By 1942, Universal Studios had introduced all of their "classic" monsters to the world. (Unless you count the "Creature from the Black Lagoon", he wouldnít show up for another dozen years.) Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, and the hunchbacked assistant, had been terrorizing filmgoers for years, in both their original outings and in sequels as well. Universal then decided that the best way to keep these characters popular was to combine them in films, thus created what has come to be known as the "Monster Mash" movie. Two of these films, "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and "House of Frankenstein" are now being made available on one double-feature DVD from Universal Home Video. Does more monsters mean more excitement?
"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" opens with two grave-robbers visiting the crypt of the Talbot family. Their goal is to rob the corpse of Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), better known to audiences as the Wolf Man. Instead of finding the skeleton of a man whoís been dead four years (despite the fact that this film was released only two years after "The Wolf Man"), they find Talbotís body intact. In fact, he sits up and attacks them. Talbot is then found lying in the streets of a nearby town and is taken to the hospital, where heís placed under the care of Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles). Unfortunately, there is a full moon and Talbot becomes the Wolf Man, killing anew. Talbotís pleas to Dr. Mannering for help go unheeded, so he escapes from the hospital and seeks the help of Maleva, the Old Gypsy Woman (Maria Ouspenskaya... who looks like Chris Kattan in drag). Talbot believes that Maleva can help lift his curse, which would finally allow him to die.
Maleva reports that she canít help him, but she recommends that they seek that notes of Dr. Henry Frankenstein, who devoted his life to studying life and death. They travel to the town of Vasaria, where Talbot tries to gain information Frankensteinís daughter, Elsa (Ilona Massey). While searching the ruins of Frankensteinís castle, Talbot finds Frankensteinís Monster (here played by Bela Lugosi). Obsessed with finding a way to end his life, Talbot tries to use Elsa, Dr. Mannering, and the Monster to lift his curse, unaware that his quest will only lead to destruction.
First of all, allow me to point out that the title of this film is "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and not "Frankenstein Vs. the Wolf Man". Iím sure that theater patrons lined up to see these two titans duke it out, only to be disappointed that their clash only lasts two minutes. (The poster art, with Wolf Manís ultra-long arms, is more exciting than their fight.) That complaint aside, "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" is a fun monster movie. The opening scene is creepy and there are some suspenseful moments in the film. Fans of the Frankenstein films may be disappointed that this film focuses mainly on the Wolf Man (come on, "Frankenstein" had at least three sequels by this point!), but "old bolt neck" does get into the action near the end. The cast is quite good, and except for a song in Chapter 10, which is pure filler, the movie moves along at a nice pace. "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" may not be a classic such as "Frankenstein" or "Bride of Frankenstein", but itís an easy way to get a double-dose of classic monsters.
"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" is presented in a full-frame format. Considering the fact that the film is almost 60 years old, this print looks pretty good, but itís not without its problems. The image is very sharp and clear, but the digital transfer has revealed many subtle defects in the source print, such as scratches, lines, and spots. There is a fine grain present on the image throughout the movie. There are at least two places where a frame was obviously missing and the film jumps. Yet, the glorious black-and-white photography looks very nice, with the deep blacks adding a great deal of depth to the image. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono, which sounds very good. While there are some pops and crackles on the soundtrack, there is no hiss. The dialogue is always clear and the melodramatic music sounds fine. The DVD contains a re-release trailer for the film, which is presented full-frame and shows many more defects than the presented film. Was are also treated to in-depth production notes and cast & crew biographies.
If the title "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" is somewhat misleading, then the title "House of Frankenstein" is an out-and-out lie. Yes, a "house" does eventually show up in the film, as does "Frankensteinís Monster", but the implication that the action will take place in Castle Frankenstein is ill-advised. The same goes for the filmís publicity, which makes it look like the ultimate "Monster Mash" film, throwing together all of the Universal favorites, when it actually plays more like an anthology. The film has a promising opening, as the insane Dr. Nieman (Boris Karloff) escapes from prison with his assistant, Daniel the Hunchback (J. Carrol Naish). (Daniel the Hunchback? What kind of name is that for a Hunchback?) Anyway, Nieman has sworn revenge on those who had him imprisoned for conducting experiments on dead bodies. Once they are away from the prison, Nieman and Daniel happen upon Professor Lampiniís Chamber of Horrors, a traveling sideshow. They kill Lampini and his driver and assume their identities, in order to travel the country incognito. One of Lampiniís exhibits is the skeleton of Dracula. Once they reach the town of Niemanís first victim, he resurrects Dracula (John Carradine) and uses the vampire to kill his enemy.
From there, Nieman and Daniel leave Dracula and travel to Vasiria (hmm...where have I heard that before). There, they search Castle Frankenstein (itís obviously THE place to go in Vasiria) and find the bodies of Frankensteinís Monster (Glenn Strange) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.). Nieman decides that he will continue Dr. Frankensteinís research by reviving the Monster, while the Wolf Man is still searching for a way to lift his curse. As this ghastly group returns to Niemanís lab, it becomes obvious that his madness will consume them all.
"House of Frankenstein" pales in comparison to "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man". The film is sluggishly paced, and as mentioned above, the promised meeting of the monsters never really happens. (Frankensteinís Monster is in a coma for most of the film.) Also, the Wolf Manís whining about his longing for death is even more annoying in this movie. Also, the fact that the film takes place in two parts makes it seem very disjointed. And itís always questionable when Daniel the Hunchback is the most dangerous person in a film. On the plus side, Karloff is wonderful as Nieman. His presence lends a much-needed touch of class to the film. Also, Carradine, with his bulging eyes, is pretty good as Dracula. Itís also good to see that the residents of Vasiria can still form an angry mob very quickly. "House of Frankenstein" isnít a complete disaster, but it does show the declining state that the Universal Monster films had reached by 1944.
The technical aspects for "House of Frankenstein" are almost exactly like those of "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man". The film is presented full-frame, and while it shows a bit more damage from the source print (scratches, lines, and spots again), overall the print looks pretty good. The audio does demonstrate more pops and crackles than "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man", but still has no hiss. Although there is a great deal of information placed on one side of this dual layer DVD, there are no overt problems resulting from compression.
Like the others, this double-feature DVD should be heaven to fans of the "Classic Universal Monsters". With Frankensteinís Monster, the Wolf Man, and Dracula, there are enough monsters here to please any taste. And while "House of Frankenstein" isnít as good as "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man", both films together equal monstrous fun.