House of Frankenstein – USA, 1944

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‘Never before… so much wickedness under one roof!’

House of Frankenstein is a 1944 American horror film starring directed by Erle C. Kenton, from a screenplay by Edward T. Lowe Jr., based on Curt Siodmak’s storyline. It was produced by Paul Malvern for Universal Studios as a sequel to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the previous year.

The cast includes a mad scientist (Boris Karloff), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.), Count Dracula (John Carradine), a hunchback (J. Carrol Naish), and Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange).

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Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) escapes from prison along with his hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), for whom he promises to create a new, beautiful body. The two murder Professor Lampini (George Zucco), a traveling showman, and take over his horror exhibit.

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To exact revenge on Bürgermeister Hussman (Sig Ruman), who had put him in prison, Niemann revives Count Dracula (John Carradine). Dracula seduces Hussmann’ granddaughter-in-law Rita (Anne Gwynne) and kills Hussmann himself, but in a subsequent chase, Niemann disposes of Dracula’s coffin, causing the vampire to perish in the sunlight.

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Niemann and Daniel move on to the flooded ruins of Castle Frankenstein, where they find the bodies of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.), preserved in the frozen waters. Nieman thaws out the two and promises to find Talbot a cure for the curse.

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However, he is more interested in reviving the monster and exacting revenge on two traitorous former associates than in keeping his promises. Talbot transforms into a werewolf and kills a man, sending the villagers into a panic.

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Niemann and Daniel save a gypsy girl named Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), and Daniel falls in love with her; it is unrequited, however, as Ilonka falls in love with Talbot. Daniel tells Ilonka that Talbot is a werewolf, but she is undeterred, and promises Talbot that she will help him.

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Events reach a crisis point when Niemann revives the monster and Talbot again turns into a werewolf. The werewolf attacks and fatally wounds Illonka, but she but manages to shoot and kill Talbot with a silver bullet before she dies. Daniel blames Niemann and turns on him.

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The monster intervenes, throws Daniel out of the window, and carries the half-conscious Niemann outside, where the villagers chase them into the marshes. There, both the monster and Niemann drown in quicksand.

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Reviews:

“only a mild horror picture, more ludicrous than terrifying. The whole thing is a rehash of the fantastic doings of these characters in previous pictures and, since they do exactly what is expected of them, the spectator is neither shocked nor chilled.” Harrison’s Reports, December 23, 1944

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” …this grisly congress doesn’t hit hard; it merely has speed and a change of pace. As such, then, it is bound to garner as many chuckles as it does chills. However, lampoon or no, put this item down as a bargain for the bogie hunters.” A. H. Weiler, The New York Times, December 16, 1944

” …when the script does work, such as the scenes playing out the love triangle between Talbot, Daniel and Illonka, the movie really hits the quality mark. Harking back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a very inspired touch. Indeed I can’t help feeling that there’s a truly great little movie in here trying to get out – and with another couple of drafts done on the screenplay, it could have made it.” Jim Moon, Hypnogoria

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House of Frankenstein packs a lot of action, movement and story into a running time just over seventy minutes. Well worth a look for Boris Karloff, leering with his voice (Daniel’s death scream is actually Karloff from Son of Frankenstein) and J. Carol Naish’s sensitive if limited work as Daniel.” Terry Sherwood, The Spooky Isles

“The fifth in Universal’s series isn’t the equal of the first three, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable formula entertainment from a studio that knew exactly what it was doing.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide

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“What makes the film fascinating is that it has such a nihilistic ending. For a good portion of the film’s running time we are watching bad people doing evil things. When we do eventually get to the love story the two people the audience might actually care about end up destroying each other. There’s no happy ending, all the main characters are dead and there’s no walk off into the sunset for anyone.” Camino Real, Cardigans and Tweed

” …demonstrates the director’s flair for breathless action and thrill sequences. The film has flamboyance to spare: The storm-swept jail break, Dracula’s pursuit and ultimate destruction, and the fiery climax (in which leading characters are killed off in rapid succession) are trenchantly realised.” Universal Horrors

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“An overkill of monsters made it less than frightening.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

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Cast and characters:

  • Boris Karloff as Dr. Gustav Niemann
  • Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence “Larry” Talbot/The Wolf Man
  • John Carradine as Count Dracula, also known as Baron Latos
  • J. Carrol Naish as Daniel
  • Elena Verdugo as Ilonka
  • Anne Gwynne as Rita Hussman
  • Peter Coe as Karl Hussman
  • Lionel Atwill as Inspector Arnz
  • George Zucco as Bruno Lampini
  • Sig Ruman as Bürgermeister Hussman
  • William Edmunds as Fejos
  • Charles F. Miller as Tobermann
  • Philip Van Zandt as Müller
  • Julius Tannen as Hertz
  • Hans Herbert as Meier
  • Dick Dickinson as Born
  • Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster
  • Michael Mark as Strauss

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Trivia:

Working titles, which included Chamber of Horrors (a reference to Lampini’s travelling horror show) and The Devil’s Brood, emphasized the multi-monster nature of the story.

Wikipedia | IMDb | AFI | Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!

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Categories: 1940s

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