Monday, April 07, 2008

House of Dracula – review


Directed by: Erle C Kenton

Release Date: 1945

Contains spoilers

This was a year on from Universal’s House of Frankenstein and once again brought some of the horror staples together in a monster mash. John Carradine reprised the role of Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr reprised the Larry Talbot/Wolf Man role and Glenn Strange was Frankenstein’s Monster again and, again, had very little to do.

The film, whilst flawed, flows along quite nicely but what irked me most was the inclusion of some pseudo science plus a lore change that seemed to owe more to Robert Louis Stevenson than the previous Universal vampire lore. It was ostensibly a sequel to the previous ‘House of’ film but that only really became apparent in one scene.

It began with a bat and a shadow cast by it turns into the form of Count Dracula. He looks in through the window at a woman sleeping; nurse Miliza Morrelle (Martha O’Driscoll). Dracula leaves his vantage point and introduces himself to the castle’s owner, one Doctor Edelman (Onslow Stevens). We note how the cat reacts to the vampire by hissing in Dracula’s general direction and then legging it.

Dracula introduces himselfDracula introduces himself as Baron Latos and says he has come for help. He asks the good doctor (for in this he is good) to accompany him to the cellar where all will be revealed before sunrise. Their conversation is guided, by Dracula, towards immortality and Edelman turns it to vampirism, rejecting the notion. In the basement is a coffin with the Dracula crest and Dracula reveals his identity. He is cursed he says and looking for a cure.

Edelman and NinaThe coffin contains native earth, we discover and, as the sun is rising, he gets into it. Edelman takes a sample of vampire blood to his other nurse Nina (Jane Adams). Edelman is working on a mould that will prove to be a scientific breakthrough. We do not discover at this point what it is but later hear that it can soften bone and allow it to be reshaped. He will use it to help Nina, who is a hunchback.

a slide of vampire bloodNina prepares a slide of blood and the doctor sees something around the cells. Later he describes it as a parasite and, from memory as I write, this is one of the earliest examples that I can think of a film introducing a scientific reasoning behind vampirism. That said the film keeps all the standard supernatural trappings and this is what irked me. A parasite in the blood, causing the infected to need to drink blood, is one thing but how that then leads to the ability to transform into a bat or loose their reflection, for example, is quite another.

Anyway, the next night Dracula gets up and makes out that he has just arrived. It becomes readily apparent that he knows Miliza and we see that perhaps he isn’t searching for a cure at all but is hunting the girl, intent on seducing her to his dark path – more on that later. Keeping up the pretence, however, he allows Edelman to perform a transfusion.

At this point Larry Talbot arrives looking for the doctor. When he hears that the doctor can’t be disturbed during the procedure he runs off into the night, as a full moon is due, lamenting that he cannot wait. Chaney is at his tortured best in this. Once the procedure is over Miliza informs Edelman of the visit. They get a phone call from Inspector Holtz (Lionel Atwell).

the wolf man in full hair sproutIn the village Talbot has asked to be locked up. Edelman goes to see him and denies the existence of werewolves. Of course then the moon appears and Larry changes, but that’s okay he is safe in his cell. The next day the doctor has examined him. We get more pseudo science. Larry’s skull is misshapen and pressing on parts of the brain. That coupled with his belief that he will become a wolf, triggers hormones facilitating the change. Hmm… Anyway, reshaping the skull will help him but they need more mould.

Looking for LarryDespairing, as he cannot be immediately cured, Larry runs off and jumps into the sea from a cliff. Edelman, humanitarian as always, decides to rescue him as there are caves at the cliff’s bottom and he might have survived. Of course it is night when he gets there and he is attacked by the Wolf Man. However, Talbot changes back just in time and the cave is perfect for growing the plant that produces the mould and has convenient, long lost stairs to the castle.

connections with the previous filmHere we get our connection to the last film. In the cave are the body of the Monster and the bones of Dr Niemann. The mud from the quicksand which got them at the climax of the last film has dragged them there – as it does! Edelman thinks about reviving the Monster, for humanitarian reasons, but Nina convinces him of the folly.

eye mojoDracula, however, is still after Meliza. In a marvellous scene, where she is playing Moonlight Sonata, he uses eye mojo to cause her to play the ‘music of his world’. The spell is broken as she absently touches the cross she wears and the piano playing slips back into the Sonata but the seduction is just about complete.

casting no reflectionNina sees her friend with Dracula, notices a lack of reflection and realises something is afoot, thus she alerts Edelman. He distracts the Count by suggesting another transfusion but the old dog is too wily for them. He knocks them out with eye mojo and transfuses his blood into the doctor. Edelman destroys the vampire, after some chasing around, but the damage has been done.

displaying an evil influenceThere is a marvellous scene that displays the control exerted over the doctor but the lore is off beam. Edelman, the next night, is looking in the mirror. The cat has gone nuts at him and his eyes become black and sunken. His mirror image begins to fade and vanish. So far, so vampire. However he doesn’t become a vampire, he is more like a Jekyll and Hyde creature, but controlled by the cycle of night and day rather than a potion. In bad doctor mode he is homicidal and wants to revive the monster. Both versions want to cure Nina but for different reasons.

Glenn Strange is the monsterWill Larry get his cure and can the doctor be saved and/or stopped? Of course we know he’s going to revive the monster at some point and give Glenn Strange his five minutes of stumbling about.

The film is too convoluted. Whilst the plot is simpler than the previous film the concepts are all over the place and it is a shame because there are some marvellous moments, such as the piano scene and the control over the doctor effect. There is nothing wrong with the acting but it isn’t up to the previous film either, missing the genius of Karloff, for my money. There are much worse films out there, that is for sure, but I don’t think the whole reaches the sum of the parts in this case. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Mateo said...

I was fine with this movie. Not enough Frankenstein's monster for my taste, but aside from that, it's a nicely paced movie and gives you enough monstery goodness to keep you interested. It's been a while since I've seen this, but I seem to recall them spending quite a bit of time trying to figure out what was causing the Wolf Man to turn. I liked how Dracula was around all the time but they didn't figure out who he was until towards the end (again, if I'm thinking of the right movie).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo, good to hear from you.

I think that either you are on the wrong movie or, thinking about your description, you've just mixed up the plot a little due to not seeing it for a while.

Edelman susses the cause of Wolf Man's affliction within the space of one short scene. They have to wait until they have enough mould to make the cure - which takes a lunar month - however.

Dracula reveals himself almost straight away and is killed half way through. However he does infect Edelman and, whilst the sudience knows this straight away, it takes the characters (bar Talbot) until the climax to figure it out.

Chick Young said...

My my my, Taliesin. Harsh. 4 out of 10. As the penultimate monster bash (pre Abbott and Costello) and a Universal product, I have to say that it automatically starts at around a 5 for me and slowly climbs to about a 7.5 - overall. If House of Dracula was a quiz, what a stinker of a grade that would be! The mere presence of the stars in this film make it precious to me. and its troubled history and marketing mistakes (the double-bills it was paired with!) mark for a sad, sort of rushed debacle that mirrors the sad plight of good, moral Edelman - who despite his good intentions gets royally fucked. Your site is the best site on the planet for everything vampire - but ouch - 4/10!? Yours in haste, good mate.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Chick, perhaps but... well I see 4 as just bubbling under average and to me, in the grand scheme of things, it was.

A bit too much pseudo-science for my taste (especially the idea that lycanthropy was caused by a misshapen skull pressing on parts of the brain!) and a little too convoluted because of that. With the messing with the vampire lore and making Edelman more a Jekyll and Hyde with vampiric undertones...

You get my drift, anyway, with good grace I take your admonishment but whisper behind my hand, "Not harsh, firm but fair" lol

The T said...

I'll join the Taliesin-bashing here lol. 4 stars? To Universal's last monster mash (disregarding Abbot & Costello)?

The science is a little bit convoluted, yes, but at least the movie tries to explain why things happen. Also, and I know this blog is not about wolfmans, but this movie marks the final triumph of the Talbot character, and it's the only one with a happy ending for at least one of the monsters.

Too little monster though. Both Houses really are Dracula/Wolfman films..

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T, bash away - it just didn't do it for me.

However, to be picky... the last monster mash, surely we are forgetting Van Helsing... which I actually scored higher than this (come to think of it, even though it was far from a great movie it was a good adventure romp).

mike said...

I have a question. I have read that Emile LaVigne, and not Jack Pierce, applied the Wolf Man makeup in HOD. Any thoughts?


Taliesin_ttlg said...


to be honest I don't know, but there are photos of Pierce applying the makeup for the House of Dracula shoot ad he is IMDb credited.

I found this discussion thread which you might find of use: