Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Awesomely Shitty Movies: House of Frankenstein (1944)

Welcome to another Frankenstein-themed installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com!  If you haven't been following this series and want to catch up, make sure you start at the beginning with our take on the original Frankenstein!  Or jump in from our previous installment, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man!


Well we're six movies into the Universal Frankenstein series.  After two genuinely good films and one admirable near-miss, the studio morphed these films into cheap monster exploitation fare, culminating in the first-ever crossover movie with Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.  That movie was such a hit the studio decided that more = better, and they added Dracula to the mix for the followup, House of Frankenstein.  And to sweeten the deal they included a new hunchback character and a wacked-out scientist just so the posters could include five "monster" characters.  It was the 1940s equivalent of The Avengers or Justice League, with all the in-house freaks in one movie.

Set thirty years after Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, the story this time centers around Dr. Niemann, an evil scientist, and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel who escape from prison and decide to get revenge on all the men who put them there.  To that end Niemann steals and revives Dracula's corpse and then makes his way to Frankenstein's castle where he resurrects the Frankenstein monster and Larry Talbot, who were washed away at the end of FMTWM.  Niemann promises his assistant and Talbot that he'll transplant their brains into better bodies but all hell breaks loose as usual. 

But was it any good?  Ummmm, nope.  Still, on a stupid fun level there's some enjoyment to be had with House of Frankenstein.  So let's take a look, shall we?



The Awesome


Boris Karloff

Karloff made his return to the Universal Frankenstein films here, but instead of reprising the role that made him famous, he plays the main character of the mad scientist.  His presence lent the film a bit of much-needed credibility and it was fun to see him in such a different role from that of the monster.  If this movie has nothing else going for it (and it's close), at least it has Karloff.

Look it's Frankenstein and Dracula together....sort of.




Visuals

Like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House has some lovely black & white cinematography and well-designed expressionistic sets.  This entire series made great use of scenery, lightning and cinematography (Ghost of Frankenstein excepted - that movie looks like garbage), so even amidst the hammy acting and nonsensical plotting at least there's always something nice to look at.  One set I particularly loved was the ice cavern.

Super cool set






Monsters

Long before we had 95 shared cinematic universes, Universal took all these larger than life characters and put together a whole series of films that climaxed (I use that term loosely) with a huge "team-up."  The idea of Frankenstein and Dracula in the same film is like Batman and Superman, or Spider-Man and the Hulk onscreen together.  Unfortunately in this case the two characters never shared a scene (kind of a bait n' switch if you ask me), but how could any 1940s horror fan not go berserk at the idea of Frankie, Wolfie and Dracula in the same movie?

Is this the only Karloff-Chaney film?


So yeah, that's about all this film has going for it.  It unfortunately has a lot more NOT going for it.



The Shitty


Lon Chaney Jr.

I said this in the last two ASM installments about these movies, but goddamn Lon Jr. was a terrible actor, as Larry Talbot (or the Frankenstein monster) anyway.  I honestly never saw him in any other role, but as Larry Talbot his delivery is whiny, hammy and cringe-inducing.  Jeezus Christ Larry, have a drink and buck up, will ya?  You're a real downer.  You have these claws, these fuckin' claws and you don't even know what to do with 'em!

He's like a sad dog.  And not in a good way.




Shlock

The storyline of this film is pure drivel.  Crazed scientist escapes from prison and decides to resurrect the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man so he can shuffle around everyone's brains to different bodies.  It's the most convoluted nonsense in the series so far, and that's saying a lot.  The monster himself is barely in this thing and really only has one active scene, where he kills Daniel and tries to rescue Niemann.  Even calling this a Frankenstein movie is a stretch.




False Advertising

Dracula's involvement in this movie is scarcely more than a first-act cameo.  Dr. Niemann revives him by pulling the stake out of his heart, he kills the Burgomeister, and then Niemann dispatches him by destroying his coffin, leaving Dracula nowhere to go when the sun comes up.  So he turns back into a skeleton.  He's just a plot device to get rid of Niemann's enemies, nothing more.  The Frankenstein monster on the other hand doesn't show up until much later in the film, robbing everyone of seeing these two iconic characters onscreen at the same time.  'The hell kinda screwjob is that?  How do you not have the two of them fight, especially now that Frankie is played in this film by the 6'5", 220 lb. Glenn Strange?




Again With This Shit?

