If one watches long-running TV series, one can easily discern signs of desperation. The introduction of prominent new characters offers one piece of evidence; the inclusion of new children provides particularly strong proof.
Possibly even more telling is the use of “crossover” appearances. By this I mean that a character from another program shows up somewhere else, hopefully for the benefit of both, like when Samantha from Bewitched guested on The Flintstones. However, it’s usually to the detriment of both, for it makes the recipient look more pathetic, and the series from which the character came appears weak by association.
Sometimes different elements are thrown together out of sheer desperation from both camps. It’s a “more is better” tone that feels if people like “A” or “B” alone, they should love “A” and “B” together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work, as the projects simply come across as scattered and sad.
In that vein, I greet the two films on this Universal “Classic Monsters” DVD. Both connect a mix of different characters who had succeeded alone, though only the first film makes this clear from its title. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man pulls no punches; right off the bat, we know what to expect. However, anyone who anticipates an all-out collaboration between the two famous monsters will feel disappointed with the results.
At the end of 1941’s The Wolf Man, we believed that the titular dude, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) died from a gunshot wound. Of course, nothing works that easily in the world of the Universal Monsters; reports of his demise were greatly overstated. Grave robbers infiltrate the Talbot tomb, but they don’t last very long. Quickly we learn that Wolfie’s back in the pack, and on the attack!
Unlike horrific brethren such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy, Larry feels unhappy with his plight, and he desires a final solution. He believes that the work of Dr. Frankenstein will cure him - or at least kill him - so he attempts to locate the records of the bad doctor’s experiments. Aided by Dr. Frank Mannering (Patric Knowles) and gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), a retread from The Wolf Man, Talbot seeks out Frankenstein’s diary to learn how to rid himself of his curse. They also locate the frozen body of Frankenstein’s monster, here portrayed by Bela Lugosi. All of this inevitably leads to a battle between the titular critters, with catastrophic results.
Unfortunately, those scenes were too little, too late. Actually, Meets started pretty well. The early Wolf Man attack sequences displayed a fine sense of style and terror, and they led me to believe that the film might show some signs of life. However, once the quest for Frankenstein’s diary began, the movie quickly became drab and lifeless. Talbot’s whining gets old after a while, and Chaney did little to endear himself to the viewer.
This meant that we saw too much talk, not enough rock. Once the characters’ path was set toward finding the cure, the movie concerned itself much more with that exercise than it did good old-fashioned action. Any movie that touts itself with this sort of title really needs to provide lots of fight sequences, but those were few and far between during Meets.
After all, isn’t that really what we want from this kind of crossover flick? The idea provides the temptation to see a battle royale between two classic monsters, but the results lacked any form of excitement or drama. As such, the movie was a disappointment. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man had enough going for it to stand as an average monster film, but it failed to rise above that level, and it felt like a pretty drab exercise for the most part.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the DVD provided an acceptable but unspectacular picture.
Sharpness offered one of the movie’s strongest aspects. Throughout the film, it looked nicely crisp and detailed. I saw very few instances of softness, and the presentation also lacked noticeable moiré effects or jagged edges. Black levels came across as fairly deep and rich, and shadow detail generally appeared clear and appropriately opaque, though a few shots seemed to be moderately heavy.
Where the image demonstrated the greatest problems related to print flaws, which often became awfully heavy. Grain appeared through the film, and I also saw scads of speckles. In addition, frames jumped at times - most notably during the opening credits - and examples of small hairs, scratches, streaks, and other blemishes marred the presentation. Without these, Meets would have been a fairly strong picture, but as it stood, it earned only a “C”.
Even weaker was the monaural soundtrack of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Speech seemed sibilant and brittle much of the time, and definite edginess affected the dialogue. The lines remained intelligible, but the roughness could make it tough to listen to them. Music was moderately heavy and dense, without much brightness, while effects seemed to be flat but acceptably clear. A loud pop occurred during the opening credits, and additional noise cropped up through the movie, usually in the form of quieter snaps and crackling. For its age, the soundtrack wasn’t terrible, but it seemed to be somewhat below average nonetheless.
The supplements found of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man match up closely with those found on the other Universal Monster double feature DVDs. We get the film’s trailer plus some good text Production Notes. In addition, we find Cast and Filmmakers biographies of director Roy William Neill and actors Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Patric Knowles, Ilona Massey, Dennis Hoey, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Lionel Atwill. Those offer short but decent looks at their careers.
Picture/Sound/Extras: House of Frankenstein C-/D/D-
You can’t keep a good monster down, so it’s virtually impossible to negate the powers of two of them. Despite their apparent demise at the end of Meets, both Wolfie and Frankie appear to remain among the walking, for they’re back in House of Frankenstein.
However, it takes us a while to get to them. Instead, the movie initially focuses on a mad scientist named Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff). Jailed for his unpleasant experiments, Niemann escapes from prison when a lightening bolt happens to destroy the joint. Along with hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish), Niemann sets out to wreak revenge on all those who harmed him.
Basically this quest for vengeance forms the film’s plot. Niemann murders a traveling sideshow operator named Lampini and pretends to be him. Lampini’s prime attraction? A skeleton alleged to be that of Count Dracula (John Carradine). Needless to say, the world’s most famous bloodsucker soon returns to life, though he makes only a brief appearance in the film.
After that, Niemann heads to the remains of Frankenstein’s castle, where he plans to pick up of those experiments. Daniel digs this idea, for he wants to have his brain placed inside a more appealing body, especially since he lusts after sexy gypsy babe Ilonka (Elena Verdugo). However, she likes someone else; along the ride, they meet Larry “The Wolf Man” Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and she instantly tries to hook up with him.
They also find the frozen monster created by Frankenstein (now played by Glenn Strange), and he gets revived. Ironically, this creature may lend his name to the title, but he plays the smallest role in the flick. Niemann is the main character, while Daniel comes in second and Talbot third. The Dracula subplot was totally gratuitous and useless, though I did think Rita Hussman (Anne Gwynne) was a true babe, and she provided a good performance as well; she deserved more screen time.
Really, much of House repeated material seen in Meets, but despite its incoherent nature, I thought House was the more satisfying film. Largely that occurred because of Karloff. He was easily the finest actor of the monster portrayers seen over the years; Lugosi and Chaney weren’t fit to carry his neck bolts. He added a nicely demented and commanding tone to Niemann that made the stereotypical mad scientist character become more satisfying.
Also, House simply seemed more fun than did Meets. The latter felt long-winded and unexciting, whereas the former managed to provide scads of random terror and violence. Neither film bothered with a coherent plot, but at least House conjured up some interesting action scenes. It delivered much of what we want from this kind of “jack of all trades” flick, though the all-inclusive nature meant that it wouldn’t achieve greatness.
House of Frankenstein was undeniably one of the silliest of the monster flicks, as it placed the creatures in tremendously contrived circumstances just so we’d get more of them. Nonetheless, the movie offered a fair amount of fun material. None of it made sense, and a Dracula detour seemed actively distracting; a weak performance from John Carradine as the Count didn’t help. Despite that misstep, House provided a decent little horror excursion in spite of itself.
House of Frankenstein appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture of Meets seemed disappointing, House showed further declines, as it provided a generally problematic image.
Sharpness usually seemed to be fairly good, as most of the movie looked nicely crisp and detailed. A little softness popped up at times, but for the most part, the film was distinct and clear. No discernible moiré effects or jagged edges appeared, but some light edge enhancement marred the presentation.
Black levels usually seemed deep and rich, but sometimes they came across as drab and flat. Shadow detail showed similar inconsistency. Many scenes displayed solid accuracy, but others - particularly exteriors - appeared somewhat muddy and murky. At times the movie looked washed-out and pale.
Not surprisingly, print flaws caused the majority of concerns. Light grain cropped up throughout the film, and examples of scratches, speckles, blotches and other defects also appeared. These didn’t seem as heavy as the ones seen during Meets, but when mixed with the other issues, my overall grade dropped to a “C-“.
Even more problematic was the monaural soundtrack of House of Frankenstein, which offered a muddled track largely due to a background hum. That buzzing occurred throughout much of the film, and it sounded rather heavy and intrusive most of the time. In addition, I heard popping and crackling throughout the film.
Underneath the noise, speech sounded thin and brittle, with mild edginess. However, dialogue remained acceptably intelligible. Music and effects also appeared flat and lifeless, and they displayed lackluster dynamic range. While those aspects of the track didn’t come as a surprise - many mixes from the era show similar concerns - the heaviness of the background noise did seem much more problematic. As such, the track as a whole was a mess and only merited a “D”.
The supplements of House of Frankenstein strongly echo those found with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and all the other double features. We find the movie’s trailer and additional solid text Production Notes. Yup, more Cast and Filmmakers biographies appear as well; we get entries for director Erle C. Kenton and actors Boris Karloff, John Carradine, J. Carrol Naish, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Elena Verdugo, Lionel Atwill and Lon Chaney, Jr. These remain short but interesting.
With Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein, the Frankenstein series became gimmicky. Despite the silliness inherent in these crossover flicks, both remained acceptably entertaining. Meets was a bit of a dud at times, while House offered a more fun experience, but both seemed to be generally decent.
However, neither provided picture quality that appeared better than passable, and their soundtracks could be quite weak. Extras remained skimpy, as was the case with all the double feature DVDs. Ultimately, this DVD should prove interesting to big fans of the monster series, but the moderate weakness of the movies themselves combined with the fairly poor quality of the presentations means that others should probably skip it.