House of Dracula (1945, Erle C Kenton)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: It’s vague. There are lots of Germanic names, but most of the characters have American accents. There are telephones but no cars.

Faithful to the novel? This is a sequel to 1944’s House of Frankenstein and another of Universal Pictures’ character-crossover events. Despite being destroyed in the previous film, Count Dracula (John Carradine) is back. He wants a cure for his undeadedness, so visits Dr Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens), who is remarkably unfazed by a famous vampire walking in at 5am and asking to see the cellar. Dr Edelmann has a couple of nurses working for him. One of them, Nina (Jane Adams), has a deformed back and he intends to help her with an operation. Then – how’s this for a coincidence? – a guy called Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) shows up asking the doctor to cure his werewolfedness. (This was Chaney’s fourth time playing Universal’s Wolf Man.) Depressed that the treatment might not work, Talbot then tries to top himself. He jumps off a nearby cliff but ends up in a cave, where he and Edelmann find Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and the corpse of Dr Niemann from the previous film. Meanwhile, Dracula tries to seduce a nurse called Milizia (Martha O’Driscoll) – so to protect her, Edelmann kills the Count with 25 minutes of the film still to go. However, Dracula had earlier infected Edelmann with some vamp blood during a transfusion. So the doctor now has a bonkers dream, which involves clips from previous movies, then goes mental and kills a couple of people (including poor Nina). Talbot reluctantly has to shoot him dead.

Best performance: This was John Carradine’s second appearance as Dracula, after House of Frankenstein. He’s suave and cultured. He later played the Count in three non-Universal films: Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Las vampiras (1969) and Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979). His son David was Bill in Kill Bill.

Best bit: Nina is an interesting character. Given her deformity, she was actually classified as one of the movie’s monsters in some of the publicity (see the poster above). Yet Jane Adams plays her with an inner sadness, and the moment when she realises Dracula isn’t casting a shadow is well staged.

Review: There are a few nice elements on show here, such as some fantastic sets and some good special effects. The bat-to-Drac transformation is neatly done in shadow, for example, while Talbot turning into a werewolf is achieved via some very nifty dissolves with Chaney’s make-up getting increasingly hirsuite. But the B-movie dialogue and cod acting drag everything down.

Five hunchbacks out of 10

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