If it’s a month with 31 days in it, you can be sure that Jules will be firing out the horror movie reviews.
So, following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American Horror” in August, Jules is once travelling across the pond this October with… you guessed it… 31 MORE Days of American Horror!
Director: Roy William Neil
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr., Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya
Though billed as an ensemble piece (the first of what would be many Universal tag team efforts), Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is more of a sequel to latter’s 1941 debut that just so happens to feature a certain Monster in it’s later stages.
The first half of the run time is all about Larry Talbot and his quest to rid himself of the curse of lycnanthropy, which leads him across Europe for the inevitable confrontation with Frankenstein’s Monster.
Except it isn’t Frankenstein’s Monster any more. Not really.
The film follows directly on from The Ghost Of Frankenstein, which ended with the brain of the Monster being replaced by that of his “friend”, Ygor (Bela Lugosi), meaning that misunderstood creature that we saw in the first four films was gone.
That complex creation who terrorised the countryside but bonded with a blind man, the one who drowned one little girl but helped another, the one who just wanted a friend but realised once he had one that they “belong dead”… he got his wish.
The idea of a new brain in control of that seemingly indestructible body is a fine one in theory, but what Universal did here was properly kill off the Monster we have grown to love for a plot point that is then barely acknowledged again. What a waste.
Once you get over that awful piece of decision-making though, there’s actually a lot to enjoy about this one.
When grave robbers break into the Talbot family mausoleum in Wales, they discover the perfectly preserved body of Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr), who is brought back to life once the wolfsbane covering his “corpse” is disturbed while under the light of a full moon.
Once again Larry transforms into a Wolf Man and flees the mausoleum after murdering one of the unfortunate criminals, only to find himself human again and taken to a hospital as he is still suffering from the head wound from his father that was thought to be a killing blow four years previous.
Talbot tries to convince the well-meaning Doctor Mannering (Patric Knowles) of the danger he presents to everyone around him, but after realising he has killed yet again the next night, escapes from the hospital in an attempt to find a permanent end for both his curse and his life.
His quest takes him across Europe where he tracks down the old gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenska
ya), who tells him of the work of Frankenstein and his sons, leading the pair to travel to Vasaria in search of the scientist’s journals, but Ludwig’s daughter Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey) initially declines to help.
When the Monster (Bela Lugosi) is accidentally revived by Talbot though, the Baroness and a now-believing Dr Mannering offer to assist, but once again, scientific curiosity will have tragic circumstances…
Right, let’s get it out the way first. Universal bungled this whole development with the Monster big time. Taking aside the whole point that Karloff’s creation has been killed off and whether that was a good idea or not (I’m not convinced), what matters is how this new Monster is handled and the answer is…not well.
Obviously a recasting was in order as Chaney Jr couldn’t recap his role from Ghost…and putting Bela in the big shoes seems like a good call, what with it being Ygor’s brain pulling the strings. Unfortunately the great man was getting in a fair bit by this point, so needed regular stunt doubles in many shots, though the wicked smile he sports when he realises he’s being returned to full power is a real highlight and very much Lugosi reminding us that it’s Ygor we’re actually watching.
Where it goes completely wrong though, is in completely cutting Lugosi’s lines, there’s no reference to why the Monster is stumbling around with his arms outstretched and generally helpless (he was blinded in the previous movie), making the scene where he regains his sight completely nonsensical. It’s sloppy and reeks of lack of care or consideration, not just for the continuity but for the characters too.
Ygor in the body of the Monster could have been a holy terror of a creation, crafty and scheming when still weak and a living nightmare of malice and ambition when restored to full strength, but no. Nothing to see here. What an absolute waste. Karloff’s masterpiece died for this?
The other downer is he’s not even in it that much, as this is very much still Larry Talbot’s story. Chaney Jr is wonderful as usual in the role, his trademark unlucky lunk hitting just the right balance between tragic and appealing. He’s an Everyman dealing with not only the knowledge that he’s got a monster inside of him, but that it’s one that seemingly cannot be killed.
The supporting cast don’t have a huge amount to do, but both Massey and Knowles do well with what they are given, particularly the latter who goes from supernatural skeptic to Monster re-animator in not much longer time than it takes to say “hubris”, while Lionel Atwill gives 100% Lionel Atwill as the local Burgomeister.
If this all sounds like I’m not a fan of this one, nothing could be further from the truth. Surely it’s deeply, deeply flawed in ways, but it’s a rollercoaster of horror fun too. It looks magnificent, from the fog-laden Welsh graveyard to the ruined castle and it’s laboratory, there’s no sets that don’t have you marvelling at how vivid the whole thing is.
Bringing the worlds of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man together is an idea straight out of the comic books, a mad crossover that would establish horror as a genre where this kind of bunkum could and would happen forever more, so it’s kind of appropriate that it’s just a fun romp that doesn’t ask too much of its audience.
With a bit more thought and care, we could have had a classic on our hands, but there’s plenty to sink your fangs into here, just don’t think too hard about it.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy