Monday, October 25, 2021

Awesomely Shitty Movies: House of Dracula (1945)

Welcome to another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies here at Enuffa.com, where I cut open a piece of Hollywood schlock and see if I can figure out what went wrong, or what they were thinking, or what the point of the movie was, or what have you.  Today's subject is the final film in Universal's Frankenstein series (before Abbott & Costello got involved that is), House of Dracula!


Released in 1945, House of Dracula was the third film in the series billed as a monster crossover.  After the success of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and the "blow your wad" approach to House of Frankenstein, the studio assembled all its monsters for one last romp, this time in a story focused primarily on Dracula.    

This oddly crafted tale concerns Drac inexplicably seeking a cure for his vampirism and turning to unorthodox scientist Dr. Edelmann, who believes he can cure the Count with a series of blood transfusions.  On the side, Drac is also making romantic overtures to one of Edelmann's assistants Milizia, who he apparently knew years ago.  Separately Lawrence Talbot, better known as The Wolf Man, also seeks Edelmann's help to cure his lycanthropy, which Edelmann believes he can cure by reducing swelling in Talbot's brain (Edelmann theorizes that it's not the moon that causes the transformations, but rather Talbot's *belief* that the moon causes them).  Separately still, Edelmann promises his other assistant Nina that he can cure her hunchback with spores from a plant he's discovered.  And further separately Edelmann stumbles onto Frankenstein's monster, thought dead after sinking into quicksand in the last movie, and contemplates reviving him to full power (like every scientist who comes across this mute motherfucker).

Lotta threads happening in this movie, all of them involving monsters and freaks, and all of them tied to Edelmann and his research.  I had a lot of issues with this film, which I'll get to in a bit, but first let's talk about the positives....


The Awesome


Visuals

As with most films in this series (not you, Ghost of Frankenstein!), House of Dracula has lovely black & white cinematography, surreal, angular shadows jutting across the frame, nice scene blocking to show parts of the set in the foreground, etc.  This makes otherwise dull scenes come alive as the viewer's eyes are always engaged.  No complaints about George Robinson's cinematography; this is fine work.

That there is a purdy shot....


Lighting

Along those same lines, the lighting has a distinctly film noir look, and no wonder, 1945 was smack-dab in the middle of noir's heyday.  The film is lit to establish mood, and it succeeds admirably in that department.  The film noir visual style is among my favorites in cinema.  



Effects

1940s effects are quite dated by today's standards, but this film has a few neat, quaint little choices, such as Dracula changing from bat to man and back, using a pretty solid looking puppet (albeit with the strings sometimes visible) and transitioning it to animation.  It's obviously hand-drawn, but the transformation looks pretty seamless editing-wise.  There's also a scene where Nina the hunchback is about to pass out and everything in the shot more than a foot away from her is blurred out.  I thought this was a fun little choice.


That's about all the praise I can in good conscience give House of Dracula, sadly.  The rest of this column is steeped in the negative....



The Shitty


Story

So the biggest issue I have with this film is the story.  For the third time the studio seemed to say "We gotta throw all these monsters into one movie so we can bill it as another all-star monster baseball game, now how do we make up a story that includes them all?"  And man it is harebrained.  The real arc in this film is about Dracula looking to a scientist to cure his bloodlust.  Wolfie and Frankie really have no business in this story whatsoever.  The Frankenstein monster has maybe five minutes of screen time, while Talbot isn't given anything meaningful to do until the very end.  So back to the Dracula stuff.  About halfway through the movie Dracula apparently changes his mind about his whole "I don't wanna be undead anymore" thing and tries to infect Milizia, then when it backfires, he puts both Milizia and Nina into a trance, reverses the blood transfusion, and infects Edelmann, changing him into some sort of Mr. Hyde/vampire hybrid.  Edelmann manages to kill Dracula by dragging his coffin into the sunlight and opening it, but then turns evil himself at night, tries to revive Frankie and murders his gardener.  Somehow whenever he returns home though he's back to normal, and there's never an explanation for why or when he changes.  He does manage to cure Talbot, who later shoots Edelmann during one of the doctor's evil rampages and traps the Frankenstein monster under shelves as the lab catches fire.  The end.  This here is a pointless tale; a thin clothesline from which to hang all of Universal's monster movie properties.  At least Larry Talbot finally gets a happy ending I guess....
 
