IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

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After the success of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), Universal decided that two monsters in one movie wasn’t enough, and so they added a third, Count Dracula, for their next monster movie romp, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is most notable for the return of Boris Karloff to the Universal FRANKENSTEIN series after a two film hiatus. Of course, Karloff previously had played the Frankenstein Monster.  Here, he plays the evil Dr. Niemann.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is the story of Dr. Niemann, a protegé of Dr. Frankenstein. When the movie opens, Niemann is in prison, but he soon escapes along with his hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish.) When they happen upon the skeleton of Count Dracula (John Carradine) Niemann resurrects the vampire by pulling the stake from his heart. He then promises Dracula protection if in return the Count will kill the official responsible for putting Niemann in prison.

Later, as Niemann and Daniel search for Dr. Frankenstein’s records, they discover the frozen bodies of Larry Talbot/aka the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange), and at this point the film becomes a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Like every good mad scientist, Niemann revives these monsters as well.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN flies by at a brisk 71 minutes. It really is too short to make much of an impact. Had this one been fleshed out a bit more, it would have been more effective.  It’s really not that strong a movie, as it plays like a shallow sequel, with the monsters resurrected only to be quickly done in once again. That being said, it does retain the Universal monster magic, and so while I recognize that this really isn’t that high quality a film, it’s a guilty pleasure that I enjoy each time I watch it.

It also does have some special moments, as well as a strong cast. It’s just that the whole thing seems terribly rushed.

It also doesn’t help that the Dracula storyline begins and ends before the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster show up. Even the next film in the series, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) doesn’t really take full advantage of its three monsters. One has to wait until ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), the comedic finale to the series, before one can enjoy a full and satisfying meeting of the monsters.

Finishing off Dracula so early was not a strength of Edward T. Lowe Jr.’s screenplay. Nor is the dialogue, some of which is laughable, and this one is not a comedy.

Director Erle C. Kenton fares better with the Dracula sequence. In spite of killing off Dracula so quickly, the chase scene just before the vampire’s demise is arguably the best chase scene in the entire Universal monster series.  It’s pretty impressive, as it features Dracula driving a horse-driven coach, pursued by police on horseback, and in front of them both, Niemann racing his carnival coaches, while Daniel runs atop the cars to get to the rear coach to toss Dracula’s coffin.  It’s a wildly exciting sequence.

Writer Lowe fares better with the Wolf Man story. In fact, other than the original THE WOLF MAN (1941) this brief appearance by Larry Talbot is one of the series’ best, because it involves his relationship with a gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), who falls in love with Larry and vows to end his pain by shooting him with a silver bullet.  Their classic confrontation is the most emotional of the series for Talbot other than his fateful encounter with his father Sir John (Claude Rains) at the end of the original WOLF MAN. It’s really neat stuff, but sadly, there’s just so little of it.  Chaney’s scenes here are all too brief.

But saddest of all is the treatment of the Frankenstein Monster, here played for the first time by Glenn Strange.  By this point, the Monster is treated only as a “patient” who lies still on a table until the final reel when he gets up only to be quickly done in by the frightened torch wielding villagers. It’s a far cry from Karloff’s original performances.

Alas, the Monster wouldn’t fare any better in HOUSE OF DRACULA. Again, it would take the comedic encounters with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in order for the Monster to return to top form. In fact, in that film, the Monster even talks again! There’s a reason ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is a classic. It’s hilarious, and for its three monsters, it’s their best screen time in years.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is also blessed with a very strong cast.

Boris Karloff, while not as memorable as he was as the Frankenstein Monster, is very good as Dr. Neimann. His performance is a nice precursor to Peter Cushing’s darker take as Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer Films to follow a decade later.

Lon Chaney Jr. knocks it out of the park yet again as both Larry Talbot and the Wolf Man. For years, Chaney has lived in the shadow of the two other Universal stars, Karloff and Bela Lugosi, but as the years have gone by, his performances have grown in stature.  For some, he’s the best actor to have appeared in the Universal monster movies.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is also one of the few times that Chaney and Karloff appeared in a movie together.

I’ve never been a fan of John Carradine’s take on Dracula, in both this movie and HOUSE OF DRACULA the following year.  He certainly makes for a distinguished Count, but he lacks the necessary evil and sensuality needed for the role. Bela Lugosi was originally slated to play Dracula again, which would have been his first time since the 1931 original, but he was unable to appear in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN due to a schedule conflict. Fans would have to wait until ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) before they could see Lugosi play Dracula again, and that would be the second and last time he played Dracula in the movies.

