House of Dracula would be the last of the Universal pictures featuring the big three characters in their stable, Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, at least in a horror picture. Almost the entire main cast of House of Frankenstein would return to star in this film and as it was a B picture and as Universal was always wont to save money whenever possible, it simply made financial sense to do so. As it was, the film did very well for the studio and why they decided to stop making them, except for the Abbot and Costello films that would follow, is a question that has surely been asked more than once. Perhaps it was too much exposure for the characters and not wanting to wear out their welcome or simply wanting to try different things. Whatever the case, this final entry would be a lot of fun with some great directing by Erle C. Kenton with a nice, moody atmosphere and a few chills to carry the film along to its conclusion.
The film begins though with the eponymous Count flying to Visaria and making a house call upon a Doctor Edelmann in the wee hours of the morning. It seems he sought out the doctor so that he might receive blood transfusions to cure his vampirism. In the middle of his first treatment, Lawrence Talbot, the man tortured with the curse of the werewolf, shows up to the castle as well to seek out the doctor’s help. Larry wants to be cured as well, and after seeing Lawrence go through a transformation, the doctor agrees. Not soon after, the Frankenstein monster is also discovered, underneath the cliffs entangled in the skeleton of Dr. Niemann from the previous film, House of Frankenstein. Finding the creature is not so much of a surprise to Dr. Edelmann as the monster is supposed to be indestructible, and of course, he decides to take the creature back to the castle. Soon, with all three personalities under one roof, including the doctor himself, things start to spiral out of control.
Returning to the film was Edward T. Lowe Jr. on script duty and having him on board would not only hurt but help as well. Having Lowe on board was helpful in the fact that he already understood the characters, having written them previously in House of Frankenstein. He knew what made each one tick and he knows how to write a good screenplay with all the right things in it to make a successful horror film. But it was also problematic having him on board as once again he ignored continuity. In the previous film, all three of the monsters perished by one method or another. Thankfully with the creature’s return, after having sunk to his possible demise in the quicksand in the previous film, Lowe kept that particular incident intact. Where it veered off course was now the creature could see again, after having been blinded in the previous couple of movies. What was ultimately dissatisfying was the way Dracula came back as well, after having been killed by the sun and the Lawrence Talbot having been killed with silver by one who truly loved him. There are ways around the inconsistencies, perhaps Dracula’s skeleton was placed in darkness and somehow he rejuvenated again and maybe Ilonka did not love Larry one hundred percent and thus he was revived. However it could have possibly happened, it was never explained in the film and it creates a little bit of incongruity for those that follow the movies.
This time, the star or at least the focus of the film would be Onslow Stevens as Dr. Edelmann. His portrayal of the good doctor/mad doctor was spot on and fun to watch. When he turned evil and Jekyll’ed out it made for some of the best scenes in the film, not to mention being those that delivered the most chills and thrills. Martha O’Driscoll would appear as the damsel in distress this time around as well as being Dr. Edelmann’s assistant. There would be no Elsa Frankenstein or gypsy ladies in this last installment. There would of course be another hunchback, this time with the producers casting a woman in the role played by Jane (Poni) Adams. Adams was surprisingly good in the role and it would have been a nice to see her role expanded just a little more and get a little more story on her, but such was not to be the case. The two women would add a nice dynamic to the movie, balancing out the testosterone levels present in the rest of the cast.
Once more, Lon Chaney Jr. would appear as The Wolf Man for the fourth time, John Carradine would return as Dracula for the second time and Glenn Strange as the creature for the second time as well. And for the fifth time, the dependable Lionel Atwill would appear in the series, this time as Police Inspector Holtz, also having played two other policemen, a mayor and a doctor previously. Chaney Jr. would be as brilliant as he always is, though it seemed like he was just repeating the same lines from the previous movies. It was not necessarily a bad thing, but gave the viewer a sense of deja vu. Thankfully, this film gave him a little character development towards the end of the film that would be most welcome. John Carradine would be no slouch either, but it is still hard to see him as the Count after Bela Lugosi did such a great job in the role. Together, along with Stevens, they would carry the film and make it much more enjoyable than it might have otherwise been.
After this film, the Universal monsters would take some time off until they would team up with Abbot and Costello in a film that would obviously blend the genres of horror and comedy. Again, it would follow no rules for continuity but would be surprisingly quite good. This film, House of Dracula, would sadly be the last serious outing of the three monsters that helped to build Universal Studios into what it is today. Because of the popularity gained from Universal’s monstrous outings, other studios would go on to make their own iterations of the characters, Hammer being the most prominent one. Aside from the Wolf Man remake, what the future holds for the characters is up in the air, but if they should make a return to the big screen one day, it will be a good thing.
4 out of 5