Why does literally every film after Bride involve some Frankenstein fanboy shmuck resurrecting the monster (thought dead at the end of the previous film but miraculously still alive) in a lab with disastrous results?  Could they not come up with anything more interesting to do with this character?  Did anyone after James Whale bother to read the original source material at all?

Alright now, hear me out.  How about we hook this monster up to a buncha wires and pump
a ton of volts into him, and he'll be my own monster buddy?  What could go wrong?




Nitpicks

-Why did they use Lionel Atwill in every Frankenstein movie after Bride, but as a different character, but most of the time as a police inspector?  Why not just make him the same character at that point and have an ongoing story thread?

"Listen Burgomeister, if that is your real name.  After four movies I'm pretty tired of you people!"

-How old and decrepit is the castle/prison that a lightning storm breaks down the entire structure?

-How many hunchbacks were there in whatever era this series takes place?  Was this a common malady?  Did the Daniel character really need that particular handicap?  Maybe make him lactose intolerant instead.  How 'bout rickets?  Guy just needs a stomach transplant so he can drink some Vitamin D-enriched milk.

-Two actors from other great films are in this.  Sig Ruman, of A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races fame as the Burgomeister, and William Edmunds from It's a Wonderful Life as Fejos.  That's not a nitpick, just an observation.

-So let me see if I understand this: Dracula was stabbed through the heart with a stake, while in London.  Not only does circus showman Dr. Lampini somehow acquire his corpse for use in his traveling freak show, but upon turning into a skeleton Dracula somehow lost his clothes?  And when Niemann removes the stake, Dracula's body AND clothes grow back??  Are Dracula's clothes some sort of newfangled bio-fashion?  Get the Pentagon on this!

"Where am I?  Who put my clothes on??"

-Why is Dracula American now?  What happened to his Romanian accent?  John Carradine surely could've at least attempted to sound like Lugosi.  For that matter, when did he grow a mustache??

-How come everyone's dressed in 1940s fashion and using the telephone, but no one has cars?  Everyone's still using horse n' carriages like a buncha common vagrants.

-Midway through the film Daniel saves the life of a gypsy girl, whom he falls instantly in love with.  He begs Niemann to let him bring her along, and Niemann basically goes "Nah, she'll just slow us down."  "But please doctor?"  "Naaah, she-- ok fine, sure."  Daniel must be an effortlessly persuasive guy, Niemann caves pretty easily for no reason.  In the end the gypsy girl ends up killing Talbot, so Niemann must've read the script and figured out he'd need her.

-So Niemann's big plan is to defrost the monster and the Wolf Man so he can find Dr. Frankenstein's records.  Why the fuck would these two fools know where the records are?  One of them can't even speak.

-Hold on, at the end of FMTWM, Frankie and Wolfie were washed away by a flood after a nearby dam blew up.  How and when did they get frozen, and wouldn't the summer months have thawed them out?

Oh how convenient, the snow left a nice window so you can see Frankie.

-Upon being revived Talbot immediately is like "Thank you for thawing me out from that ice cavern."  How does he know he was frozen?  And why are his clothes already dry??

-Late in the film Talbot turns into the Wolf Man and murders a dude, and the local police's first reaction to finding the murder victim is, "(Gasp), a werewolf!"  That's gotta be the greatest detective this side of Batman.  Either that or this town has a REALLY rampant lycanthrope problem.

-Why doesn't Larry Talbot ever change his clothes or bathe?  That dude must stink like a burning liposuction clinic.  And that's when he's NOT a dog.

-The climax has to be the lamest of all time.  Daniel figures out he's being played by Niemann, so he attacks him.  Then the monster kills Daniel and tosses him out the window before carrying the injured Niemann out of the lab to evade the angry villagers (who must be sick to fuckin' death of this goddamn monster by now), and walks him right into quicksand, where they both sink and die.  Quicksand.  Right in the middle of this village.  Fucking QUICKSAND.  Hey, who wants to bet the quicksand didn't kill the monster?

Quick.  Sand.  Fuckin' hell with this shit....



Conclusion

The Frankenstein film series had obviously gone completely off the rails by this point and was coasting along on the freak show value of seeing a bunch of monsters on the screen, with nary a semblance of a logical or even engaging story.  Still from a pure shlock perspective this movie is a mildly entertaining way to savagely murder 71 minutes of your life.  Absurdly this wasn't even Universal's last attempt at a "serious" entry in this saga.  A year later they did it all again with House of Dracula.  Sweet jeezus...


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