This very short movie, which runs only 55 minutes and is a standalone film, not an episode of a TV series, is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s also a horror movie. Based on Marvel’s Legion of Monsters comic series, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is being billed as an action, adventure, horror comedy.
Talk about your vegetable soup!
Anyway, I’d been hearing a lot of good things about this one, mostly from horror fans, who have been saying WEREWOLF BY NIGHT reminded them a lot of the classic black and white Universal monster movies. Sadly, I didn’t see or feel that connection. The only similarity I saw between the two was they were both shot in black and white. For me, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, which premiered on Disney Plus and is now streaming there, plays like a Disney/Marvel family friendly hybrid with a few mild and tame horror elements thrown in. While I appreciated the visual elements of this movie, I was basically unimpressed with just about everything else.
Indeed, the best part about WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and the main reason to see this one is the work by director and music composer Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is one of my favorite film composers working today, and he has composed a ton of memorable movie music scores, including music for THE BATMAN (2022) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). He has written the scores for other Marvel superhero movies, for the recent JURASSIC PARK films, for the recent PLANET OF THE APES series, for the recent STAR TREK movies, and on and on! Two of my favorite Giacchino scores were in horror films, the Hammer vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), and one of the all-time best giant monster movies, CLOVERFIELD (2008). His very memorable theme in CLOVERFIELD doesn’t appear until the end credits, but it’s worth the wait. He also wrote a pretty memorable score for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).
So, yeah, he’s scored a few movies.
WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is Michael Giacchino’s directorial debut, and it’s a good one. Visually, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a real treat to watch. The black and white photography is atmospheric and effective, and Giacchino even includes a la STRANGER THINGS the grainy look of film, even inserting the infamous cigarette burns— the little dot in the upper half of the frame– which used to appear in all movies to alert projectionists that it was time to start the next reel. Of course, there’s no need for those anymore since today’s movies are all digital. Giacchino does use some color, most notably for the very red bloodstone, which is integral to the movie’s plot.
Oh yes. The plot.
It’s pretty standard and also at 55 minutes pretty quick.
Basically, a group of infamous monster hunters gather at the castle of the recently deceased Ulysses Bloodstone, the most famous monster hunter of them all. These hunters are all tasked with hunting a very dangerous creature, and the one who slays the beast, will inherit the glowing red bloodstone, which will give its owner the power and right to be the master monster hunter. Blah, blah, blah.
The two main characters are Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a hunter who isn’t quite who he says he is, and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of the deceased, and these two form a pact during the hunt to work together so Elsa can get the bloodstone, and Jack can get what he really wants.
Things don’t go as planned, and during the film’s second half, the werewolf element finally emerges.
Since this is based on the Marvel comic by Gerry Conway, the screenplay by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron pretty much tells an action-adventure story. While the horror elements are there, they are downplayed. The film also contains some witty snappy dialogue which Marvel superhero movie fans have come to expect.
But since I am also a huge fan of werewolf movies, I have to say that the werewolf stuff— both the actual werewolf and all of the werewolf sequences in this movie— was a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t impressed with the actual werewolf, and the scenes were just meh. The biggest problem I had with the werewolf scenes comes down to the movie’s plot, about hunters trying to slay a beast, which isn’t even the werewolf, by the way. The story is all rather mediocre.
But Giacchino’s work behind the camera is definitely not mediocre, nor is his music score, and it was fun to watch how he integrated the music with his film direction. The timing was impeccable.
I enjoyed watching WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, even though I found its story to be something of a snooze, and as such, and I for one was glad it was only 55 minutes long.
With apologies to Michael Myers, Kharis the Mummy just might be the scariest monster who can’t outrun a turtle ever to lumber across a movie screen! And he’s never been more frightening than in today’s SPOOKLIGHT feature, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).
THE MUMMY’S TOMB has always been my favorite Kharis MUMMY movie. The make-up here on Kharis by Jack Pierce, the man who created most of the iconic Universal monsters, including Boris Karloff’s Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), is by far the best MUMMY make-up of the Kharis series.
It’s also my favorite due to nostalgic reasons, as I owned an 8mm Castle Films copy of it when I was a kid. The film also boasts the most exciting ending of any MUMMY movie, period.
Kharis the Mummy was featured in four Universal Mummy movies, and in the Hammer Films remake THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Kharis, but it was Lon Chaney Jr. who played the definitive Kharis, appearing in three Universal Mummy movies, the first being THE MUMMY’S TOMB.
THE MUMMY’S TOMB opens with a comprehensive synopsis of the previous film in the series, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), so if you’ve missed this first movie, no need to worry! The initial ten minutes of THE MUMMY’S TOMB brings you up to speed on previous events quite nicely. You can almost hear the voice-over narration, “Previously on THE MUMMY’S HAND.”
Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) the main character from THE MUMMY’S HAND recounts his adventures in that first movie to his son John (John Hubbard) and his future daughter-in-law Isobel (Elyse Knox), and his story is shown via flashbacks. Little does Stephen know that over in Egypt the high priest he thought he killed, Andoheb (George Zucco) still lives, albeit he’s now an old man, as thirty years have passed since the events of THE MUMMY’S HAND. Hmm. With this timeline, shouldn’t THE MUMMY’S TOMB be taking place in 1970? Where are all the hippies?
Andoheb now turns over the Mummy-caring duties to his young protégé, Mehemet Bey (TurhanBey) because Kharis the Mummy didn’t die either. Not only is Kharis still alive, but he’s put on some weight! Has he been eating too many tanna leaves? No, he’s just being played here by the husky Lon Chaney Jr. rather than Tom Tyler, who played him in THE MUMMY’S HAND.
Chaney has been criticized over the years for being too big and thick to look like an authentic Mummy, but I’ve always liked this look, as it made him scarier. I mean, Chaney isn’t flabby and overweight. He’s solid and huge, like he could crush a man with his fists.
Mehemet Bey brings Kharis to the United States, to Massachusetts to be exact, to hunt down and kill the members of the Banning family.
And that’s pretty much it in terms of plot. The screenplay by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher is pretty standard.
The strength of THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not its plot but its visuals. The movie contains some really neat scenes, and Kharis has never looked creepier. Shots of Kharis closing in on his victims still make me shudder, and some of the murder scenes in this one are downright brutal. Director Harold Young, not known for his genre work, really deserves a lot of credit for making a very chilling monster movie.
Young also makes good use of shadows here. Many times we see Kharis only through his shadow. In fact, when Kharis creeps across the countryside at night, he is unseen except for his shadow which falls upon several unsuspecting townsfolk. The shadow is used so frequently I’ve often wondered if the shooting script was entitled THE SHADOW OF THE MUMMY.
There’s a curious moment in the movie in the scene where Kharis attacks Babe (Wallace Ford), another character from THE MUMMY’S HAND. After Babe shouts out Kharis’ name, Kharis’ lips move as if he’s saying something in response. It looks almost as if a scene of dialogue has been cut from the film. I’ve never read anything to support such a cut, and it wouldn’t make sense in terms of the story anyway, since Kharis had his tongue cut from his mouth in the previous film, and is mute. But if you watch this scene, you definitely will see Kharis’ mouth move, and a cut does appear to have taken place right at this moment. Interesting.
The ending is exceedingly memorable. The torch-wielding villagers, in a chase scene reminiscent of the ending to FRANKENSTEIN (1931)- in fact, some of the footage from FRANKENSTEIN is used here— chase Kharis, who’s carrying an unconscious Isobel, and trap him inside a large house. John Banning, the sheriff, and another man run inside the house to rescue Isobel. The climactic battle on the second story porch between John, the sheriff and Kharis, while the villagers fling burning torches from below, is pretty exciting. I can’t think of another MUMMY movie that has a better ending than this one.
The cast is standard, and other than Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis, no one really jumps out at you. However the beautiful Elyse Knox who plays Isobel is notable because she’s Mark Harmon’s mother. Ms. Knox only recently passed away, in 2012 at age 94.
Lon Chaney Jr. actually does a stand up job as Kharis the Mummy. Chaney played all four main movie monsters: The Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dracula, and the Frankenstein Monster. While he’s most famous for his portrayal of Larry Talbot aka the Wolf Man, and rightly so, his three performances as Kharis the Mummy are more effective than his work as either Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.
He makes Kharis damned scary. His look is such that when he enters a room, he almost paralyzes his victims with fear, which is a good thing for him, because with his limp, he’s not going to catch anybody. You can outrun Kharis running backwards. But Kharis always seems to corner his victims, and once he’s blocked the exit, his prey is as good as dead.
Very few of the old Universal monster movies are frightening. I would argue that THEMUMMY’S TOMB featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the Mummy is one of the scariest.
I dare you to watch it alone this summer without having nightmares of Kharis the Mummy breaking into your bedroom in the middle of the night.
Over there, by the wall! Is that the Mummy’s shadow I see?
Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.
Up today, it’s Ralph Bellamy, who during his long and prolific career often flirted with leading man roles but most of the time played supporting roles and developed into one of the most respected character actors of his time. Bellamy is known for so much more than his appearances in some horror movies, but for purposes of this column, we will focus on those horror movie roles, especially since one of those roles was a prominent one in one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Universal’s THE WOLF MAN (1941).
Bellamy was also known for his tireless advocacy for actors behind the scenes, as he helped create the Screen Actors Guild and served as President of Actors’ Equity from 1952-1964, leading the charge against McCarthyism and its baseless accusations against actors of the time.
Here now is a partial look at Bellamy’s career, in which he amassed 194 screen credits, with special emphasis on his horror movie roles:
THE SECRET 6 (1931) – Johnny Franks – Bellamy’s first screen credit, in a gangster movie which also featured Clark Gable in the cast.
