Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Larry Talbot, aka: The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney) both seek out the great scientist, Dr. Edelman (Onslow Stevens), in order to be cured of their respective curses. Talbot and Edelman find Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), which they bring back to Edelman’s laboratory. With three monsters, in the house it is only a matter of time before the fighting begins and villagers are killed.
As soon as I hear that old, Universal Pictures monster music, I’m in another place. There’s something about those melodies, reused many times by 1944, that creates a kick-back-and-have-some-fun world of cool creatures. Of course, by the time House of Dracula came out, that world and the creatures in it were getting pretty shabby. There was still a bit of style left, particularly noticeable in the high-contrast camera work, and Lon Cheney (this time with an out-of-place mustache) could play the guilt-ridden Talbot in his sleep, but the rest had seen much better days.
The plot of this final monster-mash flick (before the era of Abbott and Costello) is cobbled together from previous movies, and there is nothing of interest or emotion to be found in it. The Frankenstein’s Monster is only in the film for a few minutes, and Dracula is no longer the fierce and foreign creature of the night that Lugosi made of him, but an effeminate Southern gentleman. For a film with the three greatest monsters of cinema running about, it has almost no carnage. Only the scientist, who is the film’s good guy, manages to kill anyone. (Frankenstein’s Monster does hit a villager, but the outcome is unclear.)
House of Dracula is the seventh film in Universal’s Frankenstein series, and the fourth in its Wolf Man series, though it ignores a good deal of the previous films. While the title would point to this being a continuation of the Dracula “legend,” there is no connection to the earlier Dracula films, although Carradine did play the Count once before. It is an unnecessary entry if your interest is in the continuing storylines of the monsters (although it’s unfair to make that a criticism of this film as most of the sequels were unnecessary). Only Talbot/The Wolf Man has anything significant happen to him. Strangely, I’m not counting dying as being significant as The Monster had died six times before without any ill effect.
While the three monsters get the billing, the film belongs to the only-slightly-mad scientist. He gets most of the screen time. Onslow Stevens is more than up to the challenge, but with so many storylines, he doesn’t get enough to do. And the less said about his magical, bone-softening mold (that can cure lycanthropy by taking pressure off the brain…), the better.
Fans of the classic monster movies will enjoy House of Dracula, but only because it is a reminder of better films that came before it.
The other films in the Frankenstein series are Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943), and House of Frankenstein (1944).
The earlier Wolf Man films are: The Wolf Man (1941), Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, and House of Frankenstein.