Nearly 70 years (68 to be precise) before Marvel was putting its superheroes together in one shared movie, Universal Studios already had its first mass monster mash-up in the cinemas. On paper the original (not that you’re likely to confuse it with the 1997 TV movie of the same name) House of Frankenstein looks like a lot of fun. It teams its premier iconic horror characters, being Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, a hunchback and a mad scientist (the latter two admittedly more archetypes than characters) into one roster.
It bolts out of the gates too. Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff), an obsessive of the late Dr. Frankenstein, and his hunchback assistant, Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) are ably set up and murdering their prison guard before a freak storm releases them from prison in the first few minutes. More mere minutes later Niemann has assumed ownership of a travelling horror show, and with it the still-staked skeleton of Count Dracula.
It’s a gripping, brisk and inventive set-up that packs plenty in. Sadly you can pinpoint the moment where it all starts to quickly unravel. That’s when Dracula’s body begins to regenerate into…hold on…that’s not Bela Lugosi! Who’s this moustachioed imposter? Lugosi’s vampire has very big shoes to fill, but John Carradine’s version is utterly uncharismatic. Not exactly the quality you want in the lothario of monsters.
Dracula doesn’t even get to mix with the other monsters, with his and Niemann’s story being totally separate from the others. From the moment Dracula departs half way through, seemingly another story begins.
It’s such a shame because Niemann is a wonderful as a central character, proving Karloff is much more than just his most iconic role. Still, it goes from 0 to shambles in 15 minutes.
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