Having pioneered the ‘shared universe’ concept by producing a slew of crossover monster movies, Universal decided to go one meta step further and crossover movie genres as well. Tempting Bela Lugosi back to arguably his most famous role as “Dracula“, as well as Lon Chaney Jr as “The Wolf Man” and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster, Universal set these fearsome fiends against their funniest foes yet: Lou Abbott and Bud Costello.
Two hapless freight handlers, Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) find themselves caught up in Dracula’s scheme to replace the brain of Frankenstein’s Monster with a more pliable mind but Lawrence Talbot is determined to stop them.
The great thing about this comedy horror is that it takes both elements seriously, never short-changing one in favour of the other. If you remove the comedians from this film, Dracula’s plot still holds up and it would have made a pretty good addition to the Universal canon as a straight horror movie but there’s just so much fun to be had, you’ll be glad it wasn’t.
Horror and humour have always mixed well and Abbott and Costello make the most of the sandbox they’re allowed to play in. It wasn’t their first foray into spooky comedy, having made “Hold That Ghost” in 1941 but it’s probably the first time their co-stars were every bit as famous as them.
It’s a joy to see Bela Lugosi play Dracula for only the second – and final – time in a feature film, especially given he displays such good comic timing. Boris Karloff, who declined to return as the monster but happily helped promote this film, is once again replaced by Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster. The monster makeup, by Bud Westmore who by this point had taken over from the legendary Jack Pierce, is much closer to the modern, “Munster”-ish look and there’s a Fred Gwynn-esque quality to Strange’s performance given he’s almost constantly struggling to keep a straight face in light of Lou Costello’s freewheeling ad-libs.
The plot, involving Dracula’s scheme and an insurance investigation into the ‘damaged cargo crates’ which contained the monsters, provides ample room for comic set pieces and the castle setting is a treasure trove of secret passages, revolving doors and high farce as hapless Wilbur struggles to convince Chick there’s anything amiss. In an action-packed finale which rivals any of the straight Universal monster movies before it, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man are all dealt with and the movie even has time for a sly cameo from yet another famous Universal monster.
It’s a knockabout, spooky chuckle-fest with some great special effects, including some great animation courtesy of Walter Lantz (of Woody Woodpecker fame) and if there’s no room in your Hallowe’en celebrations for a little spoopy fun, then are you even Hallowe’ening?