SEPTEMBER 10, 2008
I’m kind of glad I am now done with the three big Universal monster sets, now that I have watched House Of Frankenstein (the other sets being Dracula and Wolf Man). I don’t dislike them by any means, but as they went on, you can really see how no one involved really gave a shit anymore. Continuity is tossed out, whole plot elements are recycled, actors are replaced (and in this one’s case, said actors come back as other characters), etc. It’s just kind of a bummer.
This one’s not too bad though, really. Glenn Strange is no Karloff (and seeing Karloff stand next to him as a different character doesn’t help), but the Monster scenes are kept to a minimum anyway. Dracula’s role is so brief it’s a wonder why they even bothered at all, leaving poor ol’ Larry Talbot to carry the bulk of the screentime as far as any of the monsters go (ironically, no one in the film is actually a Frankenstein, but Karloff’s character knew of him).
Is there any horror movie character MORE depressing than Larry Talbot? He’s been in like four or five of these, and every single one it’s the same deal: the guy just wants to die. His revival (as usual, barely explained, and he’s somehow fully clothed) leads immediately to his usual pleas to either be killed or cured, and, as usual, he gets fucked over by those who promise to help him. Christ, the poor sod just breaks your heart. It seems the next film (House of Dracula) finished him off once and for all, but I am sure that if anyone had the thinnest idea, there would be a House of Creature From The Black Lagoon or something that inexplicably focused more on Larry than anyone else.
Karloff and Chaney aren’t the only ones around though; pretty much the entire 30s/40s Universal horror crew is here. Lionel Atwill plays what has to be the 7th character he’s played in this universe, and George Zucco pops up as well as a circus owner. And I think this is Carradine’s first appearance as Dracula (Lugosi being the only one not around, as he was probably too doped up at the time), though like I said, he’s barely in it (he also barely appeared in House of Dracula – I guess the titles were just as half-assed as everything else at this point). I didn’t see Dwight Frye either, though J. Carrol Naish is pretty great as the resident freak/assistant.
It’s also one of the more violent of the films. Of course, it’s pretty much all offscreen, but the body count is pretty high. Ignoring that Dracula, Larry, and the Monster were all revived in HoD, I count 11 deaths, which I think is a record. They even kill off the heroine, something incredibly rare for the period. In fact, the only people alive at the end of the film are the ones in the traditional mob.
This being the last disc on the set, there are also a whole bunch of extras pertaining to the cinematic history of Frankenstein. You can ignore the brief look at Van fucking Helsing, and skip right to the 40 minute retrospective on Bride of Frankenstein, which is narrated by Joe Dante and has commentary by Rick Baker, Clive Barker, Karloff’s daughter Sara, and many others. A great piece. There’s also another 40+ min piece about Frankenstein’s overall legacy that isn’t as necessary, but fun nonetheless. Finally, there’s a short film called Boo, which I guess got thrown on there to fill space.
An entertaining, if inconsequential finale to the overall best series in the lot, House’s biggest faults are simply the result of the law of diminishing returns. After 6 films (the most in any of the series), you can’t expect much, and it’s the only series with two truly great films (the original, and Bride). If you haven’t picked up this set yet, you’re missing out on what can singlehandedly provide an overview of the era of the Universal Monster. Dracula and Wolf Man’s sets can be skipped (especially since they released Dracula by itself on its own lavish 2 disc set, and will probably do the same for Wolf Man when the big budget remake hits next year), but Frankenstein’s is worth every penny.
What say you?