House of Frankenstein (1944) opens with Dr. Neimann in prison. After attempting to choke a guard he befriends fellow prisoner Daniel. Neimann explains his experiments, promising to cure Daniel's hunched back. After escaping, the pair find a caravan of horrors claiming to possess the skeleton of Dracula. Daniel kills the owner and take his place. Dr. Neimann revives Dracula, who is soon destroyed when exposed to sunlight during a chase with authorities. Neimann recovers the frozen bodies of the Wolf Man and the Monster from beneath the ruins of Frankenstein's castle. Newly thawed Larry agrees to help recover Frankenstein's old records in return for a cure for the curse of the werewolf. The group travels to Neimann's home town after saving Illonca. Men go missing as a result of Dr. Neimann seeking revenge against them and Larry's uncontrolled violence. Townspeople are alerted, a search party forms. Dr. Neimann re-animates the monster using electricity. Ilonca and Larry form a romantic attachment after Illonca rejects Daniel's advances. Larry seeks death after Neimann refuses to help him. Illonca kills Larry with a silver bullet when he transforms and attacks her. Illonca also dies. In response to her death, Daniel attempts to strangle Neimann. The monster awakens to this violence and breaks free from his restraints. He throws Daniel from a window to his death. Neimann is injured, so the monster drags him away from the flaming torches of an assembled mob. The monster drags Neimann into quicksand, where the last images of the film show Dr. Neimann's last breaths before he is completely submerged in black liquid.
Daniel and the MonsterEdit
Daniel is portrayed sympathetically in this film, as seen when he saves the gypsy girl Ilonca from her abusive master. He then makes romantic overtures towards her; she rejects him immediately at the sight of his physical deformity, his hunched back. This moment in Kenton's House of Frankenstein (1944) evokes parallels between Daniel's experience of rejection and the suffering of the monster in the source narrative. When the monster interacts with people in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, they immediately reject him based on his horrifying appearance. He says: "the unnatural hideousness of my person was the chief object of horror with those who had formerly beheld me." (Shelley, 101) Both the monster in Frankenstein and Daniel in the film House of Frankenstein (1944) seek social interaction and are spurned because of their appearance, not because they demonstrate particularly evil intentions.Daniel murders multiple people in House of Frankenstein (1944); similarly, the monster in the novel Franenstein by Mary Shelley commits numerous murders. Despit this, both are at least somewhat sympathetic characters. The monster turns against Victor after he refuses to participate in creating a female counterpart. Dr. Neimann also refuses to follow through with the promise to heal Daniel's disfigured body. He had said: "My friend, I'll make you an Adonis." (Kenton, House of Frankenstein 1944) Neimann's failure to fulfil the promise to make Daniel physically normal results in romantic rejection; this parallels the broken promise of Victor to provide the monster a female companion in the source text. The monster's longing for a female counterpart can be seen when he says :"But it was all a dream: no Eve soothed my sorrows, or shared my thoughts; I was alone." (Shelley, 100) Both Daniel and the monster long for romantic attachment and companionship but despite their efforts remain isolated. The broken promises in the source text and in this film adaptation result in the loss of potential romantic attachment, and in the betrayed party seeking revenge on the scientist who refused to help them.
Potential Romantic Companion KilledEdit
In the film House of Frankenstein, Ilonca dies after a struggle with the Wolf Man. Daniel responds to this with a display of grief and violence, attempting to murder Dr. Neimann. This expression of grief coincides with anger due to the realization that Neimann never intended to cure him of his deformity. In the source text the monster reacts similarly after witnessing Victor destroy the body of the female monster. Victor describes the scene: "The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and, with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew." (Shelley 130) The monster also swears to get revenge on Victor at this point in response to the betrayal of this broken promise. This moment in the source text is strongly echoed in House of Frankenstein (1944) after Ilonca dies. Daniel reacts with anguish, screaming as he attacks Dr. Niemann. Both Daniel and the monster in the source novel are betrayed by the scientists who promised to perform procedures which would have ended their isolation and possibly lead to romance; for Daniel this was surgery on his own body, while for the monster it was the creation of a female counterpart.
Use of SpeechEdit
Another parallel between Daniel and the monster of the source narrative is the use of speech. Shelley's monster was capable of eloquent expression, allowing the reader to sympathize with his experience: "I am solitary and detested." (Shelley, 99) Likewise Daniel in House of Frankenstein (1944) is sympathetic partially based on his ability to speak. He verbally expresses compassion and longing towards Ilonca which is unrequited, and despite committing murders in the film, he is characterized sympathetically. This differs markedly from the monster in this film adaptation, which is briefly animated, never speaks and is not apparently intelligent. He has little depth of character in the film. This contrasts with the monster in the source text, who is able to express: "I required kindness and sympathy; but I did not believe myself utterly unworthy of it." (Shelley, 100) In this sense Daniel in House of Frankenstein (1944) is more evocative of the monster from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; much more so than the silent, apparently unintelligent monster shown in the film adaptation. Although Daniel is not a Frankenstein's monster in the film, he seems to display important traits that characterize the monster from the source text, which made him a more complex and deep figure. Many other film adaptations change or ignore these qualities that gave the monster of the source text depth and sympathy as well as outsider status.
Virtually all the major characters die by the conclusion of the film. Dracula dies relatively early on, after being exposed to sunlight. Ilonca kills the Wolf Man with a silver bullet in order to 'set him free' of his curse, and is fatally wounded in the process. Daniel attacks Dr. Neimann in grief at her death and on the realization that Dr. Neimann never inteded to help him cure the cause of his isolation; the monster wakes at this moment and throws Daniel out of the window to his death. The monster drags the injured Neimann into a pit of quicksand in the process of trying to save him from the familiar angry fire-wielding mob. The last shots of the film are Neimann's face gulping last breaths before being totally swallowed by the muck.
The fact that all of the major characters die during the course of the film could be seen as a cheap plot resolution typical of a "B" movie. However, this conclusion also echoes the source narrative, where almost all major characters die. One notable difference between the two in terms of this outcome is that in the film House of Frankenstein (1944) we see the monster explicitly go under, drowning before Neimann's face disappears. In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley most of the major characters are dead, and the monster assures Captain Walton that he will immolate himself. (Shelley 179) However the reader does not 'witness' this death directly, deciding for themselves whether to believe or disbleieve the monster. Despite this difference, this film is a closer parallel with the source text than many other film adaptations, where a tragic ending with major characters not usually shown. The film is clearly not an attempt to follow the source narrative closely; yet these similarities or echoes are significant themes and elements of the source text which almost surprisingly persist in this film adaptation.
House of Frankenstein (1944) was considered a "B" film by most critics, with a rotten tomatoes rating of 55% from critics. (RottenTomatoes ) Variety commented: "Karloff is the usual menace in the lead role of the scientist, with Naish particularly well cast as the hunchback." (Variety ) Ken Hanke disparaged Naish's performance: ".. but far worse than that was the even whinier J. Carrol Naish as Karloff's hunchback assistant. He actually almost makes Chaney seem bearable... This is also the film where the Frankenstein Monster becomes nothing more than a prop." (Hanke, Ken ) Reviewers generally praised the return of Boris Karloff.
House of Frankenstein (1944) stars Boris Karloff as the mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann. Karloff is most well known for previously portraying the monster in the 1931 James Whale film Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Rowland Lee's Son of Frankenstein (1939), making his portrayal of the scientist into a role reversal of a sorts. This is notable when he finally re-animates the monster. Here the actor who is best remembered for his iconic role as the monster is seen as coming face to face with 'himself,' the counterpart monster in the film. This uncanny moment continues as the monster drags Niemann away from the mob, drowning them both in a pool of quicksand. Boris Karloff being 'killed' as Neimann specifically by the monster seems to resonate 'beyond the fourth wall' somewhat to viewers who are aware of Karloff's previous role. Dr. Neimann's face gulping for air in the final frames of the film as he finally sinks below the black surface, pulled down by the monster, is a compelling moment for viewers.
When Dracula transforms into a bat, killing a man as a shadow on the wall, it appears similar to the moment from Son of Frankenstein (1939) when Ygor uses the monster to kill the apothecary. The monster is also shown via a shadow on the wall killing the man, who is sitting/sleeping in his chair. Similarly in House of Frankenstein (1944) Dracula kills a man who is seated at a desk, shown via outlines of shadow cast on the wall.
In the aticle "Fooling with Mother Nature," Gaylin Willard writes of Frankenstein adaptations: "we have somehow or other switched identities. We have lost our identification with Dr. Frankenstein and now identify with the monster. Perhaps that is an overstatement. Perhaps the real dilemma is that we now identify with both." (18 Gaylin Willard) The film portrays the hunchback Daniel as more sympathetic than the conniving and almost purely evil Dr. Neimann. This is a reversal from the previous Universal films, where the scientists were portrayed more positively while the hunchback Ygor character was the principle villain of the films. This is a development in the sense that Willard describes; Daniel is much more sympathetic despite having a physical deformity and murdering a number of people, while the scientist obsessed with following Frankenstein in his scientific emperiments is the most evil character.
Many film adaptations show the monster as silent or brutish. The monster in the film adaptation House of Frankenstein (1944) is an example of this silent lumbering motif, with a relatively small role in the fim. The James Whale film Frankenstein (1931) shows a more sympathetic monster despite his silence, thanks in part to Boris Karloff's impressive nonverbal acting ability. Karloff replaced eloquent speech with evocative but silent gestures. Kenton's previous film, Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) depicted a silent monster that is mostly powerless, subject to the whims of the intelligent but evil Ygor character. In House of Frankenstein (1944) the monster is further reduced in importance by not only having little intelligence, but also being almost removed from depiction the plot entirely, only being awakened or re-animated at the end of the film.
In his article on the character of mad scientists, “The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science ,” Christopher Toumey writes: "Subsequent monster-resuscitators in the Universal series were... Dr. Gustav Niemann (lunatic and grave robber) in House of Frankenstein... All were either evil from the beginning, or they quickly sank into depravity when scientific glory seduced them." (Toumey, Christopher 427 ) This critique of the role of mad scientists coincides with the way Dr. Neimann is portrayed as the principal villain of the film, whereas in previous Universal film adaptations scientists like Wolf and Ludwig were portrayed as morally good while the villain was the Ygor character. This film is more harsh in it's presentation of the scientist and reverses the role of the hunchback, transforming him from the evil Ygor to the sympathetic Daniel.
House of Frankenstein (1944). Dir. Erle C. Kenton. Perf. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, Glenn Strange, Elena Verdugo and John Carradine. Universal Studios, 1944. DVD.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. 2nd ed. N.p.: Pearson, n.d. Print.
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