Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writer: Curt Siodmak, Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Lon Chaney Jr.: Lawrence Talbot
John Carradine: Count Dracula (aka Baron Latos)
Martha O'Driscoll: Miliza Morrelle
Lionel Atwill: Inspector Holtz
Onslow Stevens: Dr. Edelman
Jane Adams: Nina
Ludwig Stössel: Siegfried
Glenn Strange: Frankenstein Monster
Skelton Knaggs: Steinmuhl
The Universal Monster Cycle began with groundbreaking films such as Tod Browning's Dracula and James Whale's Frankenstein(1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Featuring excellent, stylized performances and mise en scène, they created the definitive look for horror movies in Hollywood's Golden Age. They’re also about something more than horror; The Bride of Frankenstein, in particular, holds up to repeated viewings and thematic considerations.
The series ended rather poorly, with thrown-together monster rallies: House of Frankenstein(1944) and House of Dracula (1945). While the second "House" appeared within a year of its predecessor and often references that film, it just as frequently ignores continuity.
Dracula, definitively killed most recently in House of Frankenstein, finds his way to Dr. Edelman's private sanitarium somewhere on the coast of Europe. The good doctor proves quite calm given that a stranger, who claims to be a vampire, has entered his house in the night, and asks to see the basement lab. Perhaps its just the Count's mesmeric abilities, but Edelman complies. Dracula in any case claims he wants to be cured, so that he no longer poses a threat to humanity. Edelman accepts the challenge and very quickly sets aside his initial skepticism about the Count's vampirism, though Dracula provides no proof of his claim.
Edelman examines Dracula to discover the causes of vampirism, scientifically. This establishest he film's angle; science can cure the apparently supernatural. It turns out that strange parasites in Dracula's blood are to blame for his condition-- midichlorians, anybody? If these can be eliminated, the Count would reclaim his humanity.
Larry Talbot, reluctant werewolf, also definitively dead again in the previous film, arrives next. He also seeks relief from his condition, though this has been the defining thread in all his screen appearances. We receive a complex pseudo-scientific explanation for lycanthropy. Fans of Joss Whedon will appreciate both the voluntary incarceration of Talbot during the full moon and the psychological aspect to the moon's role; both elements would be picked up for Seth Green's Buffy the Vampire Slayer character in the 1990s.
Dracula, meanwhile, proves to have duplitious motives, though we never quite learn what they are. He also entangles himself with the doctor's two assistants, who include the inevitable ingenue and the obligatory hunchback. This time, however, the deformed assistant is female and entirely sympathetic.
Later, Talbot and Edelman discover the Frankenstein Monster and the skeleton of Dr. Niemann in the caves below the coastal castle. It seems the quicksand into which they sank "years ago" in House of Frankenstein has carried them there. This is bad coincidence at its worst, and an odd choice. Why even bother to tie the Monster's appearance into the previous film? They certainly made no effort to make Dracula or the Wolf Man's presence fit continuity.
As the film progresses, the script degenerates. As in House of Frankenstein, the monsters do not really interact. Dracula gets killed and Talbot cured before Frankenstein's Monster can be revived. Since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde haven't appeared yet, Dracula's parasites infect Edelman, and he becomes a kind of demi-vampire, fluctuating between murderous evil and philanthropic good, and experiencing strange visions which include shots from previous, better Universal monster movies and apparent out-takes from this film. Stevens gives a fairly disturbing performance, but it's not enough to salvage the film.
What began with tighter scripting than its predecessor ends chaotically, and one cannot help but think that scenes were excised, or shooting time ran out, or some other external force brought the film to release in its current shape. Villagers gather, Lionel Atwill appears as yet another monster-obsessed police inspector, and Skelton Knaggs rats around like a poor man's Peter Lorre. The film lacks a satisfactory conclusion, ending with the destruction of the house, little more than an hour after the opening scene. The Monster gets a more impressive stomping scene than he did in House of Frankenstein, but it still amounts to a cameo, and has little to do with Boris Karloff's earlier, sensitive portrayals. The camera fades as fire consumes the iconic face. We never get an epilogue to tie up the loose ends, and we never really get another film.
This represents the last serious attempt at an entry in Universal's original cycle of horror movies. The classic monsters would reappear in Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. It's a far better film than either House..., but it's also a far cry from the serious, moody, productions which birthed the series.