Thursday, October 07, 2010

“He is not insane. He simply wants to die.”

1943 ushered in what’s best called the Universal Monster Mashups. Universal had the rights to their big three horror franchises, so it was only a matter of time before they started crossing over with each other. Last year two of those mashups were watched (out of sequence, I might add) but here’s the one that started this ersatz trilogy: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (which would be followed by House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula in that order).

So, Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role as Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man, but there’s a bit of a problem, since he’s kind of dead at the beginning of the movie. The movie quickly works around that and he’s up and running again, checking himself into a psych ward seeking either a cure or a way to stay permanently dead. Normal science doesn’t do jack for him, so with gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya again) in tow, he heads to obscure central/eastern European-ish Vasaria to find the notes of the late Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (the protagonist from Ghost of Frankenstein). Talbot finds the doctor’s daughter Elsa (Ilona Massey), now the baroness of the estate and a scientist herself. A scientist, Dr. Frank Mannering (Patric Knowles as a completely different character than in The Wolf Man) chases after Talbot, trying to help him, but growing obsessed with bringing the recently thawed/revived Frankenstein Monster (this time Bela Lugosi) back to full strength.

All of this secretive activity doesn’t sit well with the citizens of Vasaria (including a particularly bloodthirsty innkeeper) and the Mayor (Universal Horror vet Lionel Atwill) has a difficult time restraining the torches and pitchforks crowd (which includes Dwight Frye among their number).

Whew. Got all that?

Directed by Roy William Neill With George Robinson as Director of Photography, Jack Pierce’s effects continue to be solid and the werewolf transformations are incredibly impressive. Easily the best scene in the film is the first, where two grave robbers open Talbot’s tomb and accidentally revive him.

Curt Siodmak once again, and despite the fact that the continuity of the series turns into a complex snarl worthy of any fanboy obsession (you should browse Wookieepedia sometime if you don’t believe me), the fact that Siodmak was able to take two completely unrelated franchises and slap them together with any sense of coherence at all is an achievement. And it still hits all the expected notes of mad science, an angry mob and the Monster & Wolf Man fighting, while adding some new twists.

Original Music by Hans J. Salter (uncredited) is the standard 40s horror sound that I’ve grown quite accustomed to.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man isn’t exactly great and probably marks the downward turn for Universal’s horror series, but its still a lot of fun watching the very first monster mash. Lugosi’s Monster isn’t that great (partly due to script cuts that removed the Monster’s blindness and partly due to the fact he was sixty years old at this point) but it succeeds in giving you exactly what it says it will.

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