The supporting cast in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is exceptional.

J. Carrol Naish, one of my favorite character actors, is excellent as Daniel, the hunchback. His storyline where he is jealous of Talbot because he also loves Ilonka is one of the better parts of the film. As is Elena Verdugo’s performance as Ilonka. Verdugo makes Ilonka sexy and sympathetic.

The film also features George Zucco in a small role as Professor Bruno Lampini, and Lionel Atwill as yet another police inspector. Sig Ruman is memorable as Burgomaster Hussman. My favorite moment with Ruman is when he wakes up and says to Dracula, “As I was saying—-. I don’t know what I was saying. I fell asleep!”

The lovely Anne Gwynn plays Rita Hussman. Gwynn is the grandmother of actor Chris Pine.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN almost featured yet another Universal monster, as there were plans to include Kharis the Mummy in the film, but these plans were scrapped due to budget constraints.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is certainly not regarded as one of Universal’s monster classics, as it has sequel written all over it and pales in quality compared to films like FRANKENSTEIN (1931), DRACULA (1931), and THE WOLF MAN. Even FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN is a far better film.

All that being said, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN remains a guilty pleasure that I never grow tired of watching. This holiday season, when you’re out and about visiting friends and relatives, make a point to stop by the HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

I hear they have a monstrously good time.

—END—

 

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IN THE SHADOWS: J. CARROL NAISH

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J. Carrol Naish as Daniel the hunchback in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

 
Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS,  the column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today in the shadows it’s J. Carrol Naish, one of the most respected character actors of his day, and while he’s certainly known for his horror roles, one of my favorite Naish roles is not from a horror flick at all, but from a superhero tale.

No, they weren’t making Marvel movies back in the 1930s and 40s, but they were making DC serials, and Naish starred in one of the best, BATMAN (1943), starring Lewis Wilson as Batman. This 15 episode serial marked the first time Batman would appear on the big screen, and it remains one of the better interpretations of the Caped Crusader, even all these years later. Another reason this one is so memorable? J. Carrol Naish plays the evil villain, Dr. Daka.

Since Naish was known for his multitudinous accents, he was a natural choice to play the Japanese Dr. Daka.  Remember, this was 1943, smack dab in the middle of World War II, and just two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and so it made sense to feature a villain of Japanese descent. Still, this one unfortunately contains some racial slurs which were redubbed in the VHS release, then restored in the later DVD release. Interestingly enough, Naish was originally signed to play the Joker, but the villain was changed to fit into a more contemporary and pressing storyline. Some remnants of the Joker still remain, like his hideout being inside a carnival.

I love Naish’s performance in BATMAN. Every time he gets the upper hand on one of his victims, and they lament, he tends to say, “Oh, that’s too bad.” Not quite a catch phrase, but there’s just something about his delivery that cracks me up every time.

But horror fans remember Naish for his horror roles, especially that of Daniel, the sympathetic hunchback in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

Here’s a partial look at Naish’s whopping 224 screen credits, focusing mostly on his genre films:

THE OPEN SWITCH (1925) – Naish’s first screen appearance is in this silent crime drama.

GOOD INTENTIONS (1930) – Charlie Hattrick – Naish’s first screen credit. Another crime drama.

DR. RENAULT’S SECRET (1942) – Noel – horror movie also starring George Zucco as the mysterious Dr. Renault. Naish plays Noel, Renault’s strange assistant, whose real identity, is Dr. Renault’s secret.

BATMAN (1943) – Dr. Daka – 15 episode serial remains one of the better screen interpretations of the Batman. Also the first. Naish plays the villain, the evil Dr. Daka, which happens to be my favorite Naish role.

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J. Carrol Naish as the evil Dr. Daka in the 15 episode serial BATMAN (1943). 

SAHARA (1943) – Giuseppe – Classic Humphrey Bogart World War II adventure tells the story of a group of survivors in an army tank facing the Nazis in the desert. Naish was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

CALLING DR. DEATH (1943) – Inspector Gregg- Horror movie with Lon Chaney Jr. where Chaney plays a doctor who believes he has murdered his wife.

THE MONSTER MAKER (1944) – Markoff – Naish plays a mad scientist who injects his victims with a serum that causes them to become seriously deformed. Why? Because he can! Also stars Glenn Strange as the giant, who would go on later that year to play the Frankenstein Monster in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), which would also star Naish.

