? Dracula gets killed by a human (well, light). The Wolf Man survives. The Frankenstein monster gets literally the exact same death (using the same footage) as he had in The Ghost of Frankenstein, death by fire. It really feels like the genre appeal of these movies would be to have the three battling each other, and they simply don’t do it at all. It’s so odd.

Anyway, this seems to prove that the qualities of House of Frankenstein were flukes that Erle Kenton could not replicate in House of Dracula. Instead, he reached back and recollected the dreariness of his earlier The Ghost of Frankenstein for another unsuccessful entry in the whole Universal monster cinematic universe.

Rating: 1/4

5 thoughts on “House of Dracula”

  1. I don’t really logically understand the monster mash movies, and there are a lot of them. I guess, in a sense, I sorta understand how they have a ‘shared cinematic universe’ where all the monsters are aware of each other. In some movies, the wolfman is the slave of Dracula, in some movies, he’s Dracula’s deadly enemy. Glenn Strange’s Monster is mostly just an undead machine, occasionally obedient, occasionally running amuck, but with no will or desires of its own anymore.

    Lon Chaney is a big slab of cheese, who is constantly trying to confess his werewolf problem to everyone, with limited ability to convince people. It’s odd.

    I think asking for good writing is too much, all you can hope for is good casting and performances out of these monster mash movies.

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    1. They’re silly, and I think the best approach when bringing in three is just to keep it silly. Two can focus on a specific idea, but three is just a narrative and thematic issue that was well beyond the staff writers at Universal through the 40s.

      Not that they seemed to have any incentive to actually try. It was just, “We need another monster movie. Get it out cheaply, we need to make x% above production this year.”

      Abbott and Costello were the best thing to happen to the monster mashup.

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      1. I think the idea is that having more monsters would lead to more monster action, and thus profits and popularity. What happens instead is that the monsters end up stepping all over themselves trying to get enough screen time.

        I think the same idea is used in every Batman movie except Tim Burton’s first. “If we have two, three or more bad guys, it’s more exciting for the audience!” Or something.

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      2. I think part of the problem is that no one really knew what the appeal was of all this. We have Frankenstein’s monster? Then we need to include a mad scientist! Why? Because that’s just part of Frankenstein. Why can’t the monster just be there?

        It was also really weird how Dracula ended up feeling so removed from everything at times as well. It was always Larry Talbot as the lynchpin, and then you’re relying on a subpar actor while giving his character just the exact same motivation every time.

        It’s really just laziness, I think. They needed a script fast (they were pumping out about 4 or 5 of these a year for a few years), and they got that script fast.

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