Director: Erle C. Kenton
Writer: Curt Siodmak, Edward T. Lowe Jr.

Boris Karloff: Dr. Gustav Niemann
Lon Chaney Jr.: Lawrence Talbot
John Carradine: Dracula
Anne Gwynne: Rita Hussman
Peter Coe: Karl Hussman
Lionel Atwill: Insp. Arnz
George Zucco: Prof. Bruno Lampini
Elena Verdugo: Ilonka
Sig Ruman: Burgomeister Hussman
Glenn Strange: Frankenstein Monster
J. Carrol Naish: Daniel

The Universal Monster Cycle began with groundbreaking films such as Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) 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.

After the early achievements, the series experienced sequel entropy. The middle films were enjoyable, though not on a level with their predecessors. Universal would finally submit their iconic creatures to outright comedy with Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948). Before doing so, however, the series embarrassed itself with two films that might have worked better as comedies, House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). The first of those has the look of the old classics, but its acting, pacing, and budget recalls a period serial. And while the film promises an all-star monster rally featuring three of Universal's classic characters, it does not permit them to interact

Boris Karloff returns, not as the monster (he’d abandoned that role after Son of Frankenstein), but as Dr. Niemann, a mad scientist imprisoned for his experiments, which involved such ethically dubious practices as body-snatching and murder. He has continued to keep his brain sharpened for the 15 years of his imprisonment, teaching the hunchbacked criminal Daniel, who occupies the adjacent cell.

The foul duo encounter a remarkable streak of luck, as a stroke of lightning damages the prison and frees them both. Shortly thereafter, they run into Professor Lampini, who runs a travelling Chamber of Horrors. His star attraction is the bones of Count Dracula, recovered from his castle in Transylvania. Since the series was never big on continuity, we can politely ignore that (a)Dracula was reduced to dust in the 1931 Bela Lugosi film, (b) his corpse was then put on a funeral pyre in Dracula's Daughter, and (c)he later died in New Orleans in Son of Dracula. In any case, Niemann and Daniel dispose of Lampini and his assistant and take their identities. Niemann swears revenge against the men who put him away; Daniel takes the Ygor role because the mad doctor has promised to fix his crooked body.

While posing as Lampini in a small village where one of his accusers now holds the position of burgomeister, Niemann accidentally brings Dracula back. How does the scientist accomplish this amazing feat? Does he chant some dark incantation? Does he make a deal with some roving Mephistopheles?

No, he yanks the stake from the skeleton's ribcage, and Dracula materializes, complete with evening wear. Thus restored, the dapper bloodsucker makes a deal with Niemann to kill the Burgomeister, and to that end, he hooks up with his family for an evening nightcap. Despite Dracula's notorious 1931 line, he does indeed drink wine, and then returns to kill the sleeping old man, aided by a poorly-animated bat-transformation. The vampire also takes a shine to the burgomeister's daughter-in-law. He uses his ring to hypnotize her, possibly the first time that Dracula’s ring receives special powers of its own. All of this leads to a horse-and-carriage chase scene during which the Count, despite his folkloric inability to cross water on his own power, drives his carriage across a moving river, and then overturns on a cliff. He dissolves with sunrise, definitively dead until the next film, while Neimann and Daniel escape.

They next head over to the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle to find the doctor's notes. They also happen upon the comatose body of the Monster and the frozen Wolf Man, preserved in an inexplicable underground glacier. Since it takes silver to kill a Universal werewolf, the cursed man revives and resumes his human form (Lawrence Talbot). He, too joins them, because Niemann claims that he can cure lycanthropy. In fact, Niemann plans to perform a “curse transplant,” with one of his other accusers the recipient of Chaney’s full moon fever.

The movie by this point recalls some bizarre parody of The Wizard of Oz. The group also acquires a gypsy girl, who joins, attracts the attention of Daniel, and falls for the Wolf Man. The three thus replay a combination of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Wolf Man, which will end before the Frankenstein Monster gets a chance to do anything. This storyline does, however, feature a passable low-budget transformation scene.

The film’s real thrill for fans of the old horror movies is seeing Karloff as a mad scientist revive his most famous character. Glenn Strange now plays the bolt-necked beast, a pale shadow of its earlier, soulful incarnation. The finale takes place in Niemann's lab, still functional after 15 years. Much goes awry before the obligatory torch-bearing villagers arrive. Characters die, sparks fly, and the Monster lumbers off into quicksand, Karloff in tow, shortly after awakening.

The film’s setting represents a compromise among the different realities of the Universal Monster movies. The earlier Frankenstein movies are set in a kind of alternate universe, a place where Victorian and 1930s fashions mix with German folk costumes, scientists use high-technology but nobody drives a car or calls on a telephone. The villagers light their way through foggy nights with torches, never thinking to turn on a flashlight or even bring a hurricane lantern. In the four decades which must transpire between Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein, technology and costumes change not at all. The Dracula and Wolf Man films, however, take place in the real world or, rather, Hollywood’s version thereof.

House of Frankenstein strikes a compromise. We’re in the foggy Teutonic countryside of the Frankenstein films. The village set created for All Quiet on the Western Front gets recycled once more as a series of quaint villages ruled by Burgomeisters. The clothing belongs to the 1940s, but we have no indication that World War II might be unfolding, and at least one expressly American character moves freely about. We have phones and lights, but no motor-cars; people still ride horses and carriages.

