House of Dracula (1945) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

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 and October, Jules is fixing to round out 2018 with 31 more days of classic American Horror movies.

So brace yourself, folks.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Director: Erle C. Kenton
Starring:  Lon Chaney Jr., Martha O’Driscoll, John Carradine, Glenn Strange, Lionel Atwill

Taking aside the comedy escapade with Abbott and Costello in 1948, House Of Dracula is where the story ends for the big three of Universal Horror and as finales go, they all deserved much, much better.

The previous year’s House Of Frankenstein had set a really low bar, being an episodic oddity that felt more like a Wolf Man sequel with an offhanded guest spot for Dracula and little more than a cameo for The Monster at the end, but it had the great Karloff going for it.

This time, it’s more of the same, more of the “that’ll do” ethos, almost as if nobody really knows what to do with these iconic horror characters and aren’t that bothered about them in the first place.

Saying that, if you can switch off your brain and not let things annoy you (and there’s plenty that does), House Of Dracula can be a fun watch. Well, slightly more than it’s predecessor anyway.

Count Dracula (Carradine), under the guise of “Baron Latos” arrives at the Visaria castle home of Dr. Franz Edlemann (Onslow Stevens), who he hopes will help him to find a cure for his vampirism. The Doctor agrees and begins a series of transfusions using his own blood that he believes will release the Count from his curse.

Shortly after, Larry Talbot arrives at the castle also seeking a cure, in his case for lycanthropy. After Inspector Holtz (Lionel Atwill) asks Edlemann to see Talbot’s awful transformation into the Wolf Man, he agrees to help him also. Believing that Talbot is not cursed and the moon is not what is affecting him, the Doctor instead posits a theory that the cause is pressure on the brain, something he believes can be relieved with the work he and his assistants Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) and the hunchbacked Nina (Jane Adams) have been working on – whose spores have the ability to reshape bone.

Talbot feels he can’t wait though and tries to commit suicide by throwing himself off a cliff, but survives to find himself in a cave with the frozen body of Frankenstein’s Monster. Meanwhile, Dracula is not as penitent as he appeared to be, attempting to seduce and turn Milizia, while Edelmann himself is slowly being corrupted by the vampire’s blood…

Where to start with this one?

Well as we’ve seen previously, John Carradine makes for a poor man’s Dracula. Slight and ineffectual, there’s no menace to him, no implied threat or even smouldering sexuality. If your Dracula can’t manage to scare or seduce, there’s not much point to him. Once again, you can only imagine what Lugosi could have done with this material.

Saying that, if he was just another vampire, it would have worked so better. The weight of the Dracula name is a lot to live up to and his charming, but very formal and polite portrayal jars too much. The scene where he puts Milizia under his thrall as she plays piano is brilliantly strange though, with her playing music from his world and seeing people who are “dead yet alive” until she breaks the spell with her crucifix. It’s weird, alluring and nearly, but not quite the scene that sells Carradine as the Count. Close, but no cigar.

Chaney Jr is, well, Chaney Jr. Back in his signature role, only this time with a moustache, he’s got the hangdog, tortured soul thing down pat here and you can’t help but feel for him, but the complete about face that his curse is scientific and not actually a curse brought upon by being bitten by another werewolf rankles. Such casual concern for continuity sums up the feeling that nobody cares about these films anymore, just like how both Dracula and Talbot are casually introduced despite both of them supposedly meeting their deaths in the last film.

Once again, The Monster is hardly in it, leaving poor Glenn Strange hardly any time to shine, but he takes the meagre offerings he’s given and makes the most of it for the usual fire-wielding mob finale, but you really, really want to see more of him. Dr Edelmann might go full Mr Hyde with Dracula’s blood in him and deliver a thrilling chase across the rooftops, but in what world is that preferable to more action with Frankenstein’s Monster?

Come to think of it, Dracula (as much as he’s miscast) could have done with more screentime too. That’s one of the major, major issues with these monster mashes Universal were pumping out, there’s just no real time for anyone that isn’t Larry Talbot.

With the exception of Carradine, the cast of House Of Dracula is almost uniformly excellent, from minors like Jane Adams’ hunchbacked assistant and Lionel Atwill’s reliable turn as the lawman, to the bigger turns of Chaney, Strange and Stevens, while although the budget is reflected in the sets, they do well with what they have. It’s problems lie entirely in Dwight V. Babcock and George Bricker’s script. In more capable and considered hands, a film with these characters should have been an open goal. Instead, they missed a sitter. Bah.

Rating: 1.5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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