Classic Monster Team-Ups

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – 1948, US, 83m. Director: Charles Barton. Streaming: N/A

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man – 1943, US, 73m. Director: Roy William Neill. Streaming: Peacock

House of Frankenstein – 1944, US, 71m. Director: Erle C. Kenton. Streaming: N/A

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) Two bungling baggage handlers in the form of radio and television stars Bud Abbott and Lou Costello get wrapped in a supernatural plot involving Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man. Abbott and Costello—here called Chick and Wilbur—intercept two crates containing the bodies of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Glenn Strange) en route to a wax museum called McDougal’s House of Horrors. Chick and Wilbur are told by Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) that Dracula wants to steal his brain and implant it in Frankenstein’s Monster and requests the two lug nuts help him foil Dracula’s plan. Perhaps the best of the Universal Monster team-ups, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a towering achievement because it works as both a horror flick and a comedy—it never feels as if the filmmakers, or Abbott and Costello themselves, are making fun of the characters. They’re not laughing at them but with them, and believe me, folks—there’s a difference! In many ways this is a better monster movie than many of the legitimate horror releases that came before it, and it delivers the monster action in spades, especially during its breathlessly paced final fifteen minutes. The last-minute surprise appearance by another famous character will leave you in stitches. A must-see for any monster lover. A

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) The first of Universal’s Wolf Man sequels (but the fourth for Frankenstein), this picks up four years after the events of The Wolf Man (1941) with sad sack, and presumably dead, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) being resurrected from his coffin when a couple of dimwitted grave robbers remove the bedding of wolf’s bane. Talbot, still unhappy to be saddled with his curse, seeks help from Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), whose son was the werewolf which turned Talbot into a monster. Believing Dr. Frankenstein can put Talbot to death permanently, Maleva brings Talbot to the doctor’s castle, where they discovers the body of the Creature (Bela Lugosi) beneath the ruins of the place. One of the first of the monster mash-ups that were popular in the forties—the trend would peak with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948—and featuring a terrific turn by Chaney Jr., who only hinted at his potential in the original film. Unfortunately, Lugosi’s reputation precedes him in a performance that displays his obvious discomfort in the role of the Creature. To be fair, however, Lugosi’s overuse of outstretched arms is because of story continuity error—this version of the Creature was originally written as being blind, an element later excised from the finished film. Despite its limitations, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is a whole lotta fun and delivers plenty of monster mayhem for the avid fan. B+

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) Boris Karloff returns to the Frankenstein universe, not as the Monster but as murderous scientist Gustav Niemann, who after escaping from prison promises his deformed assistant, Daniel (J. Carrol Naish, later stepping into the role of Dr. Frankenstein in the Al Adamson crap classic Dracula vs. Frankenstein), a new body by using Dr. Frankenstein’s formula for creating life. This plan is really a ruse for Niemann to exact revenge on the people who put the doctor in jail for grave robbery years earlier—his devious plot is to give the men who testified against him Lawrence Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr.) werewolf curse. Talbot, along with Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), are exhumed from the rubble of Castle Frankenstein (which was destroyed at the end of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) and with the help of gypsy woman, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), undergo Niemann’s experiments so they’ll come under his control. Ilonka eventually falls in love with Talbot, which sends the smitten Daniel into a jealous rage. Dracula (John Carradine) makes a brief appearance early on and offers the film the most excitement in the form of a spectacular carriage chase. Talbot’s ongoing moping over his werewolf curse continues, but here it’s not as interesting, or as fleshed out, as in the previous Wolf Man sagas. House of Frankenstein has the dubious feeling of being nothing more than a flashy byproduct of ideas stitched together from other movies. But for most of its short runtime, the movie is a welcoming way of passing the time, especially for the monster maniac. B

More Horror Classics—Dracula’s Daughter, The Raven, and Werewolf of London

Dracula’s Daughter – 1936, US, 71m. Director: Lambert Hillyer. Streaming: Peacock

