The House of Dracula is the Seventh Universal Studios Frankenstein movie, their forth Wolf Man movie and either their third or fifth Dracula, depending on whether you count Dracula’s Daughter and Son of Dracula. The poor old series is very tired now. Tired, and in dire need of a little nap.
There’s a spooky house on a hilltop. Dracula (John Carridine) arrives late at night, and checks out a woman sleeping inside. But he’s not there for her. He lets himself in and talks to the house’s owner, Dr Edelman (Onslow Stevens) who is dozing in a chair. The two men have a rambling conversation. Dracula leads the doctor to the basement and shows off his coffin. Dracula wants to stay there and have the doctor treat him for his vampirism. The kindly doctor rattles off some rationalisations for vampirism, and agrees to help.
In the morning, he discusses his work with his hunchbacked nurse, Nina (Jane Adams). He then examines Dracula’s blood and asks Nina to prepare an antitoxin. Now that’s how you cure vampirism! Get your nurse to do it.
That night, Dracula arrives for his appointment and starts chatting up Miss Morell (Martha O’Driscoll), Edelman’s other assistant. They have met before, and also she’s the woman he saw sleeping. Dr Edelman tells Dracula that vampire blood contains an unknown form of parasite. He believes that he can create a sort of vampire vaccine. Also a transfusion. Maybe a couple of aspirin also? Couldn’t hurt.
In Edelman’s waiting room, Lawrence Talbot is getting impatient. Is he waiting for his distemper shot? No, he wants a cure for lycanthropy. Talbot, perhaps finding that someone’s already filled in all the magazine crosswords, storms off. Nina helps transfuse Edelman’s blood directly into Dracula. (Because human blood stops vampires? That doesn’t sound right, somehow.) Miss Morelle tells Edelman about Talbot. She seems a little taken by his tragic demeanor.
There’s a call from an Inspector Holz. Lionel Atwill? Please be Lionel Atwill… Yes! It’s Lionel Atwill!
The Inspector (played by the Mr Lionel Atwill, accept no imitation) is trying to calm the ever-present Viserian mob. Holz says that Talbot has demanded to be locked in a cell so that he’ll be unable to kill anyone.
Talbot tells his story to Edelman and Miss Morell. Edelman says that lycanthropy is merely a delusion, but then Talbot begins to transform. In Viseria, the moon is full roughly three weeks every month. Talbot goes berserk but can’t escape the cell, so passes out. He’s consigned to the doctor’s care.
The doctor diagnoses Talbot. It’s special. Pressure on Talbot’s brain, together with the fact that Talbot believes that he is a werewolf causes his transformations. Edelman explains: “During the period in which your reasoning processes give way to self-hypnosis the glands that govern your metabolism get out of control–like a steam engine without a balance wheel. When this happens the glands generate an abnormal supply of certain hormones—in your case, those which bring about the physical transformation which you experience.”
Edelman: Visaria’s equivalent of Dr Nick?
The solution is Edelman’s experiment. He’s working on a mould which produces a substance that temporarily softens bone. Mould as a miracle cure? Very mid-1940s! Edelman warns that he doesn’t yet have enough of this substance, but will. Talbot runs off and throws himself off the nearest cliff-side set, into a matte painting of the sea. Drama queen.
Believing that Talbot may have been swept into a cave, Edelman is lowered on a winch, entering just before the moon sets. The Wolf Man attacks him, but transforms back before he can finish the doctor off. In the cave, Edelman talks Talbot out of further suicide attempts, saying that God had lead him to the very place of his salvation. Oh, the doctor’s religious. It’s mentioned before, but I thought it was a throwaway line. Anyway, the doctor says that the cave has the ideal conditions for growing the mould.
Also in the cave, they find the body of the Frankenstein Monster and the skeleton of Dr Niemand from House of Frankenstein. Apparently when you sink deep enough in quicksand you end up in a sea cave. The cave also happens to lead back into the castle, but how does this affect the underground glacier deposits? We need a mad geologist here, stat!
Edelman straps the Monster to a slab, and talks about how it is still alive. He believes that the Monster is not responsible for the destruction it has caused. Talbot tries to talk Edelman out of experimenting on the Monster, but he starts zapping on the old electrodes until Nina convinces him to stop.
Dracula arrives for his nightly appointment and commences the seduction of Miss Morell, who is at the piano playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He hypnotises her into playing music from the world of the dead. Beats Twilight, I guess. Miss Morell touches her crucifix pendant, and the spell is broken and she’s playing Beethoven again. Turns out Edelman warned her to keep a cross on her. The Count tries to hypnotise her again, but is interrupted by Edelman, who says that his research into vampire antibodies is continuing.
In the mould-sporing room, Miss Morell has a strange turn and walks off, half asleep. Nina sees and follows. She sees her friend walk off with Dracula. She warns Edelman, who admits to her that their patient is Dracula. Dracula tries to get Miss Morell to cast away her cross. Edelman tells Nina that she may have to burn Dracula’s coffin unless he can cure him that very night.