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937) – Daniel Leeson- comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunn in which Bellamy eventually loses Dunn to Grant. Bellamy would become known for playing roles in which his character would not end up with the girl.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) – Bruce Baldwin – one of my favorite Ralph Bellamy roles as the honest but dull Bruce Baldwin who once again loses out to Cary Grant for the affections of the leading lady.
ELLERY QUEEN, MASTER DETECTIVE (1940) – Ellery Queen – first in a series of movies in which Bellamy played famed detective Ellery Queen.
THE WOLF MAN (1941) – Colonel Montford – if you’re a horror fan, this is where you know Ralph Bellamy from, and for me, this is my favorite Bellamy role. As the village law enforcement officer, it’s up to Montford to solve the mystery of just what or who is killing the villagers. Further complicating matters is he is good friends with Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) who just happens to be the Wolf Man, the creature who is committing all the murders. And what makes THE WOLF MAN so great is this compelling storyline isn’t even the main one, but only one of the many compelling storylines in the film, which includes an amazing cast. In addition to Bellamy and Chaney, there’s Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Patric Knowles.
THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)- Erik Ernst- Bellamy teams once again with fellow WOLF MAN stars Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. in this fourth Universal FRANKENSTEIN movie, the first and only time Lon Chaney Jr. played the Monster. Bellamy again plays the town’s top law enforcement officer, this time involved with Dr. Frankenstein’s (Sir Cedricke Hardwicke) daughter Elsa (Evelyn Ankers). Lugosi of course plays one of his all-time best movie characters, Ygor, the second and last time he would play the character, having created the role in the previous Frankenstein movie, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). Bellamy gets to be the hero here as he leads the charge to rescue Elsa and destroy the Monster.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) – Dr. Sapirstein- it took nearly 30 years for Bellamy to appear in another horror movie, but his turn here as the sinister Dr. Sapirstein in Roman Polanski’s classic thriller is one of his best and most frightening performances.
SOMETHING EVIL (1972) – Harry Lincoln- TV movie about a haunted house starring Sandy Dennis and Darren McGavin, directed by a young Steven Spielberg!
THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER (1974)- Adlai Stevenson- Bellamy won an Emmy for his portrayal of Adlai Stevenson in this TV movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis, starring William Devane as JFK and Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy.
OH, GOD! (1977) – Sam Raven- supporting role in this very popular Carl Reiner comedy in its day starring George Burns as God who communicates to unsuspecting John Denver. Also features Teri Garr and Donald Pleasence in its cast.
THE WINDS OF WAR (1983) – Franklin Delano Roosevelt- won another Emmy for his portrayal of FDR in this TV miniseries, the second time he played Roosevelt in a movie, the first being in SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO (1960).
TRADING PLACES (1983) – Randolph Duke- memorable pairing with Don Ameche in this funny John Landis comedy starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Denholm Elliott.
WAR AND REMEMBRANCE (1988-1989)- Franklin Delano Roosevelt- plays Roosevelt once again in this TV miniseries sequel.
PRETTY WOMAN (1990)- James Morse- Bellamy’s final film role in this insanely popular romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.
Bellamy passed away on November 29, 1991 due to a lung ailment. He was 87.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of IN THE SHADOWS, where we looked at the career of Ralph Bellamy, known to horror fans for his work in THE WOLF MAN, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and years later, in ROSEMARY’S BABY.
I hope you will join me again next time when we look at the career of another memorable character actor in the movies.
Recently in this column, we looked at THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944), which was the last of the serious Universal INVISIBLE MAN movies, before the invisible one went on to meet Abbott and Costello, in a film obviously played for laughs. I mentioned that the lead in that movie was Jon Hall, and that it was his second time playing an invisible man.
Hall first played the invisible fellow in INVISIBLE AGENT (1942), the subject of today’s IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, which makes Hall the only actor to play the Invisible Man as the lead role in more than one movie. Vincent Price played the Invisible Man twice as well, but one of those performances was a cameo in the final seconds of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). Price also played the lead in the first INVISIBLE MAN sequel, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940).
INVISIBLE AGENT never made the rounds on the Saturday afternoon horror movie docket when I was a kid, and so I never caught up with this one until as an adult I purchased it on DVD. It probably didn’t show up back in the day because it’s really not a horror movie. That’s right, INVISIBLE AGENT is a war movie, as the main character, Frank Griffin, who changes his name to Frank Raymond, is a descendant of the original Claude Rains’ character Jack Griffin in THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). The film takes place in 1942, the year it was made, and Frank agrees to use the invisibility formula to turn himself into an invisible agent to help thwart the Nazis!
And since this isn’t a horror movie, even though the dangers of the invisibility formula are mentioned briefly in the film, main character Frank Raymond really doesn’t have to worry all that much about going insane like his infamous ancestor. That horrific plot point isn’t really on the menu here.
In INVISIBLE AGENT, Frank Raymond (Jon Hall) agrees to work with the United States government to turn himself invisible and take on the Nazis. His contact in Germany is the beautiful Maria Sorenson (Illona Massey). Together, they work to thwart the plans of Nazi Conrad Stauffer (Sir Cedrick Hardwicke) and Japanese villain Baron Ikito (Peter Lorre). They succeed rather easily, because most of the bad guys in this one are portrayed as hapless buffoons.