JUNGLE WOMAN (1944) – Dr. Carl Fletcher – horror movie featuring Paula the ape woman. (Not to be confused with Mildred the Monkey Woman. Or Clara the Cat Woman. Or Madge the Avon Lady. Seriously, though, Paula the ape woman???) Also stars Evelyn Ankers.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – Daniel – my second favorite J. Carrol Naish role after Dr. Daka. Naish plays the hunchback Daniel, assistant to Boris Karloff’s evil Dr. Niemann, who falls for the beautiful gypsy woman Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) but his love is not returned as she has eyes for the doomed Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) in one of the film’s better story arcs. With Boris Karloff as Dr. Niemann, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, John Carradine as Dracula, and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster.

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Naish and Karloff searching the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

A MEDAL FOR BENNY (1945) – Charley Martin – Second and final time Naish was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in this war drama based on a story by John Steinbeck.

STRANGE CONFESSION (1945) -Graham – another horror movie with Lon Chaney Jr.

THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1046) – Ovidio Castanio – classic horror movie starring Peter Lorre about a murderous severed hand. Written by Curt Siodmark.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (1966) – Uncle Giuliano- guest spot on the popular 60s spy TV show in the episode “The Super-Colossal Affair.”

GET SMART (1968) – Sam Vittorio – guest spot on the classic Don Adams comedy in the episode “The Secret of Sam Vittorio.”

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971) – Dr. Frankenstein – Naish’s final film role is in this dreadful horror movie which falls under the “it’s so bad it’s good” category. Plays a wheel chair bound Dr. Frankenstein. Also notable for being Lon Chaney Jr.’s final movie. He actually fares worse here than Naish, as his character doesn’t even have any dialogue. Horrible, grade Z stuff.

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Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish in DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), the final film roles for both these actors.

 

Naish passed away on January 24, 1973 from emphysema at the age of 77.

J. Carrol Naish – January 21,  1896 – January 24, 1973.

I hope you enjoyed this partial look at the career of J. Carrol Naish, one of the hardest working and most effective character actors of his day.  His horror movies were few and far between, but he was always memorable in them.

Thanks for joining me today on IN THE SHADOWS and I hope you’ll join me again next time when we look at the career of another great character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: The Universal DRACULA Series

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THE HORROR JAR:  UNIVERSAL DRACULA Series

Bela Lugosi as Dracula in DRACULA (1931).

Bela Lugosi as Dracula in DRACULA (1931).

 

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, your home for lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

Up today, a list of the UNIVERSAL DRACULA movies, a series that began and ended with Bela Lugosi playing Count Dracula, but the rest of the movies in between, strangely enough, did not feature Lugosi.  And the fact that Lugosi is so identified with the character when he only played him in the movies twice is a true testament to his performance in the original DRACULA.  He’s pretty much remembered as Dracula based on his work in that film alone.

Unlike Boris Karloff, who played the Frankenstein Monster in the first three films of the Universal Frankenstein series, and then returned in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) to play the evil Dr. Niemann, thus appearing in four of the eight Frankenstein movies, Lugosi only played Dracula on two occasions in the movies, and the second time was in the comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), yet he is just as readily identified as Dracula as Karloff is as the Frankenstein Monster.

Let’s look at the movies:

DRACULA (1931)

Dracula:  Bela Lugosi

Van Helsing:  Edward Van Sloan

Renfield: Dwight Frye

Mina:  Helen Chandler

Harker:  David Manners

Directed by Tod Browning

Screenplay by Garrett Fort, adapted from the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, based on the novel by Bram Stoker.

Running Time:  75 minutes

Released before FRANKENSTEIN (1931), this was the movie that began the Universal monster series of the 1930s and 40s.  Tod Browning’s masterpiece, the movie that made Bela Lugosi a star.  Silent star Lon Chaney was originally intended to play Dracula, but his untimely death from throat cancer paved the way for Lugosi ultimately getting the part.

At times talky and slow-paced, DRACULA nonetheless is full of hauntingly rich images. The decrepit Castle Dracula, Dracula walking the streets of London, and simply Lugosi himself all contribute to the iconic visuals found in this film.

Lugosi steals the show as the undead king of the vampires, but receives fine support from Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing, Dwight Frye as Renfield, and Helen Chandler as Mina.  Indeed, Frye is every bit as memorable as Renfield as Lugosi is as Dracula, and if you’ve seen this movie, it’s hard to forget either one of them. DRACULA is chock-full of classic lines uttered by Lugosi.  A must-see at Halloween time.

“The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.”

 

 

THE SPANISH VERSION OF DRACULA (1931)

Dracula:  Carlos Villarias

Eva:  Lupita Tovar

Directed by George Melford and Enrique Tovar Avalos

Screenplay by Baltasar Fernandez Cue, based on the screenplay by Garrett Fort, adapted from the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, based on the novel by Bram Stoker.

Running Time:  104 minutes

Back in the day, Universal used to film Spanish versions of their movies using an all-Spanish cast and crew on the same sets as the American version, and so as a result, we have this special treat of a movie:  an entirely different director, screenwriter, and actors using the same sets as DRACULA making an entirely different movie.

Technically, the Spanish version of DRACULA is superior to the Tod Browning version. There’s more going on with the camera and it plays much more like a movie than a stage play.  It’s also a more risqué production, as it highlights the sexual side of the story in ways the Browning version didn’t.

However, I won’t go so far as to call it a superior version of the tale for the simple fact that the Tod Browning version had Bela Lugosi, and he alone made the U.S. version the better movie.  Of course, I would have absolutely loved to have seen Lugosi star in this Spanish version.  Now that would have been one remarkable movie!

 

 

 

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936)

Contessa Marya Zeleska (Dracula’s Daughter):  Gloria Holden

Jeffrey Garth:  Otto Kruger

Janet:  Marguerite Churchill

Van Helsing:  Edward Van Sloan

Directed by Lambert Hillyer

Screenplay by Garrett Fort

Music by Heinz Roemheld (uncredited)Dracula's Daughter - Poster

Running Time:  71 minutes

The first of two very underrated movies in the DRACULA series.  Evidently, back in 1936, the writers hadn’t figured out yet how to resurrect a vampire, and so Count Dracula remains dead in this one, as this story focuses on his daughter.  So, no Dracula and no Bela Lugosi, two strikes which have forever worked against this film.

That being said, DRACULA’S DAUGTHER is a very good horror movie, one of Universal’s best!  It has a solid story, immediately beginning right where DRACULA ended, and finds Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) facing a murder charge for the death of Dracula.  He turns to his friend Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) for help, who in turn becomes embroiled with Contessa Zeleska (Dracula’s Daughter), who unlike her father, seems uncomfortable as a vampire and wants to be cured.  Still, she’s every bit as deadly as her daddy!  Gloria Holden is very good as Dracula’s daughter, and it’s nice to have Edward Van Sloan back as Van Helsing, but it’s Otto Kruger and Marguerite Churchill who steal the show in this one, Kruger as the intellectual hero Jeffrey Garth and Churchill as his sassy secretary Janet.  These two share so much chemistry I wish they had returned to take on other Universal monsters.

 

 

SON OF DRACULA (1943)

Count Dracula:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Katherine Caldwell:  Louise Allbritton

Claire Caldwell:  Evelyn Ankers

Frank Stanley:  Robert Paige

Doctor Brewster:  Frank Craven

Lon Chaney Jr. as Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943).

Lon Chaney Jr. as Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943).

Professor Lazlo:  J. Edward Bromberg

Directed by Robert Siodmak

Screenplay by Eric Taylor

Music by Hans J. Salter

Running Time:  80 minutes

Another underrated Dracula film. Lon Chaney Jr. takes on the role of Count Dracula, and he’s actually quite good here.  In spite of the film’s title, he’s not really playing Dracula’s son— or is he?  He’s identified only as Dracula in the film, and there’s nothing in the story to indicate for a fact that he’s the son of Dracula other than the movie’s title. There is speculation among some of the characters in the film that he might be a descendant of Dracula, but another character states that he is the original Dracula.  I suppose, you could imagine him to be Dracula’s son, but since this isn’t ever clarified in the story, it would be purely speculation. Regardless, Dracula uses the name Alucard (Dracula backwards) in this movie, in order, I guess, to travel about incognito.

This one is steeped in atmosphere as it takes place in the Deep South of the United States, and you can also feel the humidity.  The atmosphere almost reminds me of an old zombie movie.  It also has a neat story where Dracula’s main love interest, the occult-loving Katherine Caldwell, has her own agenda and is more manipulative than Dracula here.

Chaney is quite good as Dracula, and he gives the role a completely different feel than Lugosi did.  It’s nice to see Chaney play evil, as opposed to sympathetic Larry Talbot aka the Wolf Man.  Chaney’s Dracula possesses an aura about him that immediately makes the characters around him uncomfortable and uneasy.  He’s less charming than Lugosi, less mysterious, but more in-your-face evil.

