Sunday, November 21, 2010

Honourable Mention: House of the Wolf Man

Back in the day there was a House of Dracula and a House of Frankenstein - Universal’s monster mashes that brought Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man together.

A House of the Wolf Man was never produced… until now.

Not by Universal, when all is said and done; indeed this is essentially a fan movie but, given that, it looks rather splendid – capturing a feel of 1940’s Universal cinema despite being dated to 2009. It was directed by Eban McGarr.

Ron Chaney as Reinhardt
Of course the great actors who played roles in the golden years of the Universal Monster Movies have sadly passed on. To tie back to that pedigree the film has Ron Chaney – grandson of Lon Chaney Jr. – as Dr Bela Reinhardt. Not that he is a great actor, mind, but the connection is well made and he does cold and distant well enough.

Craig Dabbs as the Monster
So you may well be wondering exactly why this is only a honourable mention? Well it is because of the severely restricted screen time and plot purpose of Dracula (Michael R Thomas). Indeed all the main ‘house’ monsters are represented with the Wolf Man (Billy Bussey) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Craig Dabbs). However the film only runs for 75 minutes and it takes an hour to get an appearance from any of the main monsters. That said the makeup was rather well done and I really enjoyed the Monster’s ghastly visage.

John McGarr as Barlow
The film begins with the rain beating down on a castle as Reed Chapel (Dustin Fitzsimons) and his sister Mary (Sara Raftery) arrive. She is reluctant to go in but they have been invited with regards a possible inheritance. They knock and the door is opened by the monstrous Barlow (John McGarr) – looking somewhat like a refugee Tor Johnson escaped from an Ed Wood flick. Reinhardt is on the stairwell inside and offers their details – Reed is an all star quarterback and Mary has a promising medical career before her.

Sully, Mary and Reed
Next to arrive is Conrad “call me Sully” Sullivan (Jeremie Loncka), who has a habit of waiting to be invited in, followed by the vampish femme fatale Elmira Cray (Cheryl Rodes) and finally the hunter Archibald Whitlock (Jim Thalman), who has his footman Leopold (Rod Spencer) and others with him… he doesn’t know their names and finds Leopold’s native name harsh. Yes he is the embodiment of the 1940s racist white hunter trope. All five have a claim to the inheritance – what that claim is none of them know.

Cheryl Rodes as Elmira
A night is spent in the castle, including Whitlock sneaking outside to search for an unknown beast, whose tracks his men have discovered in the grounds. Eyeballs watch the guests from behind paintings, but we don’t know whose (and it is never actually revealed). For a moment I thought we might get a play on ten little Indians but that was avoided. It is Elmira who finds out roughly what is going on.

Saba Moor-Doucette as Vadoma
She sees a spider scurry into her room and then retreat backwards. She follows it and it climbs a set of stairs. As she climbs them she hears a voice reciting a poem about a curse. In the room at the top of the stairs she finds the limbless hag Vadoma (Saba Moor-Doucette) and it is revealed that she is Elmira’s grandmother. Indeed all five guests are half-siblings; Elmira’s mother was attacked and left mutilated, the same for Sully (whose mother was institutionalised) and Whitlock. Reed and Mary were adopted and so never knew the story of their birth mother. Reinhardt isn’t actually Bela’s name either, his real name is Frankenstein. Vadoma hints that Elmira is in touch with the gifts of her side of the family, the implication being witchcraft.

classic pose
The next night Reinhardt intends to test his children to see who will be his heir and successor and the next night is a full moon… Now, I said Sully has a habit of waiting to be invited in but don’t read too much into that. However Dracula also needs to be invited in and has a hankering to get to an ‘old friend’ – the Monster. Dracula appears right at the end of the flick and, despite striking a classic pose, has little to do.

hideous vampire brides
He does have the brides with him, in diaphanous gowns, but these brides have hideous visages rather than being wispish beauties. Again they do little bar attack an injured party. This, to me, was the big weakness in the film. It felt like they didn’t know how to end it and so Dracula appears, finds the Wolf Man and the Monster in mortal combat and the film kinda just ends.

the Wolf Man
Despite this, I enjoyed the film for what it was… a tribute to the Universal monster films. It felt like a film by fans for fans. Was it the greatest movie ever… no, not by a long shot, but it was good clean fun (despite Whitlock’s reprehensible attitudes). A nice tribute to the monster films of yore and, one suspects, a personal tribute from Ron Chaney to his grandfather.

The imdb page is here.


Christine said...

This fan of Universal monster mashes is definitely interested!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

fans of the universal monster mash, like yourself Christine, will appreciate it for what it is methinks

Nicole Hadaway said...

How neat that they did this after all these years -- I'll be on the lookout for it. Thanks, Taliesin