Edelman says that the de-vampiration antibodies came from his own blood. What? Edelman is just the worst doctor. Anyway, he arranges another transfusion of his blood into Dracula — who turns the tables by using the transfusion gear to put his own blood into Edelman. Nina awakes and sees Dracula gone. With sunrise near, Dracula goes into Miss Morrell’s room. He is confronted by Edelman and Talbot, and runs off to his coffin. Edelman follows and opens the coffin to the sun’s rays. Dracula dies and Miss Morrell is saved. She looks up lovingly at Talbot.
Though victorious, Edelman is strangely perturbed. His pet cat is suddenly terrified of him. His reflection in the mirror fades. He sleeps, and dreams of Dracula’s staring eyes. He dreams of becoming a mad scientist and waking Frankenstein’s Monster, while his former benevolent self tries to talk him out of it. Then he dreams of sending the Monster out to do his evil bidding. Then he dreams of curing Nina’s hunched back, marrying her and killing her. It’s a well-made sequence, even if the stock footage used makes the Monster look completely different in some shots.
Edelman attempts to revive the Monster, but his equipment shorts out before he can finish his work. The appearance of Nina helps him come back to himself. He asks if there’s enough of the mould for two operations – one for Talbot and one for Nina. But there’s only enough for one procedure. Realising that he has to act fast before turning completely evil, Edelman promises to help Nina, but she nobly volunteers to let Talbot have first dibs.
Nina and Miss Morell gather the bone-altering substance and Edelman operates, reshaping Talbot’s head. Edelman warns that any exertion might undo his work. Next up, producing enough mould for Nina. Talbot waits anxiously for the rise of the full moon.
Edelman starts going evil again. He terrifies and murders a carter. The villagers find the carter’s body and chase Edelman through the streets of Visaria. He’s quite spry for an old fellow, staying well ahead of the mob before climbing back into his castle. The Inspector investigates, but blames the murder on Talbot. Oh, Lionel Atwill! I expect better of you.
Talbot confronts Edelman. Edelman, seeing a kindred spirit in the tortured Talbot, admits to the murder. He asks for help until he can operate on Nina – after which, he wants Talbot to kill him.
The carter’s brother finds evidence that Edelman was the killer, but fails to convince the inspector. The Viserans adopt pre-mob formation. Then they form a mob and march on the castle. Meanwhile, Talbot marches out into the light of the full moon… Tension… Suspense… He’s fine. Yay, Larry!
Edelman’s not doing so well, though. He has flipped out and is trying to make the Monster live. There’s three minutes of movie left, so he’d damn well better succeed this time. He does, promising that the monster will be stronger than before. Nina confronts Edelman, who attacks and kills her. Her scream attracts Talbot, Miss Morell and the Inspector who has arrived just before the mob. Edelman and the Monster fight the police. Talbot takes a fallen gun and shoots Edelman. As he dies, his face resumes its previous benevolent expression.
Facing the Monster, Talbot sets the lab on fire. The angry mob arrives just in time for Talbot to tell them to leave. The Monster dies in the flames.
Okay… Much like House of Frankenstein, I have an overlong summary, and for the same reason — too much plot stuffed into a fairly short feature. There’s slightly more interaction between the monsters this time. Talbot faces Dracula for a few seconds and the Monster for maybe half a minute. Interestingly, while House of Frankenstein allows each of the three main monsters to kill at least one person before being defeated, in House of Dracula, Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster kill a total of zero people between them, whereas the benevolent doctor who’s trying to help them racks up a murder count of two. It’s kind of sad.
There’s an interesting attempt to formulate a logic that explains all of the monsters. That is, the idea that vampirism and Lycanthropy are medical conditions that can be explained by science and cured with medical technology. While this does have the interesting side effect of allowing Dr Edelman to come down with medically acquired Jekyllism, it doesn’t work as well as might be hoped. The obvious mysticism of Dracula’s speeches to Miss Morell about the ‘Land of the Dead’ don’t fit this world view at all. And why does a parasitic infection make you scared of crucifixes?
Once again, there are three largely distinct stories. Firstly, Dracula’s cure. I’m not clear at all on why Dracula wants to be cured, or even if he does. Was his trip to Dr Edelman’s lab a genuine desire to regain his humanity? Or an attempt to get close to Miss Morell? I just don’t know.
The Wolf Man story was probably the most satisfying. It’s nice to see poor Talbot get a happy ending for once, even if we know it didn’t take. However, the story is undercut a little by Lon Chaney Jr’s performance. Granted, I can see why he might be tired of the part he’s playing, but I do think he’s kind of phoning it in this time around.
And Frankenstein’s Monster comes to life, breaks some stuff and falls over.
So, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Between them, these three movies make up the bulk of Universal’s so-called ‘Monster Mash’ era. None of these are great films. They’re not especially scary, or even tense. They’re kind of amusing, mostly well designed and there’s a good performance or two. By and large, however, they’re poor imitations of their precursors. It’s hard to see how the idea of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman make a great team managed to gain so much traction from these frankly second-rate outings. And yet this idea did gain an extraordinary amount of traction — which turns out to be a good thing because it can be made to work.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking in depth at some films which made effective use of the trio.