House of Dracula (1945)

Consumer cinema can’t help itself but disappoint, and it happens at all levels. Pick any big budget film, such as Avatar (2009), and you're alreday witnessing marketing falsities and endpoint disappointment.  In fact, you can usually only find a handful of ‘surprise hits’ each year that aren’t overhyped, and over-confused by the studio writing, production, budgeting and marketing system. Hype, by the way, is the same as lies. The hype begins with the film trailer (always a lie, I am afraid) and continues with posters, straplines and advertorial — advertorial which is called ‘Review’ by the journalists that perform it in print, on the radio and on the television screens.

In the case of House of Dracula, we have something slightly different — death-of-genre disappointment. Everything becomes lazy, strange surrealities emerge because of inconsistency, and actions, characters and lines seemed to be a slight parody, creating an unease. The seaside location of House of Dracula is one of those surreal touches.

The monstrous mad scientist and his monstrous assitant. 
Not nearly enough sex is suggested between the two.

The geography of House of Dracula is maddening and unreal. A cliff top house, a little like the constructions the Addams family and later Corman’s Poes would inhabit, with roaring waves beneath. Deep below the house and under these cliffs are caves filled with mud. The mud has flowed underground from the nearby village, which incidentally is parochial one minute, and quite municipal the next, with a fairly decent jail. The town has a ‘town artist’, whatever that is, but must exist for the purpose of rallying that other Universal staple monster — the irate crowd.

The irate public mob.  Are they the REAL monster?

The mixture this landscape represents emerges from the storytelling, which is also haphazard. The idea is to combine Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster, and this is done with the effective addition of two more ‘monsters’ — one being the hunchbacked beauty, who moves in pathos about the lab — and the mad scientist monster himself, Dr. Franz Edelmann — played by Onslow Stevens.

Onslow Stevens, a new monster.

Strange, lame and most unthreateningly swanky Dracula.  With moustache.

John Carradine in House of Dracula may be one the strangest, lamest, faggiest Dracula turns out there. I understand there were also issues concerning Dracula appearing with a moustache, which were resolved by allowing John Carradine to wear a thin one. The bat effect is worse than it has ever been and John Carradine wears a top hat, in a ‘Dracula is a swank’ mode.

The characterisation isn’t so much of a problem, anyone can play Dracula. The issue is the script, a strange Freudian issue perhaps, with what subtext I dread to contemplate — Dracula is tired of being a vampire (his curse, as if he really were buying the ‘homosexuality can be cured by medicine ticket’) and turns up at Dr. Edelmann’s seeking a cure. Then it’s the same for Lawrence Talbot, the Wolfman, played by Lon Chaney Jr.

Lawrence Talbot.  Nobody ever worried as much as he did.

I don’t know how Chaney does it (he also has a moustache here, but strange — and Frankenstein’s monster does not, thankfully) — but the classic hangdog mystery, the long in the face depression of Lawrence Talbot is as perennial as Marilyn Monroe’s smile.

At the end of any era, all sorts are thrown out. At the end of the monster era, all taste and tactic vanished in the House of Dracula — it was the turn of Science Fiction, at least until that phase was passed in the 1960s. Horror films of the 1950s reflect this, even the big ones are basically Science fiction epics — The Thing from Another World (1950) — The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) — The Quatermass Experiment (1955) — Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) — The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) — The Blob and The Fly (1958) — until back to stuff like Peter Cushing in The Mummy in 1959. It was a decade that saw ‘the monsters’ — that weird consumer canon of now standard and less standard characters —take a dip, and make only their main outings with Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy (1957), and for example, other experimental fayre, as exemplified by I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (Herbert L. Strock, 1958) and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene Fowler, 1957)

Four monsters waiting for the moonlight.

The one thing that Universal never lost the hang of was music. Despite casting, acting, scripting, set, effects and direction all taking major backward steps from the moment the horror boom began in the arms of Dracula (1931) — but the music in House of Dracula will be enough — will probably be enough to carry you some of the way towards the belief you will need to tackle this film.  In fact if you can confine yourself to the credits and the music and let the rest pass by, you will have a splendid and nostalgic time, just like you did when you first discovered the monsters, long, long ago.

Frankenstein's monster, half awake.

If you’re into meta-stuff in a big way, you’ll love this film and see it as the apogee of all things monstrous and Universal — the story is obviously that of the genre. In the weird false seaside castle, the master of monsterism attempts to supersede the condition by injecting himself with the blood of monsters, thus creating the disease of monsterism within himself, and driving the whole lot to destruction — or at least some kind of dormant state.

The real story and the real monsters of House of Dracula are therefore Nina (the tragic beauty) and Dr Edelmann (the mad scientist) with the others there as infectious set dressing. So although it’s a short film, 67 minutes for which you will be thankful, the meta-performances Hosue of Dracula has among its capabilities are of interest.

One big bandage will sort my awful monsterism.

Of course the film ends with chaos, spectacle, destruction and — but that it House of Dracula’s job as a film. To end in spectacle, it’s de rigueur, for any consumer movie.

The poster for this great movie can be seen at Wikimedia Commons here.