A direct sequel to 1944 House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula again attempts the ensemble approach in combining all of the Universal Monsters (Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster) and a couple of character types familiar with the genre (the Hunchback, the Mad Doctor) to create a massive blockbuster film that cannot be forgotten. Perhaps it is because only Lon Chaney Jr. is a returning star as the Wolfman and both Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster are played by actors other than Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff, this movie isn’t regarding as a classic along with the other Universal Horror films such as Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein. It lacks the gravity and importance of those seminal works, but is such an oddity that it makes for enjoyable viewing, especially for a large group of friends looking for a fun film to enjoy together.
If possible, I recommend viewing House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula back to back as they make up a complete story.
Picking up where the previous film left off, somehow Dracula has survived his apparent death by sunlight and is traveling incognito as Baron Latos. Dracula seeks Doctor Edelmann whom he believes can cure him of the curse of vampirism. Edelmann is assisted by a pair of bombshells, Rita and Nina. Nina is waiting patiently for Edelmann to cure her of her hunchback, a condition that is represented in shocking detail as we can see her twisted spin pressing against her nurse’s coat. Intrigued by the challenge, Edelman agrees to help Dracula… and then his practice becomes a hive of activity as Larry Talbot arrives, wringing his hands nervously, anxious to be cured of his lycanthropic condition that has made him the Wolfman.
This is the fourth instance in which Chaney has played Talbot and it’s such a strange part that it’s easy to see why it is so difficult to cast the Woflman. A large beefy man, Chaney’s face seems almost frozen in a perpetual expression of sadness. Even in the first Wolfman film, Chaney milks every scene in which he suffers and stares off madly, ruminating his fate. In this appearance, he is no less tragic as he has been awakened from suspended animation only to become a monster all over again. Depressed beyond measure, he has great need of Edelmann’s help, but before the full moon rises again and turns him into a bloodthirsty animal. A cure or suicide seem to be his only choices.
Nina must have put an ad on Craigslist in hopes of drumming up business only to see it all go horribly wrong.
Undeterred, Edelmann takes the additional patient of Talbot and claims that he can cure the Werewolf as well. So that means he can cure a hunchback, a vampire and a werewolf… how you may ask? With spores. It turns out that the magical ingredient in Doctor Edelmann’s science is a rare spore that he has been growing in the bowels of his estate.
When Edellmann cannot cure Talbot quickly enough, he attempts to drown himself and only succeeds in finding a hidden cave where the Frankenstein Monster lay (what luck!) and is the ideal spot to germinate more of Edelmann’s spores (what a lucky cave!!).
On first viewing, I found John Carradine’s Dracula laughable, hardly a poor man’s Legosi at all, but upon further viewings, he is a Dracula of a different cloth altogether. Regal and strangely alien, Carradine’s Dracula (or Baron Latos) has a tortured lost quality that makes it so very new and interesting. Legosi’s Dracula is of course the iteration that is burned into our minds as the iconic version and this cannot help but distract from Carradine’s performance, but he really shines, especially in scenes like this one:
Dracula attempts to seduce Rita
Dracula seems torn between seeking new life as a being free of the need to draw life from others and accepting his true nature as Lord of the Undead. He eventually chooses the latter and turns the tables on Edelmann by transferring some of his blood into the good Doctor’s veins, transforming him into a ghoul. Edelmann then becomes the central monster of the film as he becomes a Hyde-like character driven to violence. Scurrying off into town, he spreads havoc and mayhem with his mad eyes and fiendish grin. The performance is simply amazing and actor Onslow Stevens deserves attention for the role. The crimes are placed on Talbot who is a self-confessed killer and madman known to be resting in Edelmann’s home, recovering from his treatment. Talbot knows that it is actually the Doctor who is the killer, but refuses to turn him in as he wishes to help Edelmann recover.
This proves to be a very very bad idea.
Edelmann suffers extreme bouts of madness and becomes determined to revive Frankenstein’s monster to join him in his dance of death. The film becomes quite mad as the monster count falls with the loss of two creatures only to rise again as the Mad Doctor and FRankenstein’s Monster arrive to take up the slack.
A hidden gem and a fun movie all around, House of Dracula is the last of the classic Universal Horror films, before movies such as Them and The Day the Earth Stood Still took hold on the viewing public. If you are looking for a movie to fill your gloomy evening, make sure to reserve a place for this one.