Most of INVISIBLE AGENT is played for laughs, which actually works against this movie. It would have been a much more intriguing flick had the plot been taken a bit more seriously. It’s not a horror movie, and it’s not much of a wartime thriller, and that’s two strikes against it. It is, however, an amusing light “let’s beat up on the Nazis” movie which since it was released in the middle of World War II, most likely was a crowd pleaser.
The screenplay by Curt Siodmak, one of classic horror’s best writers, with screenplay credits that include THE WOLF MAN (1941), FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), to name just a few, isn’t one of his best, but it does make for a lighthearted World War II adventure with decent characters and interesting dialogue.
Jon Hall fares better as an invisible man here in INVISIBLE AGENT than he would later in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, as his character here is likable and heroic, and he possesses a spunky sense of humor. Illona Massey makes for a strong female heroine as Maria Sorenson. She would play another effective heroine the following year in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, playing Frankenstein’s daughter, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein.
The two best performances in the movie however belong to Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre as the two villains. A huge part of this is that in this easygoing movie, both Hardwicke and Lorre play things straight and are really quite nefarious. Lorre delivers the better performance of the two, although it’s jarring and by today’s standards disturbing to watch him play a Japanese character. It wasn’t an issue back in 1942, as Lorre even made an entire film series as the Japanese detective Mr. Moto back in the 1930s.
On the other hand, J. Edward Bromberg’s Nazi Karl Heiser is entirely played for laughs. Bromberg would go on to appear in two other Universal horror movies, as vampire expert Professor Lazlo in SON OF DRACULA (1943), and as one of the Paris Opera owners in the Claude Rains remake of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).
Edwin L. Marin directed INVISIBLE AGENT, and there are plenty of entertaining scenes, from the silly dinner sequence where an invisible Frank sabotages Nazi Karl Heiser’s plans for a romantic evening with Maria, to Frank’s inspired escape from Conrad Stauffer and his Nazi henchman. But the film never takes itself all that seriously, and at the end of the day, its lighthearted humor didn’t really work all that well for me.
The invisible special effects by John Fulton are still pretty impressive. In fact, Fulton was nominated for an Oscar for Best Special Effects but lost out to the effects team on REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), which was directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Sadly, none of the impressive Invisible Man effects in any of the Universal Invisible Man movies ever won an Oscar. Ironically, Fulton would go on to win two Academy Awards for special effects, for the Daniel Kaye musical comedy WONDER MAN (1945) and for DeMille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956).
INVISIBLE AGENT is an amusing movie if you are in the mood for a playful tale about an invisible man making fools out of Nazis. You could do a lot worse, to be sure.
But it’s not a horror movie, nor is it an overly exciting adventure, and so at the end of the day, INVISIBLE AGENT only worked for me as a minor diversion. The best part by far are the two villainous performances by Sir Cedrick Hardwicke and Peter Lorre.
Good! Then check out THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), an atmospheric vampire movie from the 1930s starring Lionel Atwill in the lead role of mad scientist Dr. Otto van Niemann.
In THE VAMPIRE BAT, Atwill demonstrates that had the stars been aligned differently, he might have become a major horror movie star, rather than just a supporting actor, playing as he so often did police inspectors in the Universal Frankenstein and Dracula movies. He delivers a fine performance in THE VAMPIRE BAT, and there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t have continued to play lead roles in future films with similar success.
A small village is up in arms over a series of vampire-like murders, in which the victims have been drained of all their blood. Karl, the local police inspector (Melvyn Douglas) doesn’t believe in vampires and instead insists the crimes have been committed by a human culprit.
His girlfriend Ruth (Fay Wray) works for Dr. van Niemann (Lionel Atwill) whose strange experiments should have raised some eyebrows, but since he’s such a respected member of the community, he escapes suspicion. Instead, the villagers accuse the town simpleton, Herman (Dwight Frye) of being the vampire, since he loves bats and is seen regularly handling the creatures.
The villagers chase Herman through the countryside with hunting dogs, in a scene clearly reminiscent of the chase scene at the end of FRANKENSTEIN (1931). In fact, if you happen to stumble upon this scene unaware of what you are watching, you might suspect you are seeing some long lost footage from FRANKENSTEIN of the villagers chasing Henry Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz (also played by Dwight Frye). At the end of the chase, Herman falls from a cliff to his death, and the villagers then drive a stake through his heart. They are ecstatic that they have killed the vampire, but this only lasts a few hours, until another victim is drained of blood.
Eventually, Karl’s investigation leads him to Dr. van Niemann, and he discovers that the doctor has been hypnotizing his assistant to commit these murders in order to obtain human blood for his experiments.
The plot of THE VAMPIRE BAT is nothing new, nor is it very exciting. The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, who also wrote the screenplays for HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), is average at best, and the biggest strike against the story is that it’s not about a real vampire. Heck, it’s not even about a real vampire bat!
