The “Infinity War” of its day, “House Of Frankenstein” – also featuring Boris Karloff’s very last role in the Universal Monster Universe – brought together the tangled continuities of their “Frankenstein” “Wolf Man” and “Dracula” franchises into one big monster mash-up (it was originally going to feature “The Mummy” too but the budget just wouldn’t stretch that far).
When evil scientist Doctor Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) and his hunchbacked assistant (J Carrol Naish) escape from prison, they murder the owner of a travelling show and pose as showmen to exact their revenge on their many enemies. Reviving Count Dracula (John Carradine), they use him to kill the local Burgermaster so they may continue their fiendish experiments to revive Frankenstein’s monster, long frozen in the ice beneath Castle Frankenstein trapped in mid-battle with the Wolf Man.
There’s a discontinuity between the ending of “Son Of Dracula” and Drac’s first appearance in this movie that has little to do with the change of actor. By this point, old Dracula’s bones have been placed in a coffin and hawked around the countryside as a sideshow novelty, which is kind of how Dracula himself is treated in this film. Niemann revives Dracula and somehow gets him to do his bidding (again Dracula ends up more a henchman than the main man) but quickly discards him once the dirty deed is done. Very much third billing, “The House Of Frankenstein” is Univeral’s Dracula at his lowest ebb after only his fourth appearance (one of which he was barely in).
Carradine’s moustachioed Dracula is an instantly less imposing Count than his predecessors. Lacking Lugosi’s magnetism or Lon Chaney Jr’s bulk, he compensates by being a good deal smoother and more dapper than before. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a sexy Dracula.
But, of course, a very manly, heterosexual sexy Dracula which is why he pointedly turns into a bat before feeding on the Burgermaster (unlike when he seduced the Burgermaster’s daughter). Just say no to same-sex neck biting! The ‘40s certainly weren’t ready for that.
Dracula’s involvement in this is pretty much an extended cameo and he’s dispensed with before the halfway point, succumbing to a relapse of bone-itis. He’s only involved in the preamble to the real story, Doctor Neimann’s intention to recreate Frankenstein’s experiment. All-in-all, this much-touted crossover is nothing of the sort, it’s largely disjointed and episodic with the monsters sharing very little if any screen time. Even it’s title star only turns up for the last ten minutes or so, now played by Glenn Strange who makes his Frankenstein debut here and would play the monster for the remainder of the classic Universal films.
Its title may make promises the film itself can’t match but then would you have bought a ticket to “House Of Niemann”?