The slightly odd setting served the past films well, by creating a world recognizably like our own, and yet different enough that we accept the presence of the supernatural. In House of Frankenstein, it serves as a pleasant distraction; we can count the oddities as we sit through a film which provides few other real thrills, but which nevertheless forms a part of an enduring saga.

Frankenstein Chronology
When Mary Shelley wrote her infamous masterpiece, it was 1815. There was never any doubt when Victor Von Frankenstein lived- well before the advent of the scientific age of Edison and Tesla. The science that he studied in the book were ancient tomes of forgotten alchemy. The Monster was actually grown from a vat and infused with unholy life that way. Although events in the novel took place before even photography was invented; there was never any doubt as to when and where the fictional horrors took place.

But the Universal Horror movie adaptations are not so clear. There are several gaps in the Frankenstein story that bear thinking about. Let us play the great game and pretend the movies are REAL documentaries- what can they tell us about the Family Frankenstein?

The group of films which form the historical record are Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, and Ghost of Frankenstein. I also would include Frankenstein meets the Wolfman because it reveals strange family connections about the Frankenstein family.

The time and place in the first movie is never stated. There is a University town named Goldstat, and it is assumed to be in Germany. The time period revealed here is devoid of automobiles and elctricity. But it is not 1815.

Henry Frankenstein (not Victor as in the book) is the mad scientist- and in his lab are a mass of electrical equipment all connected to something called the Cosmic Equalizer which utilizes a ray invisible to the normal spectrum - even beyong Ultraviolet. It is this cosmic ray that God used to infuse life into lifeless matter. And Frankenstein can call this radiation down from thunderstorms and distill it from lightening in his crumbling mountaintop laboratory.

With all the electronic equipment that Frankenstein uses in his lab; we can deduce it is the last years of the 19th century- well into the electrical age of Edison. Further a date is actually provided in Bride of Frankenstein which takes up from the moment the first film ends- making both films one seemless narrative about the infamous Doctor's work.

That date is provided by evil Dr. Pretorius- the truly insane doctor who forces Frankenstein to make another monster- this time a female- as a mate to his dread creation. Pretorius has taken another route to the creation of life- he has grown homonculi from 'seed' (shudder). He grows a perfect female brain but has to house it in the skull of a dead female. He and two grave robbers find the bare bones (and Frankenstein's creature) in an underground family crypt. The bones were interred in 1899. But for the flesh to decay and leave nothing but bones- at least five years would have passed. That means Frankenstein and its sequel happened in 1905.

Frankenstein's castle and village below it are nameless in both of the first two movies and its location is not told . However in Son of Frankenstein The name of the village is Frankenstein. By the time that House of Frankenstein occurs- the village's name has been changed to 'Vasaria'. The movie tries to indicate that this is NOT the original village- and indeed in Son...Wolf Von Frankensteingives the deed to the Castle to the Villagers. But that is all the more reason to assume they went in for a name change. The sanitorium of Dr. Ludwig Von Frankenstein (the second son) is located there in Ghost of Frankenstein; and the ruins of Castle Frankenstein are located on the outskirts of the village of Vasaria in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman This village is not Tyrolean, but it must be located in the southern Bavarian mountain range - very near the Eagles Nest- a secret mountain nazi hideout of Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. (Did Frankenstein's monster meet Hitler? Now that would be a true monster team up...)

Frankenstein's eldest son Wolf von Frankenstein has been brought up in England and America. He has only the faintest memory of his father who died when he was young. He is a University professor and medical doctor when we meet him. He is still young- so he must have inherited the Frankenstein genes for science. Assuming he was born to Elizabeth and Henry Frankenstein after they fled the country to England; the earliest he could have been born is 1906. Even with brilliant matriculation in English Universities- he still could not be younger than 30 in the film. So I place the events of 1936.

That leaves an astonishing 30 year gap in the Frankenstein chronology; and we are never told of how Henry Frankenstein died. And then there is the creature. Somehow he survived the lightening blasts that blew Frankenstein's laboratory to smoking rubble in BrideWhen we see him again in Son...

The Creature is very ill- and is now wearing unkempt furs- instead of the tattered suit of 30 years previously. Where has the monster been- What strange illness does he have - and who dressed him so dramatically?

I hypothesize that in 1914 when World War One broke out; the German High Command heard rumors of an indestructible undead creature. Imagine a man immune to machine guns, gas and bombs! Set loose in the bloody trenches; he could have single handedly changed the course of the war in the Kaiser's favor! And this I think is what they planned to do- capture the Creature and use him as their secret weapon to win the war.

Safe in England- and contacted by British intelligence about the plans that the Wehrmarcht had for his hideous monster- Henry Frankenstein would have had no choice but to sneak back into Germany and seek to destroy the Monster once and for all. His attempt failed- cost him his life- but neutralized the Creature with a sickness for over two decades; till Wolf came into his father's inheritance 30 years later. And Henry may have well regreted poisoning his creation- because his will to his son states that these are ALL of his notes about the creation of his monster are available! Including a cure! And why not if but to cure the monster of his affliction! A disease caused and induced by Henry Frankenstein himself....

Was this disease the dreaded Influenza that mysteriously spread across the world in 1919- killing more millions than World War One? Was the dreaded Influenza Dr. Frankenstein's creation? Strains of the disease vanished for almost 90 years till germs were found alive in the arctic regions in the bodies of dead victims buried in the permafrost- when thawed the germs lived again. ALIVE! Are they the last hideous legacy of Dr. Frankenstein?

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