Directed By: Erle C. Kenton
Starring: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine
Tag line: "All the Screen's Titans of Terror - Together in the Greatest of All SCREEN SENSATIONS!"
Trivia: Kharis the mummy, another Universal classic monster, was slated to be in the movie but was removed because of budget restrictions
Despite its title, House of Frankenstein gives us more than one Universal monster. In fact, it features an all-star cast in what is essentially the very first monster mash-up.
Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) has spent that last 15 years in prison, convicted for trying to duplicate the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein. During an electrical storm, the jailhouse he’s in is struck by lightning, collapsing the outer wall and allowing Dr. Niemann, as well as his hunchback friend Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), to escape. While on the run, the two stumble upon a traveling horror show that features the actual skeleton of Count Dracula (John Carradine). Niemann resurrects Dracula by removing the stake from his heart, then sends him off to kill Bürgermeister Hussman (Sig Ruman), one of the men responsible for putting him behind bars. But when Dracula also tries to seduce Rita (Anne Gwynne), the wife of the Bürgermeister's grandson Karl (Peter Coe), he loses track of time and fails to return to his coffin before sunrise
From there, Niemann and Daniel, accompanied by a pretty gypsy girl named Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), head to the abandoned castle of Dr. Frankenstein, where Niemann hopes to recover Frankenstein’s research notes. Once there, they find both the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) frozen in ice (harkening back to the conclusion of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man). Once he's thawed out, the Wolf Man returns to human form, reassuming the identity of Lawrence Talbot. Niemann tells Talbot he can remove the curse that causes him to transform when the moon is full, all while trying to revive the monster so it can continue the hunt for those who did Niemann wrong.
Marking Karloff’s return to the Frankenstein series (albeit as a mad scientist), House of Frankenstein also features an excellent turn by John Carradine as Dracula (the look on his face when he surprises the Bürgermeister one evening will send chills down your spine). Chaney Jr. is his reliable self as Talbot / the Wolf Man, and Karloff steps into the role of the mad scientist quite nicely. There’s even a brief appearance by Lionel Atwill as a police inspector. The truly stand-out performance, though, is delivered by J. Carrol Naish, whose Daniel falls in love with Ilonka, only to be cast aside when she develops feeling for Talbot.
Story-wise, The House of Frankenstein doesn’t make a lot of sense, and gets a little confusing at times (I completely lost track of which brain was going to be transplanted into which body). But if it’s classic monsters you want, look no further than this film.