Director Frank Strayer does little at the helm to make this one stand out, as THE VAMPIRE BAT contains nary a memorable scene.
The reason to watch THE VAMPIRE BAT is its cast. Lionel Atwill is more than satisfactory in the lead role as Dr. van Niemann. Although Atwill’s signature role, his defining moment in horror cinema remains his one-armed police inspector in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), a supporting role, in the early 1930s Atwill was getting lead roles, and he was shining in them, including 1933’s MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, which also starred Fay Wray. He’s a convincing mad scientist here in THE VAMPIRE BAT, sinister yet likeable enough to hide his madness from those around him. Atwill does a good job of not going too over the top with the role.
Also in the cast is Dwight Frye, who sadly was already being typecast in 1933 playing weird madmen. Frye of course stole the show as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and nearly repeated the effort as Henry Frankenstein’s hunchback assistant Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Here, he’s Herman, the man who loves bats, who tragically gets chased to his death because the villagers feared he was a vampire. Frye seemed to be able play these parts in his sleep.
It was a busy year for Fay Wray. In addition to appearing in both THE VAMPIRE BAT and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM in 1933, she also of course had a notable encounter with one Mr. King Kong in KING KONG (1933). Interestingly enough, Wray was not a natural blonde and wore a wig in KING KONG. She has her natural brunette hair here in THE VAMPIRE BAT. Wray was actually a very good actress and could do a lot more than just scream. She’s relaxed and very natural in THE VAMPIRE BAT.
The other main star on hand was Melvyn Douglas who went on to make many, many movies and win two Academy Awards. He had starred the year before in the atmospheric Boris Karloff film THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and Douglas would return to the genre many years later with two notable performances, with George C. Scott in THE CHANGELING (1980) and in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981).
And then there’s Lionel Belmore as the Burgomaster, playing nearly the same exact role he enacted in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), providing yet another connection to the Boris Karloff classic (as well as the fact that both films were shot on the same Universal village set giving both films similar exterior shots.)
When it comes to early 1930s vampire movies, I prefer DRACULA (1931), MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) and VAMPYR (1932) to THE VAMPIRE BAT, which doesn’t have as much atmosphere or story as these three classics.
But it does have a great cast, including vintage Lionel Atwill. I like Atwill a lot, and it’s a shame he didn’t have substantial roles in more movies. He rarely disappoints.
And for that matter, neither does THE VAMPIRE BAT. While it’s not a classic of the genre, it is a showplace for some terrific performers working at the top of their craft.
—This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column was originally published in 2010 in THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION. It was recently republished within those same pages in November 2021.
John Carradine appeared in many of Universal’s classic monster movies from the 1930s and 1940s. He played Dracula in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and in HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), and he played prominent supporting roles in such chillers as THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944), as well as appearing in a whole host of others, with some of these roles uncredited, like his brief moment in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) as one of the men who discovers the Monster (Boris Karloff) in the home of the blind man.
And while Carradine did eventually achieve the same fame as his notable co-stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr., he did so mainly as a character actor rather than as the lead. Even as his long and varied career continued onto the next generation of horror stars, where he co-starred with the likes of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, he still rarely played the lead role.
Over a career which spanned six decades, Carradine amassed an amazing 354 screen credits. On both TV and in the movies, he was everywhere from the 1930s through the 1980s. But it was a rarity to find Carradine in a lead role.
One time that he did get the opportunity to play a starring role and carry a movie on his own is with today’s film, BLUEBEARD (1944).
In BLUEBEARD, John Carradine plays Gaston Morel, a Parisian puppeteer, who seems friendly and harmless enough, but in reality, he’s the infamous Bluebeard serial killer stalking the streets of Paris, violently strangling young women to death. As I said, it’s a rare treat to see Carradine in a lead role. Here as the haunted and tortured Bluebeard, he’s never been scarier! It’s a terrific performance by Carradine. In fact, he considered it his favorite.
BLUEBEARD was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, the man who directed the classic Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi thriller, THE BLACK CAT (1934). Like with THE BLACK CAT, there are plenty of innovative camera angles and shots, and also like the Karloff/Lugosi masterpiece, nearly the entire film has background music playing throughout.
Better yet, the murders are chilling and frightening, a testament to how one can create fear without showing graphic scenes of violence.
The screenplay by Pierre Gendron, based on a story by Arnold Lipp and Werner H. Furst, tells the story of puppeteer Gaston Morel who hires women to work with him, paints their portraits, and when he tires of them, he strangles them to death. He then gets rid of the paintings by having a private dealer sell them to buyers who only display them privately, keeping Gaston’s connection to the murders out of the public eye. This private dealer has no issue with Gaston being a murderer, as long as he makes money off the paintings. It’s a lurid plot with modern day overtones, as the way Morel manipulates and then harms women, eventually murdering them, as well as the way his fellow male art dealer dismisses the murders as if these women don’t matter, is symbolic of modern day male predators.
