Some thirteen years after the release of Dracula back in 1931, Universal now had a decent backlog of Universal Monsters in their midst.
After the relative success of Frankenstein vs The Wolf Man, which pitted two of their creatures head to head in its climax, it was a logical step to combine as many as possible into the one film.
In order for this trick to be pulled off successfully however, requires some clever plot devices to wrangle each intricate characteristic into a believable situation. Curt Siodmak was called upon to carry out this difficult task, which seems a logical choice as he had overseen a lot of the Universal horror movies during the time. His decision was to introduce a new character in Dr. Gustav Niemann, a mad scientist played by Boris Karloff in what would be his last role in the Universal horror franchise. Accompanying him from a prison break is hunchback (another trope), Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), who is willing to carry out Niemann’s demands with the promise of a new body.
Niemann though only has revenge in mind for the three people who wronged him and sent him to prison.
This story is really told in two parts; the first part being the revenge on Burgemeister Hussman, which Niemann does by initially killing Professor Lampini and taking on his identity as a travelling showman and his Chamber of Horrors. The show in question just so happens to contain the skeletal remains of Count Dracula with the stake still impaled. Legend has it that if the stake were to be removed, Dracula would once again walk the earth. Naturally this happens, but Niemann convinces the Count (John Carradine) to carry out his task of ridding him of his nemesis with the promise of protection. Once the Count offs Hussman though, the group land in a spot of bother and Niemann quickly reneges on his agreement and ditches Dracula’s coffin, forcing him to submit to the sunlight and ultimately be destroyed. Dracula’s demise seems all too easy and as such renders him slightly useless in the movie and far from menacing.
The latter half of the movie focuses on the resurrection of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) who were last seen washed away with the flood that submerged the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle. It turns out that they had been frozen in ice, and Niemann thaws them both, once again hoping to use them to his advantage.
The film is aided by the return of Chaney Jr and the troubled Larry Talbot who continuously serves as the heart of the franchise. Here, a love triangle is formed as he finds himself falling for a gypsy girl Ilonka (Elena Verdugo – who was a descendant of the Verdugo family that founded Los Angeles), rescued by Daniel and Niemann. The former has also fallen for Ilonka’s charms and is then driven by jealousy when his love is not reciprocated, and also by anger from Niemann’s failure not to live up to his promise.
The climax is nicely tied up with a collision of personalities all vying for different means, and when that clash comes it can only lead to the demise of all, be it silver bullet, thrown from the roof, or driven into the swamp quicksand from angry villagers wielding flaming torches.
On face value, Siodmak ticks all the boxes of what can be expected from each of the characters but ultimately, there is nothing new to offer at hand, and because of this the film falls short on satisfaction. It is still a solid production, entertains, but never does enough to lift itself above the standards of its predecessors.
It was great to see Karloff (he definitely owns this movie and deserves to wield the lead antagonist mantle) and Lon Chaney Jr share screen time together, but the chance to have the creatures provide any form of menace are squandered.
- Saul Muerte