Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
House of Dracula (1945)
One thing you certainly can’t complain about with House of Dracula is that it is too long. Director Erle C. Kenton’s follow-up to 1944’s House of Frankenstein clocks in at a mere 67 minutes -- take out the credits and it’s almost down to an hour. The length is probably partially due to the fact that between 1940 and 1946, Kenton directed a whopping 20 films (and that after 27 in the 1930’s and 32 in the 1920’s) -- take that Stanley Kubrick!
But films don’t succeed or fail due to length alone. House of Dracula does slightly succeed, but primarily by riding the wake of the hugely successful Universal monster films that are the sole reason this film was made. It also has more than its share of problems, and quite a bit of it will seem unintentionally funny to a modern audience raised on one too many comedies lampooning just this kind of material.
The plot is simple, if ridiculous. Basically, Dracula and the Wolfman independently head to a doctor’s office (well, it’s not a place filled with super-gravitational couches and old magazines, but a doctor’s office in a castle) to see if they can be cured of their "ills." Why they head to this particular doctor, Dr. Edelman (Onslow Stevens), we don’t know -- apparently it was unimportant, or maybe Kenton forgot to film that scene. Anyway, it seems that they’ve both had enough evil escapades, and they’re worried about their cholesterol and blood pressure. No, that last part I just made up. But they’re trying to be cured, nonetheless. Later, the Wolfman conveniently discovers Frankenstein’s monster in a kind of "mud hibernation" (by the way -- notice in this scene how the Wolfman’s clothes are dry and pressed!), just a few feet from the edge of the set wherein the Wolfman was hiding, and Dr. Edelman also tries to bring the monster back to peak health, which in his case involves megawatts of electricity, somewhat similar to those wacky spa treatments that are supposed to rejuvenate you.
But even before the good doctor starts his monster therapies, the first thing you’re likely to notice is just how cheesy the effects are. The opening shot features one of the most obvious rubber bats on strings this side of SCTV. Of course, we can’t expect cgi-quality effects in 1945, but House of Dracula was obviously made in a hurry and on a tight budget. On the other hand, the werewolf transformations are handled extremely well.
The next thing you’ll notice that seems odd is that Dr. Edelman isn’t that surprised or alarmed when Dracula, or "Baron Latos" as his latest driver’s license has him, just happens to be standing next to the chair Dr. Edelman was sleeping in (he fell asleep watching Creature Feature?) at 5:00 a.m. Within minutes, Dr. Edelman is gladly accompanying Dracula down to a cellar he didn’t seem to be very familiar with, even though it’s in Dr. Edelman’s house (there are many later indications that Dr. Edelman never did a thorough spring cleaning since he moved in), rattling off the scientific and philosophical gobbledy-gook that forms the bulk of this film’s script.
One thing that most of this film is missing is tension. Instead, it’s kinda like someone recycling all of the Universal screenwriters’ unstated backstories/character sketches -- you know, the kind of stuff you brainstorm to get a character solidly in your head before you start writing fiction -- "How tall is Dracula? What high school did he go to? How does he feel about declawing cats?" Dr. Edelman theorizes about vampires, werewolves and found-object zombies while hovering over test tubes and microscopes with his hunch-backed nurse, pondering the significance of blood cells with bat-wings, trying to come up with some great cure/patent that will make him a million bucks -- and all while the most melodramatic music you’ve heard cranks away in the background.
I don’t mean to give you an impression that this film is awful -- it isn’t. It’s just cheesy and unintentionally funny, but if you like that kind of thing, and you’re a fan of the Universal monsters, then House of Dracula is going to be enough fun to make it not seem like you wasted a bag of microwave popcorn.
The bottom line is that House of Dracula plays like kind of a greatest hits package -- one by an artist who has way too much killer material to fit on such a compilation, but the record company knows it can milk a few more dollars out of it, especially with the two new remixes that aren’t near as good as the original versions. You get the number one discs of the three monsters -- well, almost -- the Frankenstein monster’s is more of a minor afterthought here; his main segment is a trailer for another film. And for large segments, you wonder where the heck the other monsters ran off to -- they just disappear.
The best thing about House of Dracula? An exciting new monster (although an inadequate explanation of him) in the form of Dr. Edelman --too bad they didn’t follow up on this character in later films. The worst thing? Yet more "deaths" of the classic monsters that have to be explained away, or just ignored, in later films, Universal or not.