We’ve seen the good, and now we get to see the mad. The very, very mad.
Universal got a lot of mileage out of their monster movie franchises. The granddaddy of the talkie era was, of course, Dracula, originally played to great effect in 1930 by Bela Lugosi and Carlos Villareas (in the Spanish language version). What followed, of course, were Frankenstein movies, the Mummy films, the Wolf Man movies, and so on, all more or less successful in their own right. Every once in a while, though, the studio couldn’t resist doing a crossover of several of these characters, such as in 1945’s House of Dracula.
Things start out very typically for a film with “Dracula” in the title: we see a castle by the sea, a lady is fast asleep in her bedroom, and a bat flies up to her window and stays there, hovering (We can see the wires, of course). Also very typically, the bat turns into a man in evening dress (John Carradine), and he strides into a living room of the castle, where an older gentleman is asleep by the fire with a cat in his lap.
Less typical is what he’s come for. The man asleep by the fire is Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens), who is not only a doctor, but a scientist developing cures for atypical ailments. One of his nurses, Nina (Jane Adams) is a hunchback, and Dr. Edelmann is working on a cure for her. He has a special mold he’s growing which he says will soften bones temporarily, and he thinks this will help him straighten Nina’s back. The doctor puts this cure on hold, however, when he hears the mysterious visitor’s tale: He’s a vampire who goes by the name of Baron Latos, but he’s really Count Dracula. The Baron is tired of the havoc he wreaks as a vampire, so he’s hoping the doctor can cure him. Dr. Edelmann promises to do his best, and he takes a sample of the Baron’s blood, which he has Nina prepare a slide of. When the doctor looks at it through the microscope, he notices the Baron’s blood cells have what look like clawed hands curved around them, natch. Dr. Edelmann orders an antitoxin made, which he figures he can transfer to the Baron via his own, uninfected blood. It’s not a one-and-done procedure, though, and until he’s completely cured, the Baron has to contend with the normal limitations of being a vampire. Like a good undead person, though, he’s brought over a coffin with the ubiquitous layer of native soil for the daylight hours.
While Dr. Edelmann and the Baron are involved in the first transfusion, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) also comes to the castle, himself with a pressing problem. Namely, when the moon comes out, Lawrence turns into a werewolf. He’s sick at heart over the trouble he’s caused while transformed, and wants more than anything to be freed of his lycanthropy. Since a full moon is imminent, Lawrence is frantic to see the doctor, and runs out of the castle when he finds that he can’t.
A few minutes after the transfusion is over, Dr. Edelmann gets a call from the police station, and he and his other nurse, Meliza (Martha O’Driscoll) rush into the village. There they find Lawrence in a cell at the station, which, according to the police chief, he begged to be put in. Dr. Edelmann tells Lawrence his lycanthropy is all in his head, but then the full moon appears, and Dr. Edelmann and Meliza watch in horror as Lawrence transforms into a werewolf.
Once Lawrence and the Baron are both being treated by Dr. Edelmann, things really begin to jump at the castle. Literally. The doctor has figured out that Lawrence has undue pressure put on some parts of his brain, and he says an operation is necessary. He shows Lawrence the mold he’s been growing to cure Nina, and tells him that it might help him, too. The only problem is that there isn’t enough of it yet to do the job, mainly because they don’t have the space. This is small comfort to Lawrence, as another full moon is approaching. Lawrence is so distraught over the thought of transforming again that when he sees the moon come out, he jumps into the sea. Fortunately, Lawrence isn’t hurt, and crawls into a cave at the water’s edge.
Dr. Edelmann has two villagers rig a rope and pulley system to get him down to the bottom of the cliff. Once the moon has set, he goes after Lawrence, who is still transformed and hiding in the cave. Unfortunately, Lawrence attacks the doctor, but not seriously, as he transforms before he’s done much damage. He and Dr. Edelmann explore the cave, and find–surprise, surprise–Frankenstein’s monster sleeping in the sludge. Dr. Edelmann is intrigued, but they keep looking, and find that the cave connects to the castle. Whaddaya know–they now have enough space to grow all the mold they want to.
Dr. Edelmann has Frankenstein’s monster brought back to the castle. Like the curious scientist that he is, Dr. Edelmann wants to revive him until Nina and Lawrence talk him out of it. So the monster stays tied down on his slab for the time being, but will he stay there? Meanwhile, Dr. Edelmann finds that Baron Latos doesn’t want curing as much as he said he did. Not only does he put Meliza under his spell, but during one of the transfusions Latos reverses the flow so Dr. Edelmann gets a dose of Latos’s blood instead. The doctor has nothing else to do but treat Latos like any other vampire. Maybe the Baron shouldn’t have put his coffin next to an open window, if anyone gets my drift. Just sayin.’
Of course, the unavoidable happens–Dr. Edelmann turns into a vampire. Sorta. He goes mad at night, wreaking havoc in the village, and his reflection doesn’t show in mirrors, but during the day he’s as sane as anyone. Plus, he doesn’t bite people, and he doesn’t have to sleep in a soil-lined coffin when the sun comes out. It’s a good thing too, because he still needs to operate on Lawrence, who’s been anxiously awaiting not being a werewolf. The operation goes smoothly, but there is still the problem of the village being terrorized at nightfall, particularly after one of the residents turns up dead.
Unfortunately, Dr. Edelmann doesn’t get any better with time. I won’t ruin the ending, which isn’t exactly a blindside anyway, but it does befit the horror genre and is nothing if not dramatic.
House of Dracula was produced at the tail end of World War Two, and it looks it. Universal was never especially extravagant like M-G-M or Warner Bros., but everyone was trying to conserve resources in 1945–everything from film to materials of all kinds were at a premium. However, House is still a decent film, and at just over an hour’s running time, it crams a lot of plot in. It’s not up to the level of its predecessors, but it’s not as bad as, say, Leprechaun II, either.
That’ll do it for Day Two. Tomorrow I’ll reveal who our Lonely Scientist is, and until then, there’s plenty more Good and Mad ones at Christina‘s and Ruth‘s blogs. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!