After his latest murder, Gaston meets artist Lucille Lutien (Jean Parker) who like other women, is fascinated with the puppeteer and agrees to design some new puppets for him. Hot on Gaston’s trail is Inspector Jacques Lefevre (Nils Asther) who finally catches a break when by chance he happens to see one of the paintings of the murder victims. He then focuses his investigation on trying to learn the identity of the artist.
BLUEBEARD is an atmospheric, gritty, and genuinely frightening thriller that in spite of its low budget really packs a punch. It’s also a golden opportunity to catch John Carradine in a starring role. He’s excellent as the conflicted puppeteer Gaston Morel. He’s also damned scary!
It’s a shame Carradine didn’t play more leads like this, although he appeared in so many movies in so many supporting roles he certainly made his mark in the movies and for horror fans, his name is up there with the greats like Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Price, Lee, and Cushing. And rightly so.
But those guys pretty much always had starring roles. Carradine achieved the same success primarily as a character actor.
Maybe it was because I watched it late at night. Or maybe it’s the fine work of John Carradine and director Edgar G. Ulmer. All I know is, when it was over, I was creeped out way more than I expected. For a black and white 1940s horror movie to get under my skin like that, that’s saying something.
So check out BLUEBEARD. With his terrific performance as Gaston Morel, John Carradine will get under your skin too. In fact, you may even notice your neck starting to feel a bit sore…
THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) was the last of the serious Universal INVISIBLE MAN series. There would be one more, but that one would include Abbott and Costello in the cast, in the appropriately named ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951).
Previous films in the series include THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (1940), which was also played for laughs, and INVISIBLE AGENT (1942). The best film in the series remains, by far, the first one, THE INVISIBLE MAN, which was directed by James Whale and starred Claude Rains as the invisible one.
THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is considered to be the weakest of the series, and while I can’t disagree, I do still enjoy this one. It has its moments. Its biggest flaw is its story just isn’t very good.
It also has no connection to the previous films. And while the main character’s name is Robert Griffin— Griffin being the surname of the original Invisible Man and his various relatives in later movies— in this film, the character in spite of his name is no relation to the Invisible Man Clan.
In THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, shady character Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) recently recovers from amnesia and remembers that his “friends” owe him half their fortune. When he returns to their mansion, both Lady Herrick (Gale Sondergaard) and Sir Jasper Herrick (Lester Matthews) are shocked to see their former friend, who they believed was dead. They are even more shocked when he not only demands half their fortune but also their daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers), even though she’s engaged to a reporter Mark Foster (Alan Curtis). Rather than call their attorneys, they drug Griffin and toss him out of their home.
Infuriated, Griffin happens to stumble upon a house in which a scientist Doctor Peter Drury (John Carradine) lives, who just happened to discover the secret to invisibility! How convenient! So, Griffin becomes invisible, and with the help of a comical local sidekick Herbert Higgins (Leon Errol) attempts to coerce the Herricks to give him their fortune and win back Julie. Standing in his way is heroic reporter and fiance Mark Foster, and when he can’t get the job done, it’s up to Dr. Drury’s loyal pet dog (Grey Shadow) to save the day!
It’s never a good sign in a movie plot that the film’s hero turns out to be a dog. Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. A lot. But when this happens, and it’s not a movie about a dog, that’s just not saying much about the film’s human characters.
And overall, the entire story in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is not a very good one. The screenplay by Bertram Millhauser doesn’t give us much of a conflict or characters that are all that interesting.
Robert Griffin isn’t the most sympathetic character, and for most of the movie is a demented villain, which is par for the course for an invisible man in these stories, but there’s just something unlikable about him throughout the movie. Not that a character has to be likable. But some characters you enjoy watching them be evil or dark, but that isn’t quite the case here.
This was Jon Hall’s second time playing an invisible man. He played an entirely different character, also invisible, in INVISIBLE AGENT.
Leon Errol chews up the scenery as the comedic Herbert Higgins who decides to assist Griffin enact his revenge, as long as there is some money in it for him. The dart throwing contest is one of the highlights of the movie, where Higgins challenges the local dart champion and receives help from his invisible friend.
But the best performance in the movie… no surprise… is from John Carradine as Dr. Drury. It’s a small role, but Carradine is on point throughout, and he makes for a really interesting scientist, not your cliche movie mad scientist. It’s a shame he’s not in this movie more.
Evelyn Ankers, who appeared in THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), among others, has very very little to do here as daughter Julie Herrick. She’s hardly in this one. Another Universal monster movie veteran, Lester Matthews, who starred in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and THE RAVEN (1935) is very good here as Sir Jasper Herrick.
THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE was directed by Ford Beebe, and like most of the Universal classic monster movies, looks terrific. The black and white photography, the huge mansion, the raging thunderstorm outside Dr. Drury’s laboratory, keep this one steeped in creepy atmosphere.
The special effects, while not as impressive as the effects in the original INVISIBLE MAN, are still pretty good, and make for a lot of fun.