 

 

 

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

Dracula:  John Carradine

The Monster:  Glenn Strange

Doctor Niemann:  Boris Karloff

Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

The Frankenstein Monster:  Glenn Strange

Daniel:  J. Carrol Naish

Directed by Erle C. Kenton

Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr.

Music by Hans J. Salter

Running Time:  71 minutes

Ah, let the Universal Monster Bash begin!  Yup, beginning with HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal would make three straight movies featuring their three main monsters:  the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, all of this happening of course due to the success of their earlier hit FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

John Carradine takes over the role of Dracula here, and finally, we get to see Dracula resurrected (it took the writers long enough to figure this out!) as we watch the nefarious Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) remove the stake from Dracula’s skeleton, and before our very eyes, Dracula materializes back to life.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN has a rather uneven plot.  The first third of the movie features Dracula, and once he is killed off, it morphs into a straight sequel to FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN as Dr. Neimann leaves Dracula behind and sets his sights on the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man.

John Carradine is very good as Dracula, although I’ve always preferred Lugosi and even Lon Chaney Jr. in the role.  Carradine adds a sense of elegance to the Count, and he definitely has a presence about him, but to me, his performance has always had one major flaw:  I never found him scary in the role.

 

 

 

 

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)

Dracula:  John Carradine

Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

John Carradine as Dracula.

John Carradine as Dracula.

The Frankenstein Monster:  Glenn Strange

Doctor Edelmann:  Onslow Stevens

Directed by Erle C. Kenton

Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr

Music by William Lava

Running Time:  67 minutes

All three Universal monsters return, and this time Dracula gets more to do and survives a bit longer than he did in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Unfortunately, HOUSE OF DRACULA isn’t quite as good as HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Everything about this production seems rushed.  It screams for an additional twenty minutes or so.

Again, Carradine is respectable as Dracula, and again, he’s simply not all that scary.

 

 

 

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

Dracula:  Bela Lugosi

The Frankenstein Monster:  Glenn Strange

Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man:  Lon Chaney Jr.

Chick:  Bud Abbott

Wilbur:  Lou Costello

Directed by Charles Barton

Screenplay by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, and John Grant

Music by Frank Skinner

Running Time:  83 minutes

This was originally going to be called HOUSE OF THE WOLF MAN before Universal decided to add Abbott and Costello and turn it into a comedy.  Strangely, this decision, which many people including Lon Chaney Jr., hated, didn’t stop this movie from becoming one of the best in the Universal Monster series.

The big news here was that Bela Lugosi returned to play Dracula, a role he hadn’t played since the original DRACULA in 1931.  It still amazes me that these are the only two movies in which Lugosi ever played Dracula, although he did play a vampire in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) and THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1943).

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN works so well for two main reasons.  One, it’s hilariously funny.  It’s one of Abbott and Costello’s best movies.  And two, the monsters in this film all have much bigger moments than they did in the previous two movies.

Lon Chaney Jr. has a major role.  As Larry Talbot, he’s involved in the hunt for Dracula, and he has lots of scenes as the Wolf Man.  Glenn Strange, reduced to having little more than a cameo as the Frankenstein Monster in the previous two movies, has lots of screen time here and even speaks lines of dialogue!

But it’s Lugosi who steals the show in his return as Dracula.  Other than Abbott and Costello, he’s the main character in this movie, as it’s his plot to take Lou Costello’s brain and put it into the skull of the Frankenstein Monster, in the hope that he’d be able to control the Monster better with Costello’s simple mind.

Lugosi has many fine moments.  He gets to be scary and he seems to be having a lot of fun.

Terrific movie, terrific performance, and a fine way to end the Universal Dracula series.

“Young people.  Always making the most out of life. While it lasts.”  — Bela Lugosi as Dracula in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

 

 

Hope you enjoyed this edition of THE HORROR JAR, and I’ll see you again next time with more horror movie lists.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

SHOCK SCENES: IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

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SHOCK SCENES:  IT’S ALIVE!!!!! Frankenstein - 8mm

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at memorable scenes in horror movie history.

We’re celebrating a birthday today.

Sort of.

Today we celebrate the birth— and rebirth— of the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal Frankenstein series.

We’ll be looking at the various creation scenes in the Universal Frankenstein movies.  Technically, the Monster was only created once, in the first film, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) but Henry Frankenstein did such a good job creating life that his Monster in spite of the best efforts of angry villagers and exploding castles and laboratories just couldn’t seem to die.  So, while the Monster would be “killed” at the end of each movie, he’d be “revived” in subsequent films.

