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Review: House of Dracula (1945) – Mega Monster Match-Up

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Review: House of Dracula (1945) - Mega Monster Match-Up

“Final” entries in long-running horror movie franchises are pretty seldom final. It’s a frequent occurrence that any big series that has a “Final” installment keeps on trucking long after-the-fact. It’s most notable in slasher movies. The Friday the 13th franchise alone has had TWO separate movies that notably feature the word “Final” in the title. In 1984, fans saw the release of Part IV, titled Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Jason dies, Corey Feldman triumphs, the credits roll, the franchise, supposedly, ends. The problem is The Final Chapter ends up being a huge hit; naturally a fifth installment is greenlit. A measly year later and Paramount Pictures rolls out Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which struggles in the wake of the events of The Final Chapter. Then in 1986, Jason Lives, and he lives all the way through til movie #9 with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. But not even hell can kill this franchise, because Jason is back for Jason X, Freddy Vs. Jason, and a remake of Friday the 13th.

He’s not alone, either. Freddy’s dead right in the title of The Final Nightmare. It’s almost like the studios are goading us into mourning our beloved slashers, paying respects with box office tithings. The seemingly conclusive Freddy’s Dead: The Final Chapter does not end the Freddy Kreuger saga, as he reappears in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, then again in the aforementioned Freddy Vs. Jason, and gets his own Jackie Earl-Haley-starring remake in 2010.

The Halloween franchise may never have stated so conclusively in its titles, but Michael Myers dies a lot too. He’s been blown up in a hospital, hit by a car, shot, and fallen off a cliff, and it still hasn’t kept more movies from hitting the screen. Same goes for Chucky, who gets resurrected in increasingly convoluted ways throughout the Child’s Play series.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to slashers, either. Jigsaw, the main antagonist in the Saw franchise, dies in its third installment. Four films later, they even named the seventh in the series Saw: The Final Chapter. But that franchise has cranked out a further movie, with a ninth forthcoming with a story by Chris Rock. Omen III: The Final Conflict was also not the final conflict, as there was later a fourth entry (though it was Canadian and made-for-TV) and a remake. The Resident Evil, Puppet Master, and Final Destination franchises all have conclusively-titled installments which are all undermined by later movies.

So what gives, and where did it all start? Well, there’s one clear culprit in these decisions: Money. If studios can milk their intellectual properties for further installments, they’re going to. Just like The Office going several seasons longer than it should have, horror movie franchises sometimes get stretched out beyond recognition. That is, as long as they stay profitable. Usually those “Final” descriptors get added onto a movie when the previous entries’ box office numbers begin to decline. What better way to revive interest in a flagging franchise by saying “This is it folks! Your last chance to see Jason on the big screen!” Then, when the “Final” movie does well, they make more.

A lot of these trends can be traced back to the practices of Universal Studios, during the production company’s monster movie heyday. Beginning with The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Universal was incredibly successful in adapting and creating horror stories for the silver screen, establishing a rogue’s gallery of classic movie monsters. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Invisible Man: All these movies were big enough hits to spawn multiple sequels, and Universal had an entire industry revolving around these creepy characters. Throughout the entirety of the 1930s, the studio was kept afloat through its genuinely innovative macabre storytelling, with many of its releases still considered bonafide classics. In that decade alone, Universal released nine monster movies before ramping up production in the 40s.

By 1945, however, the powerhouse was losing steam. Even the mightiest of monsters fall prey to the rule of diminishing returns. Universal was not treating the properties with the same care they once had, and public interest was flagging. Cost-cutting measures had really diminished the quality of some franchise installments. It’d been six years since Boris Karloff appeared for the last time as Frankenstein’s Monster in a Universal Picture, Son of Frankenstein (1939). “After Son, I decided the character no longer had any potentialities – the makeup did all the work” said Karloff. Universal clearly disagreed about those potentialities; the studio released an additional five Frankenstein movies without him.

The penultimate of those last Universal Frankenstein pictures is 1945’s House of Dracula. It’s the Monster’s last “serious” appearance; his final feature is the hilarious (but still scary) 1948 masterpiece Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This is the last “serious” appearance for Dracula and The Wolfman, too. House of Dracula feels like a send-off, a real coda, for a legendary stable of characters.

House of Dracula Movie Image

Dracula is played by John Carradine in this one. It’s his second performance as the Count after appearing in the previous year’s House of Frankenstein. He’s a capable villain, using his powers of seduction and hypnotism to trick and control Dr. Franz Edelmann. It’s Edelmann’s castle where the story takes place. He’s a noteworthy enough physician that Dracula seeks him out specifically, as does a man named Laurence Talbot, that we know as The Wolfman.

Lon Chaney Jr. is Talbot, injecting real pathos into what could’ve been a very one-dimensional character. HIs performance makes Talbot such a tragic figure. This was Chaney’s fourth picture as The Wolfman, so at this point, he’s been with the character for a long time.

Talbot has come to Dr. Edelmann’s castle to find a cure for his lycanthropy. Dracula (who is also in town) frames Talbot for murder, after the Count disguising his own violence as if it were perpetrated by The Wolfman. Meanwhile, a distraught Talbot happens upon Frankenstein’s Monster buried in a cave, clutching a skeleton. Edelmann drags The Monster to his castle and begins experimenting immediately. Dracula has a blood-transfusion and makes Edelmann a bad guy, and so a temporarily-insane Edelmann tries to resuscitate Frankenstein’s Monster to do Dracula’s bidding.

House of Dracula Movie Image 2

The actors bring a real sophistication and commitment to their roles as these iconic monsters. That’s what holds this movie together. The story may include too many coincidences to hold up under close inspection, but the monsters are here, and they deliver. David Carradine, brilliantly, does not try to be Bela Lugosi, the original 1931 Dracula. Instead, he’is a more gentlemanly Dracula, exuding Southern charm rather than Transylvanian menace. Glenn Strange is given abysmally little to do, only in the last moments of the picture does his Monster finally gain consciousness after being buried alive in the previous installment.

But this movie belongs to Lon Chaney Jr. The movie may be called House of Dracula, but this is The Wolfman’s picture. Chaney is incredible here. There are moments that endear the viewer to his Larry Talbot so fully that it becomes hard to believe the guy’s ever been a monster. The whole movie, he’s trying to do the right thing. He’s come all this way to this seemingly-monster-filled doctor’s office so he can stop hurting people. He’s The Hulk. He’s anyone who has ever needed help changing their ways. It’s a remarkable role, and it crescendos in one of the most sentimental and beautiful moments in the Universal Monster franchise.

When all is sorted, when Dracula’s been vanquished, when Frankenstein’s been burned up using recycled footage from last year’s movie, we remember that this Dr. Edelmann has been trying to cure Larry Talbot. This doctor, who has gone from good to bad and back again, has been working on a drug that would rid Talbot of his burden, The Wolfman, forever. And it works. We get to Lon Chaney Jr’s Larry Talbot walk in the moonlight for the first time. He doesn’t change. It’s genuinely lovely.

House of Dracula is great and it’s available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Fandango and Vudu.

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