Again, the biggest knock against THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is its story just isn’t all that exciting or interesting, and the same can be said for its characters, with the possible exception of Dr. Drury and his pet dog, and Drury just isn’t in the movie all that much.
Yup, when all is said and done, when summing up THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, it’s pretty clear that regarding this movie, there simply isn’t a lot… to see.
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!
Today’s PICTURE OF THE DAY comes from James Whale’s classic THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), and it’s the initial appearance of the Invisible Man, which remains for my money, one of the best first entrance scenes of any of the classic Universal Monsters.
The locals are all huddled together at the neighborhood pub, drinking and having a grand old time while a snowstorm rages outside, when the door opens, letting in both the howling blizzard winds and a strange man wrapped in bandages. The atmosphere in this scene is off the charts creepy.
This entrance is up there with the first time we see the Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), also directed by James Whale, and when Dracula (Bela Lugosi) appears for the first time at the top of the castle stairs in Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931).
Claude Rains is superb as the titular character, playing a menacing monster mostly by just using his voice, since the character is invisible! THE INVISIBLE MAN also features spectacular visual effects for its time.
I often consider THE INVISIBLE MAN to be Universal’s most overlooked classic, as you don’t usually hear it mentioned in the same conversation with DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, or THE WOLF MAN (1941), or even THE MUMMY (1932) for that matter. But it’s an exceptional film, filled with both humor and some truly frightening scenes. The murder of Dr. Kemp always gets me.
And the Invisible Man’s initial appearance, shown above, is one of classic horror cinema’s most effective and chilling scenes. Not bad for a sequence which occurs in the opening moments of the movie!
It’s always cozy to be indoors during a snowstorm, unless the door opens letting in first a chilling wind followed by a mysterious stranger wrapped in bandages!
But long before I called them horror movies, I referred to them as Monster Movies. As a kid, it was rare that I would say “I’m going to watch a horror movie.” Instead, it was “time to watch a monster movie!”
Part of this may have been the influence of reading the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and enjoying all of Forry Ackerman’s affectionate coverage of movie monsters. But the other part certainly was most of the time I was watching movies that had monsters in them!
And so today, I’d like to celebrate some of these monsters, specifically the Frankenstein Monster. Here’s a look at the Frankenstein Monster in the two most important Frankenstein film series, the Universal and Hammer Frankenstein movies, and I rank each Monster performance with the Monster Meter, with four brains being the best and zero brains being the worst. Okay, here we go.
The Universal series:
The Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – The Monster – ?- Sure, he was listed in the credits this way, but we all know by now that it was Boris Karloff playing the monster in this original shocker by Universal studios. It was the role that made Karloff a household name, and rightly so. It still remains my all-time favorite Frankenstein Monster performance. Karloff captures the perfect balance between an innocent being recently born with the insane violence of an unstoppable monster. There are several sequences in this movie where Karloff’s Monster is so violent and brutally powerful it still is frightening to watch.
Monster Meter: Four brains.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – The Monster – Karloff. This time he was so famous that his name was listed in the credits as only Karloff, but again, it was Boris Karloff playing the role of the Monster in a movie that many critics hail as the best of the Universal Frankenstein movies. It’s certainly more ambitious than FRANKENSTEIN. And Karloff does more with the role, as the Monster even learns how to speak. I still slightly prefer FRANKENSTEIN, but I will say that Karloff’s performances in these two movies are probably the most powerful performances of the Monster ever put on film.
Monster Meter: Four brains.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) – The Monster – Boris Karloff. The third and last time Karloff played the Monster was the least effective. While the film is elaborate and features big budget sets and a stellar cast that also includes Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, this film begins the sad trend in the Universal Frankestein movies where the Monster simply didn’t do as much as he did in the first two movies. Here, he’s a patient on a slab for most of the film, and once he becomes active, he’s a far cry from the Monster we saw in the first two movies. He doesn’t even speak anymore.
Monster Meter: Three brains.
The Monster (Lon Chaney Jr. ) in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)
THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – The Monster – Lon Chaney Jr. As much as I like Lon Chaney Jr., I don’t really like his interpretation of the Monster here. He takes over the role from Boris Karloff, and although he means well, he just doesn’t possess Karloff’s instincts. The attempt is made to make the Monster more active again, but Chaney simply lacks Karloff’s unpredictable ferocity and sympathetic understanding. I will say that this is the one time where Chaney disappoints as a monster, as he of course owned Larry Talbot/The Wolfman, made an effective Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943), and I thought played a very frightening Kharis the Mummy in his three MUMMY movies.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – The Monster- Bela Lugosi. Lugosi turned down the role in 1931 because the Monster had no dialogue, a decision that haunted the rest of his career, as the film instead launched the career of Boris Karloff who went on to largely overshadow Lugosi as the king of horror over the next two decades. This should have been an awesome role for Lugosi. It made perfect sense story wise, for at the end of the previous film, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the brain of the manipulative Ygor (Lugosi) was placed inside the Monster. In FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, the Monster was supposed to speak with Ygor’s voice, and be blind, but all his dialogue was cut as were references to the Monster’s blindness. The story goes that because of World War II, Universal balked at having a Frankenstein Monster talking about taking over the world. The sad result was the film makes Lugosi’s performance look silly, as he goes about with his arms outstretched in front of him, walking tentatively. He was doing this of course because he was blind! But the film cut all references to this, and the audience had no idea at the time what the heck was up with Lugosi’s Monster.
Monster Meter: Two and a half brains.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange takes over the Monster duties here, in Universal’s first monster fest, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, and John Carradine as Dracula. Boris Karloff returns to the series here as the evil Dr. Niemann. Strange is an okay Monster, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange returns as the Monster in Universal’s second Monster romp.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – The third time is the charm for Glenn Strange as he gives his best performance as the Monster in this Abbott and Costello comedy which in addition to being hilariously funny is also one of Universal’s best Monster movies! The Monster even talks again! Notable for Bela Lugosi’s return as Dracula, and also once more features Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Look fast for Chaney as the Frankenstein Monster in the sequence where he tosses the nurse out the window, as he was filling in for an injured Glenn Strange at the time!
Monster Meter: Three brains.
The Hammer series:
The Creature (Christopher Lee) in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – The Creature – Christopher Lee. The Hammer Frankenstein series, unlike the Universal series, focused on Victor Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing, rather than on the Monster. Each Hammer Frankenstein flick featured a different Monster. Poor Christopher Lee received no love back in the day, and his performance as the Creature was widely panned by critics. But you know what? Other than Karloff’s performance in the first two Universal films, Lee delivers the second best performance as a Frankenstein creation! Lee’s Creature is an insane killer, and darting in and out of the shadows, he actually has more of a Michael Meyers vibe going on in this film than a Boris Karloff feel. With horrifying make-up by Philip Leakey, it’s a shame that this Creature only appeared in this one movie. On the other hand, it kinda makes Lee’s performance all the more special. It’s one not to miss!
Monster Meter: Three and a half brains.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – The Monster/Karl – Michael Gwynn. This sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of the most intelligent Frankenstein moves ever made. It has a thought-provoking script and phenomenal performances, led by Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Baron Victor Frankenstein. The only trouble is this one forgot to be scary. Plus, the Monster, played here by Michael Gwynn, pales in comparison to Lee’s Creature in the previous film.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) – The Creature – Kiwi Kingston – The Hammer Frankenstein movie most influenced by the Universal series, with the make-up on Australian wrestler Kiwi Kingston reminiscent of the make-up on the Universal Monster. Not a bad entry in the series, but not a very good one either. This one has more action and chills than REVENGE, but its plot is silly and no where near as thought-provoking or as adult as the plots of the first two films in the series.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) – Christina – Susan Denberg – The Creature in this one is as the title says, a woman, played here by Playboy model Susan Denberg. A good looking— no pun intended— Hammer production that is largely done-in by a weak script that doesn’t make much sense when you really think about it. The best part of this one is the dynamic between Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein and Thorley Walter’s Doctor Hertz, who capture a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson vibe in this one.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
His brain is in someone else’s body. Dr. Brandt/Professor Richter (Freddie Jones) seeks revenge against Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) – Professor Richter- Freddie Jones – By far, the darkest and most violent of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, and certainly Peter Cushing’s most villainous turn as Baron Frankenstein. For a lot of fans, this is the best of the Hammer Frankenstein series. It also features a neat script involving brain transplants, and Freddie Jones delivers an exceptional performance as a man whose brain has been transplanted into another man’s body. The scene where he returns home to try to convince his wife, who believes her husband is dead after seeing his mangled body, that he is in fact her husband, that his brain is inside another man’s body, is one of the more emotional scenes ever put in a Frankenstein movie. This one didn’t perform well at the box office and is said to have been director Terence Fisher’s biggest disappointment, as he believed this was a superior film and would be a big hit. The years have proven him right, but at the time, it was not considered a successful Hammer Film. Christopher Lee once said in an interview that he believed this film flopped because it didn’t really have a monster in it, and that’s what fans really wanted. I believe Lee’s observation to be correct.
Monster Meter: Three brains.
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – The Monster – David Prowse – Hammer decided to remake THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Ralph Bates playing Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse playing the Monster. Unfortunately, this is the worst of the Hammer Frankensteins by a wide margin. David Prowse would go on of course to play Darth Vader in the STAR WARS movies.
Monster Meter: One brain.
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974) – The Monster – David Prowse. Peter Cushing returns as Baron Frankenstein for the last time in what is essentially a poor man’s remake of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Prowse plays a different Monster than the one he played in THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, and by doing so, he becomes the only actor to play a monster more than once in a Hammer Frankenstein Film. This one is all rather mediocre, and since it’s the final film in the series, it’s somewhat of a disappointment as it’s a weak way to finish a superior horror franchise.
Monster Meter: Two brains.
And there you have it. A look at the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal and Hammer series.
Thanks for reading!
Books by Michael Arruda:
DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.
Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!