“He wanted life and strength. I wanted only death. Yet, here we are.” – Lawrence Talbot
If the pairing of two of the Monsters in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (albeit briefly) worked in 1943, then there really was only one place to go from there. More monsters per film!
The original concept for this movie provisionally titled The Devil’s Brood called for the addition of The Mummy, Invisible Man and as they said at the time “other assorted monsters” but the film’s budget wouldn’t allow the effects, make-up and undoubtedly the additional running time that would be needed if they shoe horned their entire roster into one movie. As it stands, the film is an action packed and fun seventy minutes which doesn’t slow down for a second.
The film has several elements that elevate it above and beyond being the mere tired and threadbare sixth film in the Frankenstein series, or third Wolf Man film, or even the fourth Dracula movie. First and foremost of these is the return of Boris Karloff to the Monsters. Not, however as the Frankenstein Monster, but as the archetypal mad scientist. Sadly, as the series was winding down this would be his last appearance in the Universal Monster movies.
We start off at a dungeon in Neustadt Prison where the disgraced Doctor Gustav Niemann (Karloff) is serving a life sentence for his experiments in brain transplants where he tried to apply the techniques of Frankenstein. As we join him, his cell walls are covered with drawings and calculations for an experiment to transplant the brain of a man into a dog, and he’s explaining all this to Daniel (J.Carrol Naish), his hunchbacked assistant. (Though he never gets around to explaining how he’s going to make an adult male brain fit inside the much smaller skull of a dog.)
A lightning bolt hits the prison during a particularly violent storm, causing a cave-in which allows Niemann and Daniel to escape No sooner have they left the prison than the dastardly duo come across a travelling Chamber of Horrors show, transported on two gypsy-like caravans by Professor Bruno Lampini (George Zucco) Lampini claims to have the only 100% genuine remains of none other than Count Dracula himself as part of his exhibit. Dracula is in a coffin, lined with his home soil and a stake through his heart – or where his heart would be, as only the skeleton remains.
Niemann orders Daniel to kill Lampini and his driver so they can go undercover to seek revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. First destination is the village of Frankenstein, where they want to settle their score with the Burgomaster. As they set up their “show” in disguise, their target half recognises Niemann, but can’t quite place him. In his frustration, Niemann removes the stake from Dracula’s skeleton, which allows the vampire to resurrect to his former self. (Well, not exactly his former self. He’s now played by John Carradine as an urbane nobleman, complete with moustache looking a little more like he was described in the novel by Bram Stoker.) Niemann promises to guard him by day if Dracula will do his bidding, so the deal is struck.
Dracula seduces the Burgomaster’s newly wed granddaughter in law played by Anne Gwynne, luring her away to be his bride – and also kills the Burgomaster. But with the police and an outraged husband in hot pursuit, Dracula tries to make his escape back to the safety of the caravan, only to discover that Niemann is leaving without him and his coffin is dumped out of the caravan, leaving the betrayed Count to die in the rays of the morning sun.
On to Visaria, where the Frankenstein ruins stand overlooking the village after the destruction by flood when the dam was blown in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. Here, they meet a gypsy dancer named Ilonka (Elena Verdugo). I imagine that the script called for her to be performing an exotic and sultry gypsy dance when we see her for the first time, but the script had to pass through the Breen Office, who were essentially censors. So instead of sultry and exotic – we get a clumsy attempt at karate against an invisible opponent. Somehow, despite the unappealing sight of her chubby little legs flailing away and the fact that she stops dancing a second after the music stops, Daniel falls hopelessly in love at first sight, saving her from a savage beating from her pimp. I can’t help but feel that the hunchback falling for a gypsy girl is a less than subtle attempt to at least try and add Quasimodo into the mix. But then again, a mad scientist needs a hunchbacked assistant as part of his lab, and it’s explained early in the film that Niemann himself is the brother of Frankenstein’s assistant.
So now they’re three, and off they go to the ruins to look for Frankenstein’s records. I’ve always loved the scene where Niemann and Daniel work their way down through the various levels of ruins. This is all done in one take with no cuts, so the set itself was a massive three storey construction. (A redressed set from an earlier, more expensive film but it looks amazing.) As Daniel falls through the floor to a subterranean ice cavern, they find the frozen, preserved bodies of the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man.
So, they thaw the Wolf Man who immediately reverts back to being Laurence Talbot (Lon Chaney) and yes, immediately reverts to pouting about being brought back to life. The Monster (Glenn Strange) is in worse condition and has suffered some tissue damage so it’s off to Niemann’s lab.
Sadly, Ilonka falls for Tablot, despite knowing he’s a werewolf. When Daniel realises this, he also realises that Niemann isn’t really going to put his brain in a perfect new body – not now that he has both the Monster and the Wolf Man to tinker with, so like Fritz, his brother did in Frankenstein, he takes his frustrations out on the Monster who is helplessly strapped to an operating table.
Of course, to make matters worse, it’s the full moon and Talbot changes, killing a villager. The second night, he demands to have a brain operation that will prevent the transformation, but Niemann’s too busy charging up the Monster. The moon rises, and he changes – instinctively attacking Ilona, who knows the only way to kill him is via a silver bullet, fired by someone who loves him (that’s new) and, though fatally wounded herself, she shoots him.
Daniel, in a fit of rage and sadness turns on Niemann and attacks him – but the Monster is now powered up. He breaks free of his restraints and throws Daniel to his death, out of a window, just as the villagers arrive – alerted by the flashing lights in the old, deserted Niemann house. (Obviously, Niemann didn’t think this through and buy some curtains.)
The Monster takes the injured Niemann and tries to escape with the baying mob behind him – but goes in the direction of the swamp instead, and both sink to their death in quicksand.
It’s notable that the film kills off every single member of the main cast, and the poor villagers never had the opportunity to set anything on fire.
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