By Orrin Grey
House of Dracula (1945). Director: Erle C. Kenton. Cast: Onslow Stevens, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine.
Welcome back to The Vault of Secrets, where, every other week, we’ll be unearthing a classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight, we’re going to be taking a look at House of Dracula, the immediate sequel to our last film, House of Frankenstein. This one’s also directed by Erle C. Kenton and stars the usual suspects, though this time out, Boris Karloff has been replaced with Onslow Stevens. The version I watched is on the Dracula Legacy Collection.
House of Dracula is obviously supposed to be a direct sequel to House of Frankenstein, though both Dracula and the Wolf Man are inexplicably back to being alive again after pretty emphatically dying in the previous movie. The only actual connection between the two films, besides the name of the town the characters are in, comes when Frankenstein’s Monster is discovered in mud in a cave beneath the castle, with the skeleton of Doctor Niemann still in his arms.
House of Dracula opens with Dracula coming to visit Doctor Edelmann, an apparently good and altruistic scientist, whom he believes can cure him of his vampirism. Shortly afterward, the Wolf Man arrives, as well, seeking a similar cure. This time, we’ve at least got all the monsters under one roof at the same time, but again, their storylines seldom intertwine and, once again, even in his own movie, Dracula is dead by the forty-minute mark.
For my money, the most interesting stuff doesn’t begin until then. It seems that Dracula, in a final bit of bastardry, has infected Dr. Edelmann with some of his blood. Instead of turning into a vampire, though, he seems to sort of become possessed by Dracula’s spirit, or something like it, which drives him to murder and other dangerous acts. There’s a great sequence where the possessed Edelmann imagines bringing the Frankenstein Monster to life and watching it wreak havoc, havoc which is, sadly, never actually delivered in the film itself. (Apparently some of these sequences were actually repurposed footage from Ghost of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.)
Onslow Stevens (who was mostly new to me, though he was apparently in Them!) does an amazing job as Dr. Edelmann, both possessed and otherwise, and at switching back and forth. A scene, in which he threatens one of his servants, is genuinely menacing and the story of the doctor’s Jekyll-and-Hyde-like dissolution is actually more compelling than any of the big-name monsters.
The other surprise star of this story is Jane Adams (The Brute Man, Vicki Vale in the 1949 Batman and Robin) as Dr. Edelmann’s beautiful hunchbacked assistant! Not only is she a girl hunchback, but she’s sort of the protagonist of the film (as much as it may try to convince us that Lon Chaney Jr. is), as she acts as the doctor’s moral compass, figures out Dracula’s secret, and otherwise does lots of sleuthing around the big dark house and handles herself well. Sadly, she doesn’t profit much by it, her unfortunate end doubly crushing because she was so close to the cure that she and the doctor had been working toward.
House of Dracula has less crazy, awesome stuff in it than House of Frankenstein, but it does have a better story. Sadly, that story is mostly the story of the other people and not the monsters. The Wolf Man may get cured this time around and get the girl, but, for most of the movie, he’s absent or moping. And while Dracula gets more screentime this time out, his introduction and dispatch aren’t terribly better-thought-out. Frankenstein’s Monster gets perhaps the worst treatment, spending the entire movie after his discovery stuck on a table (again) and only getting revived long enough to knock a couple of things over before perishing in the inevitable fiery conflagration.
At the end of the day, I wanted more about Dr. Edelmann and his lady hunchback assistant, and less about the monsters. Never thought I’d say that.
That’s it for tonight’s installment of The Vault of Secrets. Be sure to join us next time when we run into some more vampires (or are they witches?) in big, dark castles, with Mario Bava’s Black Sunday!