There are some fantasy, science fiction, and horror films that not every fan has caught. Not every film ever made has been seen by the audience that lives for such fare. Some of these deserve another look, because sometimes not every film should remain obscure.
Sometimes, you just can’t win for trying…
House of Dracula (1945)
(Dist.: Universal Pictures; Dir.: Eric C. Kenton)
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster – Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
In 1943 and 1944, audiences got treated to a collection of Universal Monsters sharing screen time with each other in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein, released in quick succession. So of course, they kept things going with a third film right away in 1945.
And because there was probably no plan to build a franchise, the third film avoided the fate of most modern threequel pics…
After the last entry’s mad jumble despite its strong cast, we could be forgiven for expecting an even bigger mess this time around. Instead, we have a much, much better story, that delivers while discoursing on the theme of corruption despite our best efforts.
The film opens in the European seaside estate of Doctor Franz Edelman (Onslow Stevens) who gets a late night visit from Count Dracula (John Carradine, reprising his role from the last film). Dracula is there, he claims, to seek a cure for his vampirism, and is quite willing to work towards that with the good doctor, his assistant Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll) and their nurse Nina (Jane Adams) who is especially keen to work with the doctor on his project for decalcifying drugs so that her hunchback affliction can be cured.
Just as the treatments begin, the doctor is paid a call by one Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), who’s so anxious to begin treatment for his condition that he has himself locked in jail for the night lest the full moon worsen his lycanthropy. Now working on two demanding cases, Doctor Edelman has his hands full, especially as the Count seems to take an interest in Miliza:
And if things don’t get complicated enough, when he tries to bring Talbot back to the clinic after he gets suicidal, he encounters the body of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) which he initially considers more closely before deciding that some bridges should never be crossed.
Sadly, the clinic does not stay a happy place. Dracula’s seduction of Miliza, which includes a great use of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, forces Edelman to take steps to do away with the Count before he can do some lasting damage. While he does manage to put down the Count’s threat for good (before the full end of the picture, denying Carradine a climactic final confrontation that all the other Dracula actors got to have), he discovers that the Count had his own ace to play, one that leads the good Doctor from being, well, good.
Where its predecessor was haphazardly written, this film has a strong script that does ask us how much we should engage with forces we can’t trust. (Whether this was an allegorical questioning of whether we could still trust the Soviet Union after dealing with the Axis Powers is neither clear nor apparent as one watches, though it’s a fair consideration for the time.)
Watching Stevens’ Edelman go from good doctor to mad doctor is well paced and executed, eliciting considerable pathos and sympathy as he gets pulled places he shouldn’t have, just for being kind.
Speaking of kindness, one gets a surprise in Adams’ Nina, the promoted “hunchback” of the film. She’s actually one of the nicest characters we get, with a wonderful temperament and a stunning face, a major departure from other such hunchbacks we find in films. Her presence is even more stunning here than anyone else’s, playing so hard against type as one of heroes.
As for the titular character, we finally get a good helping of Carradine’s Dracula this time. His approach to the Prince of Darkness is one that even die-hard Lugosi fans can warm up to, more suave in its restrained bearing, giving us a vampire that doesn’t represent the “Other” as done before, but someone who seems to be from within our set that we shouldn’t need to be worried about. (Which in and of itself could be a further allegorical look at our relations with the USSR and the Communists in America, if one really wanted to strain a point.)
The rest of the crew serves well, staying within their zones (especially Chaney and Strange) while letting the principals handle the heavy stuff. They probably felt that just showing up met what was expected of them, and on that score, they certainly put in more than what was needed to meet expectations.
Interestingly, for what seemed to be a series that came together on its own with no effort, the great monster mashes from Universal soon dried up. The next time they tried to bring in everyone, they did it as a comedy, in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which would also be the end of the major Universal Monster development cycle. The only times after that when these monsters would be all together were in marathons held on TV when the films were syndicated.
Much like our relatives, after leaving the house, they’d all gather together on special occasions now and then.
NEXT TIME: The parties just keep on coming, and when next everyone gets together, things get really animated…