In today’s SHOCK SCENES column, we’ll look at the Monster’s various turns in the laboratory and compare how they all stack up.

By far, the best creation scene was the first, in James Whale’s classic FRANKENSTEIN.  Who can forget Colin Clive shrieking “It’s alive!!” as he watches his creation come to life.  The lab equipment by Ken Strickfaden (later used again in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) with its flashing lights and zip-zapping electrical sounds was strictly for show and had very little scientific relevance, but oh what a show!  It set the precedent for all the Frankenstein movies to come.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) prepares to create life in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) prepares to create life in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Even more memorable than the whirring electrodes and blinking lights was the everlasting dramatic image of the lab table with the unborn body of the Monster lying on it rising to the top of the towering ceiling of Frankenstein’s lab making its way through a giant opening high into the sky into the raging thunder and lightning.  Henry Frankenstein literally raises his unborn creation into the heavens to give it its life spark.

And when he brings the table back down to the ground, and we see the Monster’s hand moving and witness Henry Frankenstein’s reaction, “It’s alive!” it provides one of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history.

I can only imagine how terrified movie audiences were back in 1931 watching this story unfold for the first time of a dead body coming to life, and in that moment, seeing for the first time that the corpse on the table wasn’t a corpse anymore but a living being.  It must have been chilling.

The creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN is not only the best creation scene in the Universal series, but it’s also the best creation scene in any FRANKENSTEIN movie period!  Countless Frankenstein movies have been made since.  None have matched this scene, and few have come close.  The closest is Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) but that’s a story for another day.

James Whale’s sequel to FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) has the distinction of being the only Frankenstein film in the series in which the Frankenstein Monster (Boris Karloff) doesn’t spend any time on a laboratory table getting zapped with life-reviving electricity.

When the film opens, it’s revealed that the Monster survived the fire in the windmill at the end of FRANKENSTEIN, and so he’s already up and running when this movie begins.  There’s no need for him to receive a laboratory “pick me up.”

Of course, there is a creation scene in BRIDE, and it’s the climactic scene near the end where the Monster’s Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is finally brought to life.  As creation scenes go, it’s a good one, and the staging here by director James Whale is more elaborate than in FRANKENSTEIN, but as is often the case, bigger isn’t necessarily better.  And it is bigger, as the lab set is larger, and the sequence where the lab table rises through the roof is on a grander scale than the original and includes kites flying into the lightning-charged sky.

There’s a lot to like in this scene.  The dramatic electrical equipment is back again, and not only do you have Colin Clive back as Henry Frankenstein, but you also have Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious, as well as Karloff’s Monster who’s in the lab to prompt Henry to keep working to make his bride.  Heck, Clive even gets to shout “She’s Alive!’

It’s a very good scene.  However, it’s nowhere near as shocking or dramatic as the creation scene in the original FRANKENSTEIN.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) is the first film in the series in which the Monster (Boris Karloff) is viewed as a patient in need of ongoing medical treatment.  Ygor (Bela Lugosi) tells Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the adult son of Henry Frankenstein, that the Monster is “sick” and “weak” and needs to be strong again.

Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) examine their "patient", the Monster (Boris Karloff) in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) examine their “patient”, the Monster (Boris Karloff) in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

The Monster “died” at the end of THE BRIDE OF FRAKENSTEIN when the entire lab blew up, but as we learn in this movie, Henry Frankenstein and his electric rays were so successful at creating life that basically the Monster cannot die- or at least he’s more difficult to kill than ordinary human beings.  And so when we first see him in this film, he’s lying on a table in a semi-conscious state.  In fact, he spends a lot of time in this movie in a semi-conscious state which is why a large chunk of this film is less compelling than the two movies which preceded it.  The Monster isn’t up and running and scaring people until two thirds of the way into this one.

There really isn’t a creation scene in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.  After some preliminary examinations, Basil Rathbone’s Wolf Frankenstein uses a much smaller assortment of electrical devices to attempt to bring the Monster back to full strength.  It’s all very undramatic. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a very entertaining movie, the most elaborate of the entire series, but its “creation” scene is a dud and probably the least dramatic of the entire series.

The fourth film in the series THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) saw Lon Chaney Jr. taking over the role of the Monster, replacing Boris Karloff.  Chaney played all four of the major movie monsters (the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Mummy) and played them well; however, his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster was his least satisfying.

In THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the Monster (Lon Chaney Jr.) is revived without the help of electrical equipment in a laboratory, as Ygor (Bela Lugosi) simply finds his friend buried in a Sulphur pit where he fell at the end of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and he simply digs him out.

The more dramatic laboratory scenes come later.  Ygor takes the Monster to see Henry Frankenstein’s second son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who’s a doctor who treats mental illness, but no, he doesn’t hold psychiatric sessions with the Monster in this one.  He does attempt to use his laboratory equipment to destroy the Monster, before changing his mind when he’s visited by the “ghost” of his father who inspires him to keep the Monster alive.

The more dramatic “creation” scene happens at the end of THE GHOST OF FRAKENSTEIN when the devious Dr. Bowmer (Lionel Atwill) conspires with Ygor to secretly transplant Ygor’s brain into the Monster in order to give the all-powerful creation a sinister mind to use on a world-conquering power trip.  Alas, the actual transplant occurs off-screen, and so visually this scene has little to offer, but in terms of story, it’s all rather dramatic and exciting.

The next film in the series, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) contains my second favorite creation scene in the entire series.  Again, the Monster doesn’t need a lab to bring him back to life.  This time around, Wolf Man Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) discovers the body of the Monster (Bela Lugosi) frozen in ice and simply digs him out.   The Monster doesn’t even have to be revived after being frozen for all those years, as he simply steps out of the ice and is feeling as right as rain.

The creation scene once again comes at the end of the movie, a pattern which would continue for the rest of the series.  This time around, Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles) agrees to use Dr. Frankenstein’s notes to put Larry Talbot out of his misery, a plan proposed by Talbot himself, as he’s seeking release from his werewolf curse.  So, they set up shop in Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein’s old laboratory from THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Mannering attempts to transfer Talbot’s energy (thus killing him) into the Monster, but Mannering, like all good scientists in these movies, becomes obsessed with the Monster and decides to pour all the electrical juices into the creature to bring him back to full strength.

The Monster (Bela Lugosi) regains his sight in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

The Monster (Bela Lugosi) regains his sight in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

When the Monster finally gains his strength, he smiles a sinister smile, and it’s a great moment for Lugosi’s Monster.  In the original script, the Monster was supposed to be blind, a side-effect of the brain transplant at the conclusion of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and it’s this moment when the Monster regains his sight, which is why he smiles.  All references to the Monster being blind were cut from the final print, but even so, Lugosi’s smile here is still very effective.

And what follows is the climactic battle between the Monster and the Wolf Man inside the laboratory.  It’s a great sequence, one of the best in the series.

Sadly, the Monster would take a huge step backwards in the next two films in the series, as would the creation scenes. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) is significant because it added Dracula (John Carradine) to the mix, giving the movie three monsters, as the Frankenstein Monster (now played by Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) returned.  It also marked the return of Boris Karloff to the series, although not as the Monster but as the evil Dr. Niemann, a protégé of Dr. Frankenstein, who is more insane and ruthless than any of the Dr. Frankensteins who appeared earlier.  Niemann is much closer in spirit to Dr. Pretorious from BRIDE and Peter Cushing’s interpretation of Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer movies.

Alas, the Monster spends the majority of this movie as an unconscious body, lying in wait for Niemann to restore his strength.  This occurs at the end of the movie, in a brief sequence, and the Monster is only on his feet long enough to be instantly chased and “killed” by the angry mob of torch wielding villagers who chase him into a pit of quicksand where he and Dr. Neimann sink to their deaths.

Ditto for the next film in the series, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945).  All three monsters return again here, but once again the Frankenstein Monster is reduced to being a reclining patient and isn’t revived until the final seconds of the movie.  Very sad.

Ironically, it would take turning the series into a comedy with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) to return the monsters to prominence.  Bela Lugosi returned as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. was back as the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange finally had much more to do as the Frankenstein Monster than just lie on a table— he even gets to talk!—and so in spite of the fact that this is a comedy, the monsters all fare well.

Likewise, the creation scene in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is also a good one.  This time around, Dracula plans to put Lou Costello’s brain into the Monster.  With the electrical equipment whirring and buzzing, both Lou and the Monster are strapped to tables, but when Bud Abbot and Larry Talbot burst into the lab to the rescue, Talbot turns into the Wolf Man and instantly tangles with Dracula, while the Monster breaks from his binds and promptly tosses Dracula’s sexy female assistant out a window!

Seriously, this creation scene in spite of being played for laughs, is one of the more memorable scenes in the series.

