Halloween Endurance Test: House of Frankenstein (1944)

Universal’s House of Frankenstein holds a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because the film starts on a rainy night with Professor Lampini’s Chamber of Horrors traveling sideshow. Perhaps its because the studio finally did away with both Frankenstein’s castle and his mansion in the last film (Ghost of Frankenstein) allowing the franchise to use the “buddy roadtrip” formula within the horror genre. As with all the House… films, this installment throws all of Universal’s famous monsters into a giant, nonsensical story and hopes you don’t notice how quickly the whole Dracula business gets dealt with.

Dracula is the weak link in the stories. Lampini’s Chamber of Horrors displays Dracula’s staked skeleton, though it’s not long before the stake is removed. Sending the most anemic looking vampire loose again on the countryside. Sadly, I suspect this is the same vampire that was seeking a blood-transfusion “cure” in House of Dracula.

Even Dracula’s vampire powers are lame. He turns into a comically animated bat before drinking his victim’s blood! Instead of seeking the blood of attractive, young women, here he feeds off of grandfathers, and seeks to marry the women! Forever gone is his harem of vampire women. Where White Zombie illustrated the capitalist uses of voodoo, here we’re treated to the conservative side to the King of the Undead.

“We want nothing to remind us of something we’re trying to forget!”

The town of Frankenstein’s guards speak with that beautifully off-kilter internal logic of Strangers with Candy‘s Jerry Blank. Not that Professor Lampini’s own dialogue is any better:

“What do you have here?”

“It’s my own Chamber of Horrors! We’re wondering if we can set up in town?”

“You might as well leave, the burgomaster will never allow it.”

“But why not? There’s nothing here to offend anyone!”

Except a rotting vampire skeleton with a slight chance of reanimating itself. Or any of the other horrors my traveling show contains. Perhaps the word “horror” means something else in German, or to Lampini.

I know these movies aren’t the best indicators of a franchise’s quality, but these House… movies’ portrayal of the Wolf Man makes it unlikely I’ll ever pick up a Wolf Man collection. (To say nothing about that horrid Benicio del Toro Wolfman film from last year. So bad I chose not to cover it!) Plus the Wolf Man is always dressed up as a greaser mechanic (a la Billy Joel circa the Stranger). Not a good look for a creature who’s supposed to be fearsome (“I can only change your oil when the moon is full!”).

The Wolf Man immediately breaks up Lampini’s happy Chamber of Horrors. His very presense manages to steal Lampini’s hunchback assistant’s gypsy girlfriend from the troupe.

(Trapped between an infatuated hunchback and a middle-aged corpse-lover, the gypsy makes the only logical choice. Throw in the only occasionally murderous Wolf Man though, and the equation changes.)

For those wondering where the titular host of this House party is, the monster gets a full minute and a half of screen time! He’s reanimated, then immediately driven by a horde of angry townspeople into quicksand.


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