HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) is the second of the Universal Monster series to feature all three of the major Universal monsters, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. It’s also the last of the serious movies in the series, as the next one also starred Bud Abbott and Lou Costello— but that’s no knock, as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) is a better movie than both HOUSE OF DRACULA and its monster-fest predecessor, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).
HOUSE OF DRACULA is also the fifth Universal DRACULA movie, the seventh Universal FRANKENSTEIN movie, and the fourth Universal WOLF MAN movie. There’ll be a math quiz right after the column!
The jury is still out as to which of the two Universal monster party movies, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or HOUSE OF DRACULA, is the better film. In my conversations with horror writers, film critics, and fans, it’s pretty much even-steven. I slightly prefer HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, for a number of reasons, chief of which is it stars Boris Karloff as the menacing Dr. Niemann, and his evil presence is missed in HOUSE OF DRACULA.
One way that HOUSE OF DRACULA is superior to HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is its Dracula scenes. John Carradine enjoys his best on-screen moments as Dracula in this movie. While I’m not a big fan of Carradine’s noble and well-mannered Dracula, I do like him here. In fact, he gets most of the movie’s best moments. His conversation with his intended victim Miliza Morelle (Martha O’Driscoll) at the piano is mesmerizing, and later, when Dracula attempts to abduct her from the home of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens), director Erle C. Kenton pulls out all stops and imbues the sequence with plenty of suspense, complete with on-target music beats for the Dracula/bat transformations for maximum effect.
Unfortunately, like HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN before it, HOUSE OF DRACULA kills off Dracula way too early in the movie. While the undead Count survives a bit longer here in HOUSE OF DRACULA, he’s gone for the entire second half of the movie, which is too bad, since he was clearly the best part of the first half. Edward T. Lowe Jr. , who wrote the screenplays for both HOUSE movies, for some reason keeps the monsters separate for the most part, with minimal interaction. That’s one of the best parts and reasons why ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is clearly the superior movie of the three, as the three monsters interact more and have ample screen time.
In HOUSE OF DRACULA…or as it could also be known as, DR. EDLEMANN’S GENERAL HOSPITAL FOR MONSTERS, Count Dracula (John Carradine) shows up at the home of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) seeking a cure from vampirism… or so he says! He’s really there because he’s got his fangs…er, sights, set on the lovely nurse Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll) who he had met some time earlier and hence followed her back to the home of Dr. Edlemann, where she works. And evidently lives. Stalker! Night stalker, that is!
Anyway, Dr. Edlemann, being the kind-hearted doctor that he is, agrees. A short time later, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrives at the castle seeking a cure from lycanthropy. The doctor tells him no, that he is too busy trying so save Dracula, and he can only handle one monster at a time. Besides he’s not part of the network of doctors on Talbot’s health plan… no, I’m joking, of course! Edleman agrees to help Talbot as well.
Frustrated and impatient, Talbot attempts to kill himself by leaping from a cliff into the ocean below. Edlemann believes Talbot may have survived the plunge (of course he survived! He’s the Wolf Man! He can’t die! Which of course begs the question, what the heck was Talbot thinking by jumping in the first place? I guess he just wanted to go for a swim). Anyway, Edlemann makes his way down to the caves by the ocean, and there discovers the Wolf Man, who nearly rips out his throat, but strangely and without explanation, the Wolf Man changes back into Larry Talbot and all is well.
As they make their way through the caves, they discover the ailing body of the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) along with the skeletal remains of Dr. Niemann. So… Dr. Edlemann brings the Monster into his castle as well, and now he is taking care of three monsters at the same time!
As stories go, the one told in HOUSE OF DRACULA is pretty weak. It’s just an excuse to get the three monsters in one movie. The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe Jr. is not a strength.
While the appearance of the Frankenstein Monster is explained when he is discovered still alive with the skeletal remains of Dr. Niemann, no mention is made at all of how either Dracula or the Wolf Man overcame their deaths in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. They just show up, as right as rain.