You'd think this scientist would've heard by now that Frankie can't be controlled...


Bait n' Switch

A Dracula movie in which he never drinks anyone's blood and dies halfway through?  A Wolf Man movie in which Wolfie never kills anyone and doesn't even transform during the climax?  A Frankenstein movie where Frankie appears for only a few minutes and does nothing, and we once again don't get Frankie and Dracula onscreen at the same time?  A mad scientist movie where the scientist isn't really mad until the last twenty minutes?  A hunchback movie where the hunchback is just a nurse with a disability?  What a goddamn ripoff!

Whoever heard of a Dracula movie where Dracula doesn't drink blood??




Nitpicks

-Why would giving Dracula transfusions make him not a vampire anymore?  Isn't that basically the same as Dracula drinking other people's blood, but more direct?  Sure, it saves lives if Drac isn't out murdering people, but he'd still be a vampire, no?  Does this "doctor" even know what the fuck he's talking about?

-Why does Dracula wear a top hat everywhere these days?  Is he constantly going to the opera?  And what happened to his Transylvanian accent?

-Larry Talbot goes to Edelmann's castle (how did Edelmann come by castle ownership?) to ask for help and meets his nurse Milizia, who tells him the doctor is too busy to see him.  Fearing what he'll do as a werewolf, Talbot gets himself locked in a prison cell.  Then later Edelmann and Milizia go to see him and he apparently doesn't remember meeting Milizia that same evening.  "Who are you guys?"  "Umm, we're the scientist you came to see and the assistant you DID see."

-Once again we get a Wolf Man transformation within minutes of meeting Talbot in the film.  He's no longer a character at this point, he's just a freak show.  Also, why did he wait until just before a full moon before seeking Edelmann's help?

A payoff requires an actual buildup, guys...


-Edelmann and Milizia are pretty nonchalant about a man transforming into a werewolf before their very eyes, considering they didn't believe Talbot when he told them it would happen.

-At one point Talbot tries to kill himself by jumping into the ocean, and Edelmann goes searching for him, finding him in a cave near the water.  But by this point Talbot has wolfed out and tries to kill him, only to stop himself and transform back into human form.  Why did this happen?  At no time in any of these films has he ever reverted to human prior to the moon setting.  What gives?

-Amazing how Frankenstein's monster magically ends up right near Edelmann's castle, as though the script needed him to be there for Edelmann to discover.

Wow, amazing how this presumed-dead monster gets around...

-How did they clean Frankenstein off without removing his clothes?  One scene he's covered in mud and quicksand, the next he's on a labratory table, clean as a whistle.

-Yet another hunchback assistant?  Are hunchbacks the only folks looking for jobs in this region?  This must really be an applicant's job market.

Lotta scoliosis in this part of the world I guess....

-Why does Dracula try to turn Milizia into a vampire and then actually turn Edelmann into one?  I thought his whole reason for being at this castle was to hang up his vampire boots and live a normal life with this woman he used to know.  Really makes you not care about a movie when the main character's whole motivation goes out the window halfway through like so many marionette bats.

-Somehow a month passes during the course of this movie because it starts and ends with Talbot fearing the approaching full moon.  Where did the time go??  I know this movie's pretty dull but did I pass out and wake up four weeks later?



Conclusion

By 1945 this franchise was out of steam, and aside from being a schlocky exercise in visual flair, there's basically nothing of much interest going on.  The studio wasn't likely to improve on Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and yet they tried twice with mash-up films both billed as "Frankenstein's Monster! Dracula! Wolf Man! Mad Doctor! Hunchback!"  It's pretty sad that the best movie featuring Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man together (and it's not even close) is the satirical Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.  


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