Greetings from the Edge!
This has been a year of anniversaries here on the Edge, and this week’s classic fright is no exception as we take a look at Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman just in time for its 75th anniversary. Well, I know that the traditional gift for a 75th anniversary is diamonds but I may just have to substitute silver ( bullets that is! ) if this grandpappy of versus movies hasn’t held up after all this time. Let’s see if Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman can capture the magic that has been so sorely lacking from the modern attempts to create a “Dark Universe” shared world with movies like the 2017 box office disaster The Mummy starring Tom Cruise.
Starring the ever hangdog Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence Talbot and his hirsute alter ego the Wolfman, Patric Knowles as Dr. Frank Mannering the conscientious but woefully out of his depth medico, Bela Lugosi as The Monster ( a roll he earlier turned down, to his regret, to Boris Karloff ), and Ilona Massey as the mysterious and beautiful Baroness Elsa Frankenstein.
The movie opens with two grave robbers deciding to despoil the family crypt of the Talbot’s and managing to revive Lawrence Talbot. The angry werewolf seems have really wanted a few more years resting in peace and things go badly for the lead robber.
Soon Lawrence is hospitalized by the well meaning Dr. Mannering and events are set into motion. Lawrence goes on a quest seeking a final death and release from the curse of lycanthropy. Along the way, he will enlist the aid of Maleva the gypsy, who’s son inflicted the curse on him, the granddaughter of the original Baron Frankenstein, and the Monster itself.
Will Lawrence finally find peace, or will he unleash not only the terror of the werewolf but of Frankenstein’s Monster itself on an unsuspecting world?
For the 1940’s, the effects in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman were undoubtedly impressive and, even today, they hold up remarkably well. Between the transition effects, the miniatures, and the set design, they are the highlight of the film.
I especially liked the Wolfman’s design and the sets are nicely gothic. The Monster, on the other hand, is sadly reduced. I don’t know if they simplified the makeup for Lugosi or if he just doesn’t carry it off as well as Karloff, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment. The fact that the Monster appears in the film for about five minutes in total doesn’t do much to help.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman does have something I sorely miss in many modern films, and that’s proper lighting. It is nice to be able to actually see the sets and characters in a film instead of peering into the gloom and trying to make out what’s going on. I think I can deal with black and white cinematography better than I can too many color filters and not enough scene lighting.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman shows its origins a bit too much to make a pretense of originality. The first part of the film is almost The Wolfman in miniature, and the later half seems rushed and disjointed.
I can’t help but feel that this is because all of Bela Lugosi’s lines as the Monster were cut after fears that his world-dominating rhetoric would bring Adolf Hitler too much to mind for the audience ( who we were having a little spat with at the time later called WWII ), which leads to a number of plot holes.
Chief of which was the fact that, although the Monster is still blind after having the brain of Ygor transplanted into it during the events of Ghost of Frankenstein, it is never explained in the movie itself, though it is in the screenplay. This leads to the Monster having the stiff legged, arms outstretched walk that has become associated with the Frankenstein Monster even today. Sadly, we never got “Frankenstein’s Monster receives corneal transplants” or at least “Frankenstein’s Monster gets a seeing eye dog and some much needed occupational therapy.”
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman was fun for me, but I’m a classic horror cinema fan and I’m at least self-aware enough to see how those that aren’t might find it a little slow ( even if it clocks in at just under 75 minutes ) and suffering from having all of Bela Lugosi’s lines cut from the film.
I’d still say that it’s a more coherent and well put together film than last year’s sorry The Mummy reboot. So unless you’re a classic horror fan, you’ll probably want to give Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman a pass, although it’s a great movie to put on when you have a few friends over for a night of frosty drinks and riffing.
I will say, if you’ve got a real hankering for some classic Universal Horror, start with the best and, in my opinion, it doesn’t get any better than the 1932 Mummy starring Boris Karloff in a role he pulls off so well it puts his Frankenstein’s Monster to shame.
And considering that the The Mummy is well within the public domain, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a look for yourself: https://archive.org/details/TheMummy1932_201705
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention a little 1940’s style censorship that made me chuckle. After having transformed into a werewolf while in the hospital and going forth into the night to kill a policeman on patrol, Lawrence returns to the hospital and passes out. When he is found in the morning, he is sprawled out over his hospital bed… in pajamas. I just love the mental image of a wild, snarling Wolfman neatly undressing and changing into fresh pajamas before tucking himself in. I know it was supposed to be a more civilized time ( y’know, besides the racism, sexism, genocide, and world war ), but I don’t know if that extends to throat-ripping lycanthropes.
Next week on the Edge, I’ll be opening The Gate just in time for its Blu-ray release. What happens when you mix demonic forces, heavy metal backmasking, unsupervised tweens, and amateur rocketry? I don’t know, but it sounds like a party to me!