House of Dracula
U.S.A. / 1945
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Starring
John Carradine
Lon Chaney Jr.
Onslow Stevens
B&W / 67 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC / 2-disc set)
Universal Home Video
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
3
    10  
DVD score is for
entire set
 
This film a direct sequel to that other Universal monster rally, House of Frankenstein (1944) refutes the oft-heard claim that Golden Age horror films are simply better than those of the post-World War II era. A few effective moments aside, House of Dracula is sappy, silly, and about as dumb as they come. This is the Universal Classic Monsters Cycle at its nadir.
    Count Dracula (a dapper John Carradine) appears at the seaside castle of renowned medical researcher Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) to seek a cure for vampirism. Initially introducing himself as "Baron Latos", Dracula quickly reveals his true identity and that he's taken the liberty of installing his coffin in Edelmann's crypt-like basement. The kindly physician takes this in remarkably good stride, agreeing to help Dracula if possible. The Count is welcome to crash in the basement while he develops a series of blood treatments. What a nice guy! (At this point we wouldn't have been surprised if Drac had hit him up for some money as well.) To the doctor's two assistants, Nina (Jane Adams) and Meliza (Martha O'Driscoll), Dracula will continue to be known as Baron Latos while undergoing therapy.
    Apparently Edelmann's reputation as a Good Samaritan extends far and wide. A desperate man soon shows up at the castle, pleading for a cure to an undisclosed illness. It's none other than Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), the Wolf Man himself, hoping to be released from his lycanthropic curse. (The Universal Monsters must have great medical insurance.) While Talbot is locked up in the village jailhouse, Edelmann and Meliza witness his transformation into a werewolf. The sympathetic doctor takes Talbot as a patient, having him moved to the castle once he's recovered his humanity. Edelmann believes he may know the reason for Talbot's malady: cranial pressure, caused by the skull pressing on areas of the brain. A radically new, non-surgical procedure the doctor is developing could end Talbot's nightmare forever.
    In the meantime Dracula's been putting the moves on Meliza, his sinister behavior totally contradicting his reason for coming to Edelmann in the first place. Talbot and the doctor also discover the body of Frankenstein's Monster, encased in mud, in a cave below the castle. The Monster (Glenn Strange) is brought up to the lab but Doc decides it would be unethical to revive him. Edelmann's about to undergo a major personality change, however. During a blood transfusion with Dracula, the undead villain reverses the flow and injects some of his own vampire-tainted blood into him...
   
As you might have gathered by now, House of Dracula doesn't make much logical sense. Inexplicably, the film maintains continuity with its predecessor in some regards while totally ditching it in others. The discovery of Frankenstein's Monster ties into the '44 film, but Dracula was destroyed in that picture yet shows up quite healthy in this one, without any explanation. And speaking of Drac, why does he seek a cure for his undead condition only to screw over the one person who can help him? He betrays his benefactor, then carries on totally unconcerned that his coffin is easily accessible to those he's wronged. (Big mistake, especially considering he still hasn't realized the benefit of owning a watch.) Plot elements are tacked on willy-nilly; the inclusion of the Frankenstein Monster who really makes nothing more than a glorified cameo here seems arbitrary.
   
Tall and gaunt, with his rich baritone voice, John Carradine actually makes a fine Dracula (...except he wears his top hat cocked on the back of his head like some 1800s Mississippi riverboat gambler). And there is one notable scene in the movie, a brief throwback to the great Universal monster flicks of the '30s: Dracula hypnotizes Meliza while she's playing a classical piece on the piano. As the Count exerts his mental control over her the tune changes, taking on a dark, disturbing tone, becoming music that beckons her to "his world". Meliza is astonished, unable to understand how she can effortlessly play something she's never heard before. A nicely atmospheric scene this, surrounded by a morass of cornball shite
.

House of Dracula arrives on DVD as part of the splendid new Dracula: The Legacy Collection, released April 27th. The 2-disc set packages House together with the black and white Universal vampire classics Dracula, the Spanish language version of Dracula (both 1931), Dracula's Daughter (1936) and Son of Dracula (1943). All the terrific extras from the now OOP Dracula DVD are ported over to this new collection: the optional Philip Glass score (which I think improves the Lugosi film), the Road To Dracula documentary, David J. Skal's audio commentary, an introduction to the Spanish Dracula by Lupita Tovar, and a nice photo/poster montage. Trailers for Dracula's Daughter and Son of Dracula are also included, as is a short featurette with director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy Returns) promoting his big budget CG-fest Van Helsing.
    As for
House of Dracula, for a nearly 60-year old film it looks and sounds great (if a tad dark), generally faring better than its older brethren. Universal is to be commended for bringing these movies back to DVD (and in House's case, for the first time) in such a comprehensive, marvelously packaged edition at a surprisingly low price. The Dracula set is also available as part of the 6-disc Monster Legacy Collection, which features a total of 14 Universal monster films plus three collectible classic monster figurines. 4/30/04
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