Friday, 2 March 2012

House of Dracula (1945) - A Review

The ‘House of Dracula’ is yet another of the Universal sequels, with familiar monsters, convoluted mad Doctor plotlines and clichés galore. But it’s also rather good…

Dracula (John Carradine, in a chilling, dignified performance), has decided he wants to be cured of his vampirism and evil-ness, seeking out kindly Doctor Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) to aid him. Of course, Dracula is lying (the fiend!), using the ploy to get close to the Doctor’s daughter, the sumptuous Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll). In a series of insane events, however, the plot spirals out of control, as Lawrence Talbot turns up wanting to be cured of his lycanthropy (and Lon Chaney, Jr. gives yet another fantastic performance as the haunted Wolfman), Frankenstein’s monster is found buried in the sand, and Dracula possesses Dr. Franz via his bloodstream!

This film offers nothing especially new to the Universal horror table, and many of the clichés and settings are much the same as in previous sequels ‘House of Frankenstein’ and ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’. It is, however, wonderfully enjoyable, and gorgeously directed by Erle C. Kenton.

We get to see Dracula actually transform into a bat before our very eyes (a big thing for audiences at the time), and Dr. Franz go from a force for good, to Mr. Hyde-esque vulgarity. Yes, Frankenstein’s monster (played by Glenn Strange, who made the part his own in three movies) is tacked on and used at the end just to bring the house down (literally), but his inclusion adds to the fun. The shot of him buried in the sand is also suitably chilling.

Lon Chaney, Jr. is splendid as Talbot. Indeed, being the only actor to have played the Wolfman and his human counterpart in all the original Universal films, you get the sense that Chaney understood his character. Unlike the lumbering monster, or the cold evil of Dracula, Chaney gives Talbot real emotional depth, and the scenes in this film with Talbot in human form are far more interesting than when he becomes the Wolfman. It’s a joy at the end, to learn that he has finally been cured of his lycanthropy.

As a Bela Lugosi fan, it’s always a sorry point to look at how his career declined, and a sad fact that he never reprised Dracula on screen (in a horror film, at least). Carradine, however, is simply excellent. Rather than imitating Lugosi, he makes the role his own, taking explicit inspiration from the original Bram Stoker novel. He manages to be both suave and malicious, devious and sadistic. It’s all there. It is, however, a surprise that his character is killed off so soon, considering the film bares his name. It’s Dr. Franz who takes over as chief villain, possessed by Dracula and essentially becoming a Mr. Hyde subtitute.

One ‘monster’ in the film who is not evil at all, is the lovely Nina (Jane Adams). A beautiful, intelligent lady, Nina is also a hunchback, and the use of such an attractive lady to play the part of somebody with a disfigurement really adds character and depth to the film. It’s a masterstroke, and Jane Adams does the role justice.

‘House of Dracula’ is a great popcorn flick. Action, suspense, characters with depth, the usual lush settings of towers and caverns, and four super monsters duking it out…all packed into a mere 65 minutes. 

A must-see for any horror fan!

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