Sunday, 11 April 2010

House of Dracula (1945)

Although I’ve owned the Dracula Legacy Collection for years I’ve resisted watching The House of Dracula. I had a strong gut feeling I wasn’t going to like it. Which just shows that sometimes you should go with your gut feelings!

To describe the plot of this movie is a rather pointless exercise. There’s the danger you might start looking for things that make sense, and that way lies madness. But since I’m arguably mad already, I’ll try.

Dr. Franz Edelmann is an idealistic doctor who specialises, apparently, in the treatment of superannuated movie monsters. If you’re a movie monster and you find your audience has disappeared, you go to Dr Edelmann and he’ll cure your monsterhood. His waiting room is packed with has-been vampires and ageing werewolves.

One day Dracula himself turns up. He’s apparently bored with eternal life, and wants to be normal. Dr Edelmann has a revolutionary treatment for curing monsters involves mysterious tropical spores, and something to do with glands and cranial surgery without surgery. I think. The fact that his head nurse is a hunchback and he hasn’t managed to cure her doesn’t seem to discourage his customers.

Of course things don’t go smoothly. Dracula refuses to take his medication regularly, and there’s an unfortunate incident in which the Wolfman throws himself off a cliff. Luckily there’s an underground cavern in which anyone who tries to throw themselves off the cliff invariably ends up. The doctor rescues him, and who should they meet down there but Frankenstein’s Monster?

I know this is going to be difficult to believe, but from his point on the plot actually gets even sillier. There are blood transfusions, attempts to revivify Frankenstein’s Monster, mysterious murders (hardly surprising considering the kind of practice Dr Edelmann runs) and of course the obligatory mob of torch-bearing villagers bent on killing someone. Anyone will do.

Lon Chaney jnr tries to give his performance some dignity, but it’s a forlorn hope. John Carridine proves to be the most boring Dracula in screen history.

There’s no suspense, no horror, no mystery. Mercifully there’s also not a huge amount of comic relief. Perhaps because any kind of comic relief woud simply accentuate the silliness of the whole project.

This movie simply reeks of the contempt in which Universal held its horror audience by this time.

After this you might think Universal couldn’t sink any lower, but that would be a serious underestimate of the studio’s cynicism. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was yet to come.

The amazing thing is that The House of Dracula has actually been rather nicely restored. Why anyone would have bothered is utterly beyond me. So many great movies have been lost over the years, which is even more heart-breaking when you consider that stuff like this has survived. It’s not scary, it’s not funny, it’s not campy, it’s just a sad waste of celluloid.

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