Google+ YouTube
House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

House of Frankenstein expanded the successful formula of its predecessor, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), sufficiently to include no less than five ‘monsters’. “Monster battles Monster” perfidiously expounded the trailer: it was a weak promise which remained largely unfulfilled, but that is not to say the film was not one of the best in the whole Universal Frankenstein saga.

Sporting Karloff, Chaney, Atwill and Zucco, House of Frankenstein also boasts some superb supporting performances from John Carradine, J Carrol Naish, Peter Coe, Anne Gwynne, Sig Ruman and Elena Verdugo, with probably the most underused and underrated turn coming from Glenn Strange as the Monster, in scenes which, although beautifully expressed under Karloff’s careful coaching, are all too brief and sidelined.

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

High stakes: Dr Niemann (Boris Karloff) bargains with a newly-revived Count Dracula (John Carradine) in House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

The Ghost of Frankenstein’s (1942) Erle C Kenton was seconded to direct, and with Edward T Lowe’s competent screenplay based on an original story by Curt Siodmak, a superb bespoke score by Hans J Salter and slick, polished production, House of Frankenstein towers among the Universal horrors, despite the brickbats hurled at it by the unsympathetic.

House of Frankenstein 1944 Ultimate Guide Magazine

House of Frankenstein pushes boundaries that are quietly left alone by its forerunners; there is an unashamed love triangle between Larry Talbot (Chaney), Ilonka (Verdugo) and Daniel (Naish), a shameless vivisection theme surrounding Dr Niemann (Karloff), Ilonka’s revulsion at Daniel’s deformity and the sadistic beating of Ilonka by her gypsy guardian.

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Cold shivers: Dr Niemann (Boris Karloff) and hunchback assistant Daniel (J Carrol Naish) discover the Monster (Glenn Strange) preserved in an underground glacial ice cavern in House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Unusually, the film opts for a more episodic approach to its narrative, neatly boxing off the Dracula (Carradine) storyline less than halfway through, with associated cast members being despatched as efficiently as if they too were as susceptible to that fatal sunlight themselves.

Boris Karloff: The English Gentleman of Horror Biography Magazine

The thread is continued via Niemann and Daniel, eventually culminating at the unhinged scientist’s castle where, reneging on promises to both his assistant and the Wolf Man, he focuses all his attention on restoring and reviving the Monster (Strange). Considering that hapless character is the mainstay of Karloff’s ambitions, it is sad to see him sidelined to laying around on a table for most of House of Frankenstein, only to be roused within the last few minutes to partake of the fiery finale as he is forced, bearing Niemann under his arm, into the boggy quicksands surrounding the castle. It’s a lamentable relegation for what was once Universal’s star monster, and must have worn heavily on Karloff’s heart, particularly as his collaboration meant collusion by default.

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Temper tantrum: A frustrated Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney) threatens Dr Niemann (Boris Karloff) for focusing on the Monster (Glenn Strange) in House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Kenton’s direction of House of Frankenstein is stylish throughout, and seems to take inspiration from some of the old classic expressionist techniques of the silent Teutonic terrors of the teens and twenties. Strange is often criticised for his performance of the Monster, which is cited as being one of the weakest of the whole line-up, but this is at best ingenuous and at worst, malignantly unfair.

The Universal Frankenstein Movies 1931-1948

Although Karloff’s mentoring was evident, Kenton’s direction of the Monster as a mindless, brutish thug allows little true expression in the frantic moments of screen time afforded the actor, but careful watching shows clearly that he still manages to pull this off. If one peers through the very different facade, the old master’s mannerisms and gait can be clearly discovered.

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Knock, knock: Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) prepares to put the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney) out of his misery in House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

With his gigantic stature, sharp looks and eerie foreboding, Strange invests the role with a stark infusion of terror; as Monsters go, this is the most terrifying incarnation of them all. It is the real stuff of kids’ nightmares, and possibly explains why Strange’s image of the creature is almost as enduring as Karloff’s in popular culture.

A Pictorial History of Universal Monsters Volume Two: The Forties and Fifties

Lamented by many is the fact that the role of Dracula in House of Frankenstein was not given to Bela Lugosi. While many believe the latter was spitefully overlooked by Universal in favour of the more cadaverous Carradine, the fact is that the studio did desire him to take on the part, but other commitments precluded his acceptance. This seems a shame in retrospect, as Lugosi purists argue that he would have brought even more gravitas to proceedings but, as ever, the film is what it is, and that we have Carradine’s creepily distinctive Count among the annals of classic horror is surely now a bonus rather than a resented substitution.

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Bogged down: The Monster (Glenn Strange) and Dr Niemann (Boris Karloff) are forced back into the quicksand in House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Despite the hugely respectable box office dollars House of Frankenstein realised for Universal, and the vast production values and style it exudes, it is clear that the whole stable of the studio’s monsters was running out of steam. The surprisingly good next and, in real terms, final instalment would be House of Dracula a year later, but the right true end was not something either fans or company bosses wanted to contemplate just quite yet.

House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

The Devil’s Brood: Original theatrical release poster for House of Frankenstein (Universal 1944)

Leave a comment

Got something to say? Leave us your thoughts.

    Michael Rokohl
    January 21, 2023

    This is my favorite monster movie. House of Frankenstein is great fun to watch! Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster is incredible as he is the most hulking Frankenstein monster of all time! He just really pulls it off in the, I guess 5 minutes on screen, but his facial expressions and mannerisms is so cool to watch! He breaks the straps on the table he was strapped too, walks over in a robotic menacing way to grab the hunchback and pick him up over his head and throws him through the skylight window’s and then robotically walks over to the mad scientist. Then there’s Lon Chaney Jr as the wolf man. When he is freed from the ice, he says such cool line’s; “Why have you freed me from the ice that imprisoned the beast that lived within me, Why!? Then Karloff says; “To help you my boy!” Chaney says;”No earthly power can help those that are marked with the sign of the pentagram!” So Cool!! John Carradine as Dracula is spooky and says his line’s well. And the scene when he runs up to his coffin to get inside before the sun destroys him is memorable!! But the exchange in the trailer between Karloff and Zucco, as they talk about his Dracula exhibition, is really very good written line’s and the two really make you interested in what they are saying. The musical score is excellent and the makeup by Jack Pierce is his best take on the universal monsters look, on each one. The way it was filmed is fantastic! I give this movie 5 star’s! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

FREE horror magazine PDF when you join our weekly newsletter!
Email Address