Who knew that it would take Abbott and Costello to give the Universal Monsters a proper send off?  This would be the final film in the series.

So, there you have it.  A look at the creation scenes in the Universal Frankenstein movies.  By far, the original creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN is the best.  None that followed even come close, but if I had to rank the next couple, I’d go with the creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN second, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN third, and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN fourth.  The rest hardly warrant a blip.

Hope you enjoyed today’s column, and I look forward to seeing you again next time on a future installment of SHOCK SCENES.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SHADOWS: GLENN STRANGE

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Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, perhaps the most recognizable of the movie Frankenstein monsters.

Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, arguably  the most recognizable Frankenstein monster of all time.

In The Shadows: GLENN STRANGE

By Michael Arruda

 

With a name like Glenn Strange, how could you not appear in horror movies?

Glenn Strange amassed a whopping 314 screen credits over his long career which spanned five decades, from 1930 to 1973.

Granted, most of these were in westerns, including the long running television series GUNSMOKE (1961-1973), but horror fans will forever remember Strange for his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster in three of the Universal Frankenstein movies, the final three to be exact: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  In fact, you can make the argument that it is the image of Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, not Boris Karloff who originated the role that is the most iconic image of the classic Universal Frankenstein Monster.  It’s Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster we see in so many of the movie stills and posters.

Karloff may be the definitive Frankenstein monster (he is, without doubt), but Glenn Strange just might be the most recognizable.

Welcome everybody to another edition of In The Shadows, the column where we honor character actors from the movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at the career of Glenn Strange, the actor whose image as the Frankenstein Monster may be the most iconic.

The majority of Glenn Strange’s 314 screen credits were in westerns, in a career that began in 1930. He finished his career on the TV show GUNSMOKE, where he enjoyed a recurring role as Sam the bartender which lasted for the full run of the series.

In addition to his three stints as the Frankenstein Monster, Strange also appeared in several other genre films. Here’s a look at Strange’s horror/science fiction credits:

 

FLASH GORDON (1936) – Robot/Soldier/Gocko – the famous Buster Crabbe serial.

THE MAD MONSTER (1942) – Petro – Gets turned into a werewolf by mad scientist George Zucco in this Grade Z thriller.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942) – Man Riding Buckboard (uncredited) – bit part in this classic Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy movie from Universal.

THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) – Andy – mystery and murder in an old dark house, again with George Zucco.

THE MONSTER MAKER (1944) – Giant/Steve – another mad scientist movie. This time it’s J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Igor Markoff busy turning people into monsters.  Why?  Because he can!

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – the Frankenstein Monster – Glenn Strange was a natural choice to play the Monster, as he stood at nearly 6’7”. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the sixth film in the Universal Frankenstein series, is memorable because it’s the first film which included all three of the major Universal monsters, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, John Carradine as Dracula, and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster.  Also notable because Boris Karloff returned to the series after a two film hiatus, not as the Monster, but as the demented Doctor Gustav Neimann.  Decent Universal monster movie, and Strange isn’t bad as the Frankenstein Monster, although he really isn’t in the movie all that much and doesn’t get to do much of anything until the film’s final reel.  But he was good enough to return as the Monster in the next two Universal Frankenstein movies.

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – the Frankenstein Monster – Strange’s second stint as the Frankenstein Monster, again teaming up with Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man and John Carradine’s Dracula. Once more, has little to do until the film’s final reel where he comes back to life just in time to be destroyed yet again.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) – the Frankenstein Monster- The third time Strange would play the Frankenstein Monster would be the best time. Ironically, his screen time as the Monster is greatly increased in this movie, and the character probably has the most to do since the early days of the series.  Once again teamed with Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, but this time Bela Lugosi made his triumphant return as Dracula, reprising the role for the first time since the original 1931 classic!  All in all, in spite of it being a comedy, this is one of the better Universal Monster movies.  A classic in its own right.

MASTER MINDS (1949) – Atlas, the Monster – plays a monster in this Bowery Boys horror comedy featuring yet another mad scientist who turns people into monsters, this time played by Alan Napier, famous for playing Alfred on the Adam West BATMAN TV series.

SPACE PATROL (1950-1955) – Captain Jonas – guest spot in this early 1950s space television show.

THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR (1954) – the Frankenstein Monster – appeared as the Frankenstein Monster in an episode featuring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

 

Glenn Strange passed away on September 20, 1973 succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 74.

Glenn Strange: August 16, 1899 – September 20, 1973.

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael