House of Frankenstein is the follow-up to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and I have mixed feelings about it. While I love that Lon Chaney Jr. returns to this iconic role as the wolf man and that Boris Karloff appears in a main role. But the events that unfold, mostly those revolving around the lore of the Wolf Man that it lays in place. But I’ll gripe about that in a moment.
House of Frankenstein opens with Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) and Daniel (J. Carrol Nash) locked in jail. Neimann’s crimes being trying to transplant the brain of man into the body of a dog. So, basically mad science. When a lightning bolt strikes the prison, allowing them to escape. Dr. Niemann and Daniel escape into the storm where they come across Lampini (George Zucco) stuck in the mud. After helping get his travelling carriage unstuck he offers them a ride. They learn that he’s a travelling showman, one that is in the possession of Dracula’s bones. Dr. Niemann has Daniel kill Lampini and his driver and they assume their roles.They travel Dr. Niemann’s home town to enact revenge on those that had him jailed. To this end he removes the stake of Dracula’s (John Carradine) heart bring him back to life. The pair strike a bargain, that has Dracula kill the man who had him jailed and seduce the man’s daughter. But when the town turns against him, Niemann dumps Dracula’s coffin causing him to perish in the sunlight. After that they make their way to Frankenstein’s castle so that Niemann can uncover his secrets. When they arrive they come across a gypsy caravan with one of the women Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) dancing. Daniel rescues her from the caravan leader after she refuses to give him the money she earned and he tries to beat it out of her. The trio goes to Frankenstein’s Castle and discover the frozen bodies of the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange). Ilonka falls for Larry, much to Daniel who’s fallen for her chagrin. Niemann offers to help Larry die for his help with reviving the monster, though Niemann isn’t the kind of man to keep his word…
I liked this more than Frankenstein meets The Wolf Man since it addresses my main issue and that’s the lack of love interest. Ilonka serves this role really well and creates some great tension with love triangle that’s created. Though it does bring up my main issue with this film and that’s the lore tied to the Wolf Man. With him only being die when killed by someone who loves them enough to understand. So, did Larry love Maleva’s son enough to understand. Because he stayed dead.
The acting is also better this time around, well mostly. At least the mad scientist is mad from the get go rather than it happening the eleventh hour. Daniel is actually my favorite, next to Lon Chaney Jr., in this regard as he really sells his attraction to Ilonka and his distaste for Larry.
House of Frankenstein has all the cliches that it advertises and all the tropes that we’ve come to expect. The hunchback, mad scientist and crazy monsters and as always the sets in this film are top-notch with beautiful painted backdrops that creates the atmosphere that Universal Horror films of this era are known for.
Final thoughts, this film has a great atmosphere, with solid pacing and tone. Amazing acting, for the time, by some of the best actors of that age. House of Frankenstein is the film I imagine when I talk about films from the golden age. Though it does drag heavily for the first third of the film and Dracula’s appearance is weak and short-lived. But, I would recommend this film to those who want to get into the classic films beyond the hard classics. 8/10