As I said, Dracula fares best here, and John Carradine as Dracula delivers the best performance in the movie. Again the decision to kill him off midway through the movie is a puzzling one. As such, the first half of HOUSE OF DRACULA is really good, while the second half loses quite a bit of steam. Before he is destroyed, Dracula mixes his blood with Dr. Edlemann’s, and the result is the doctor turns into an evil Mr. Hyde-like creation, going into the village and wreaking havoc. A good deal of screen time is spent on this character, which works against the movie. It would have been far more interesting had Dracula continued to be the main menace in this one.
And while the big news in HOUSE OF DRACULA is that Dr. Edlemann proves to be the best doctor ever!!!…as his attempt to cure Larry Talbot of lycanthropy is… wait for it, wait for it!… is successful! Yes, in HOUSE OF DRACULA, Talbot is cured and walks away free from his curse of being the Wolf Man! The truth of the matter is however that Lon Chaney Jr. enjoys some of his worst moments as the Wolf Man right here in HOUSE OF DRACULA.
The Wolf Man scenes are few and ineffective. The best sequence, in the cave, where he attacks Dr. Edlemann, is marred by the ridiculous and inexplicable moment when he suddenly turns back into a human! Also, Larry Talbot’s scenes are among the worst in the entire series, as he’s stuck saying only his stock cliche lines of “living the life of the damned,” woe is me, blah, blah, blah. His scenes in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN were far better, and his brief love story with the gypsy woman was exceptional. Nothing like that here in HOUSE OF DRACULA. And in terms of acting, it’s one of Chaney’s weakest performances as the character. In fact, after this movie, his contract with Universal was not renewed.
Anyway, he was cured!
The Frankenstein Monster scenes are also negligible, as once again the Monster spends most of the movie lying on his back on a table unable to move until he’s zapped with electricity, to rise for a few seconds, before being killed off again in the film’s finale. Glenn Strange played the Monster three times, and it’s not until ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN that he actually gets to enjoy some decent moments in the role.
In the climax to HOUSE OF DRACULA, there is a little bit of suspense as the cured Larry Talbot emerges as the hero and confronts the newly revived Frankenstein Monster, and since fans had followed this sympathetic character through several movies, there’s some suspense wondering if Talbot would survive or succumb to the Monster. And since the fiery climax in the castle is actually footage from the end of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), in which Chaney played the Monster, in this film, as Talbot and the Monster, he’s basically fighting against himself!
Erle C. Kenton directed HOUSE OF DRACULA, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. HOUSE OF DRACULA is the weakest of the three. It’s also incredibly quick, clocking in at just 67 minutes. This one could have been fleshed out way more.
Lionel Atwill appears here once again as yet another police inspector, Police Inspector Holtz. Sadly, Atwill was suffering from lung cancer during production, and it shows. He would die a few months later.
HOUSE OF DRACULA also lacks any memorable female roles. Both Martha O’Driscoll as nurse Miliza, and Jane Adams as the hunchbacked nurse Nina fail to make much of an impact. In fact, they generally share the worst scenes in the film, unfortunately.
And a quick shout out goes to character actor Skelton Knaggs who nearly steals the movie as grumbling villager Steinmuhl. “Dr. Edelmann killed my brother.” When Knaggs says that, he’s scarier than any of the monsters in this one!
Taken as a whole, HOUSE OF DRACULA is a tepid entry in the Universal monster series. But its Dracula scenes are very, very good, and John Carradine gets to shine as the character, until sadly, the sun shines on him, turning him into dust once again, strangely right in the middle of the movie he was dominating so easily!
So, when visiting the HOUSE OF DRACULA, it’s highly recommended you spend time in the Dracula wing.
That is, before he develops a pair of wings and flies away as a bat!
And on that note, it’s time to say so long, before things get really… batty!
While I love the old movies, I started to drift away when the “combo” monster movies took — um — flight… I still like my beasties one at a time!