Karloff Comes Home – House of Frankenstein (1944)


With this fifth and final sequel to Frankenstein, it does not necessarily end the adventures of the monster, but it does end the series of films with his maker’s name in the title.  The film continues on from the previous one, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, and it also continues on the same path teaming the monster up with not only The Wolf Man, but features a new hunchback named Daniel, a new mad doctor portrayed by Boris Karloff and famed vampire, Count Dracula as well.  Sadly, Bela Lugosi would not be featured in this film in any role, but the rest of the cast more than made up for loss.  It is the cast that actually makes this film much better than it should have been.  While most people come to see the monsters, for they are the main draw, it is a little sad that none of them actually end up crossing paths in this movie.  Why that never happened is a mystery, and the creatures would come together in the next film, House of Dracula for the final time, but Universal should have been smart enough to do so with this picture as it would have been far more entertaining having them do so.

house_of_frankenstein_004Boris Karloff, who did not appear in the film series since Son of Frankenstein, is perfect as the mad doctor, Gustav Niemann.  In the years since his portrayal of the monster he had a lot of practice in films like The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), Before I Hang (1940), The Devil Commands (1941) and more as a mad doctor and his performance could not have been better.  Instead of being the loud and crazy doctor, or the one who is truly mad, he is more calculating and cunning, giving the role an understated and subtle kind of evil.  He is cold and cruel and Karloff knows exactly what he is doing and it separates him from those that have come before including Basil Rathbone and Colin Clive.  Seeing him as the monster again would have been wonderful, but seeing Karloff opposite the creature he personified for three wonderful films was just as much a treat.  Dr. Niemann would also provide the focal point for most of the thematic elements of the picture that Universal and the writers would perpetuate throughout the series of films, focusing primarily upon the classic battle of good versus evil.

house of frank1Lon Chaney Jr. would return to the series as well with his third performance as the tortured Lawrence Talbot.  When Dr. Niemann thaws Talbot and the creature from the ice, he is distraught to say the least. All Larry had ever wanted to do was die, from that very first moment since the curse of the pentagram was visited upon him and he realized what harm he could do.  Chaney is just as good in this role as he was in the previous films, though it was for only a brief time.  He plays the tortured man like no other and you can see that his curse wears heavily upon him, like a weight that cannot be lifted and it drags him down.  Like his father before him, Chaney seemed destined to be in horror films, with them often being some of his best roles.  There was one problem with Chaney returning though, and it was simply the fact that his role was too familiar, like it had been done before, and it had.  Chaney does a great job of it just like he always had, but a little more character development would have been appreciated.

house_of_frankenstein_002New to the Frankenstein series would be John Carradine as Count Dracula.  He only appeared in a little less than a third of the movie, and in that, was not given very much to do or to work with, but he did do a decent job of it.  It is hard to imagine the man as Dracula as Bela Lugosi, much like Chaney Jr. and The Wolf Man, would forever be associated with the character.  J. Carrol Naish stars as Daniel, the love-struck assistant of Dr. Niemann who only wants Elena Verdugo’s character Ilonka, to love him back.  One of the most interesting aspects of the entire film would be the love triangle that would play out between Daniel, Ilonka and Talbot amongst the madness and the monsters.  While most of the Universal monster films would feature a female lead of some sort, none would do so in a role such as Verdugo’s except perhaps the ill-fated Bride of the creature from many years previous.  Returning to the picture as well would be Lionel Atwill as Inspector Arnz with horror legend George Zucco making his debut as Bruno Lampini.

The film was appropriately dark and atmospheric in nature, lending to the eeriness that would carry the story through to the end.  Edward T. Lowe Jr. did a fair job on the script, from a story by Curt Siodmak, understanding the monsters as they were, but could have done a much better job of tying them all together and perhaps even having them interact with each other which, as stated earlier, was an opportunity lost.  Erle C. Kenton was the director for this last official installment of the Frankenstein franchise and he does a good job with the material, never making the seventy-one minute feature seem overly long or boring.  For a series that started out so strong, it is a little disappointing that it ended the way it did.  Gone are the importance of the larger themes like man vs nature that the first two films really pushed and the dynamic and inventive directing style that James Whale brought to the table.  This film was not bad, not by any means, but instead of breaking the mold like they did in the beginning, the last few films would rely upon the standard techniques of filmmaking, thereby making the only thing unique about it being the creatures within it.  As a whole, the series is still quite fantastic; the first half is just stronger than the latter.  For a film about the monster, it would have been nice to have seen more of said creature, but as such there is still two more films that would feature the monster after this one.

4 out of 5


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