The Raven – 1935, US, 61m. Director: Lew Landers. Streaming: Peacock

Werewolf of London – 1935, US, 75m. Director: Stuart Walker. Streaming: Peacock

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) In the aftermath of Dracula’s demise at the end of Dracula (1931), Prof. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is arrested for the murders of both the Count and Renfield. That same night, a mysterious woman by the name of Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) steals Dracula’s corpse from Scotland Yard and burns the body. All this seems strange until we find out the Countess is a vampire—presumably Dracula’s flesh and blood daughter—and destroying the Count’s body by fire has extinguished her own vampirism. The trick doesn’t seem to work, as Zaleska chows down on a nearby drunkard before retreating to her coffin by the break of dawn. Meanwhile, the disappearance of Dracula’s body results in Van Helsing’s release from police custody (the script never bothers to explain the absence of Mina Seward and John Harker, both of whom were witness to Dracula’s reign of terror in the previous film). Dracula’s Daughter lays on the metaphors thick and fast, with its lesbian subtext being a particularly favorite topic among film scholars, although thematically Zaleska’s sexuality is less important than her need for blood, which the movie back-burners quite substantially. The film never feels like part of the Dracula canon—until the final ten minutes when Zaleska abducts the girlfriend of a shrink (Otto Kruger), taking her back to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. In the end, Zaleska is betrayed by her manservant (Irving Pichel) and succumbs to her inevitable (at least within the context of these films) departure from the world of the living. Lugosi’s absence is a large detractor. C+

THE RAVEN (1935) Revered surgeon Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) is brought out of retirement to do emergency surgery on the daughter (Irene Ware) of prominent Judge Thatcher (Samuel S. Hinds). Vollin ultimately falls in love with the young woman—to the distaste of her father, who expresses his concerns and reminds Vollin of his daughter’s engagement to another man. Unfortunately for Judge Thatcher, Vollin is a madman who keeps homemade torture devices inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe in his underground dungeon. Vollin’s favorite torture method is the infamous pit and pendulum device, to which he straps Thatcher with the aid of his hapless “henchman” (Boris Karloff), an escaped convict Vollin has blackmailed into servitude. Lugosi and Karloff work well together, and the Torture Museum finale is quite the hoot. Coming in at just over an hour, The Raven is an enjoyable bit of B&W horror. B

WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) While searching for a rare flower which only grows in the wilds of Tibet, botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is bitten by a werewolf. The scientist returns home with flower in hand in order to study the plant’s mysterious properties. Wilfred’s work proves fruitless when he’s transformed into a wolf and goes about terrorizing London’s upper crust (after one high society heiress witnesses the werewolf climbing in through her bedroom window, she’s dismissed as being drunk). The sight of Wilfred-as-werewolf running around the streets at night should be exciting, but a lack of truly likable characters creates a roadblock for the viewer, leaving us unable to care much about what happens to anybody; unlike The Wolf Man‘s Lawrence Talbot, Wilfred Glendon is cold and unsympathetic. But the film is skillfully directed and nicely paced, building to a genuinely fun climax. In the annals of werewolf movies, Werewolf of London isn’t the best—but it’s nowhere near the worst. B

Horror Classics—The Curse of Frankenstein, The Curse of the Werewolf, and Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein – 1957, UK, 83m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: Max

The Curse of the Werewolf – 1961, UK, 93m. Director: Terence Fischer. Streaming: Peacock

Frankenstein – 1931, US, 70m. Director: James Whale. Streaming: Peacock

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) Hammer Films’ first venture into the Frankensteinverse, this colorful (and loose) adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel brought Gothic horror back from the dead. In his desperation to create life, the cold-hearted Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) commits diabolical acts of grave robbery, mutilation, and murder. When he’s not cutting up bodies and playing with brains, Frankenstein is screwing his pretty maid (Valerie Gaunt), who unwisely threatens Victor with blackmail when he refuses to marry her—an act which seals her fate at the hands of Frankenstein’s latest creation: a hideously deformed monster (Christopher Lee) with a damaged mind. A particularly gruesome (especially for its day) version of the tale, Curse of Frankenstein sidesteps all of the book’s metaphorical subtext—although Frankenstein’s close relationship with his teacher-turned-best friend (Robert Urquhard) has a questionable gay undercurrent—and delivers the horror in eye-popping clarity. Cushing and Lee are both in fine form, the pacing is fast, and the action exciting. Highly recommended for the Frankenstein aficionado. Followed by whole slew of sequels. B+

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) A tyrannical 18th century marques (Anthony Dawson), to the distaste of his new bride, keeps a homeless traveler as a pet in his cellar dungeon. As years pass, the old prisoner becomes crazed and eventually rapes the marques’ mute housemaid (Yvonne Romain) who nine months later bears a cursed child born on Christmas Day. The child grows up to be ill-fated Leon Corledo (Oliver Reed), whose curse is the plight of transforming into a fanged beast once the moon is full. This proves disastrous for Leon’s love life when he starts courting the beautiful Cristina (Catherine Fuller) and ends up spending more time munching on the local peasants by moonlight. Leon’s curse eventually consumes him. With the help of his adoptive parents and a priest, he locks himself in a jail cell to try and subdue his werewolfism—a method subsequently used in future werewolf films. But the bloodlust within Leon is too strong as he breaks out in full wolf mode before he and Cristina can run away to be married. Reed is excellent in his star-making role, and the werewolf makeup is first-rate. The script is unfortunately bogged down in needless melodrama, especially during the first act—although once Reed is in his werewolf getup and prowling the hills looking for fresh blood the film is fun enough. In the end, however, the movie never delivers enough werewolf action. B

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) The original creature feature that influenced generations of monster-loving kids and became a staple of classic horror storytelling. Desperate to prove his “old fashioned” professors wrong, egomaniacal Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) creates life in the form of a hideous creature (Boris Karloff) stitched together from the moldy body parts of the recently deceased. Frankenstein’s success quickly erodes when the creature turns out to be a maladjusted, misunderstood killer—culminating with the murder of a little girl at the hands of the monster, which is both shocking and touching. The terrified villagers form an angry mob to hunt down the monster, building to a fantastic climactic battle between creature and creator inside a windmill. Jack P. Pierce’s iconic makeup merges with Karloff’s surprisingly sympathetic—and humane—performance help to make Frankenstein one of the defining horror films of the thirties. Followed by several sequels, many of which don’t feature Karloff. A

The Thing From Another World, The Thing ’82 and ’11

The Thing From Another World – 1951, US, 86m. Director: Christian Nyby. Streaming: Tubi

The Thing – 1982, US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

The Thing – 2011, US, 103m. Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Streaming: Peacock

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) An American scientific research team, isolated in a remote outpost at the North Pole, discover an alien crash site. The ship—and the frozen body of an extraterrestrial—is buried under layers of ice. The creature is quickly exhumed by members of the U.S. Air Force. But bringing it back to the compound proves to be a big mistake when, once thawed, the Thing comes back to life, hungry for human blood. The tall E.T. has a penchant for stringing its human victims upside down and draining them like pigs in an abattoir—a plot point subsequently used in many sci-fi/horror films, including Predator—and its murderous rampage seems unstoppable. A fifties classic, this Howard Hawks production (it’s rumored Hawks himself directed many scenes) was one of the blueprints for the “visiting alien” subgenre (and a subtext for McCarthyism) so prevalent in that decade. The sparse on-screen use of the creature (played by James Arness) plays into the overall effectiveness of the simple story and helps build an atmosphere of tension. The robust score by Dimitri Tiomkin and a fiery finale help to make this Thing a highly memorable scare show. And remember: keep watching the skies! B+

THE THING (1982) Considered a failure upon its initial release, John Carpenter’s modern take on John W. Campbell Jr.’s story, Who Goes There? (and reworking of the 1951 film), is now viewed as a masterwork in eighties special effects storytelling. A more faithful adaptation, this Thing pits a crew of doctors, scientists, and pilots against a parasitic, alien beast at a remote Antarctic research station. Unlike James Arness’s creature from the original, the alien in Carpenter’s film is a nasty and scary creation that can shapeshift into people or animals, ensuring a tense atmosphere of paranoia—and itself inspiring a whole generation of films with a similar theme. Rob Bottin’s jaw-dropping practical FX are the real star of The Thing, but screenwriter Bill Lancaster took care in delivering a tight screenplay with rich, complex characters not usually found in eighties splatter flicks, including Kurt Russell’s antihero, MacReady. Darker in tone (’51’s happy ending is jettisoned here for a bleaker, Reaganesque one), Carpenter’s movie works on all levels and is the rare remake that’s superior to the original. A must-see for any pulp horror aficionado. A

THE THING (2011) Acting as a prequel to the 1982 film, the story centers on the disastrous encounter between the neighboring Norwegian science team and the shapeshifting alien—before Kurt Russell and gang find out for themselves. After discovering the spacecraft and its occupant buried in the ice, the science division brings in American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to identify the creature. Lloyd comes to realize her role is irrelevant to the science team when research leader—and all-around asshole—Dr. Sander Halvorson essentially tells her to speak only when spoken to. The audience comes to a similar conclusion when the film disintegrates into a remake of the earlier movie, in the process becoming a nearly pointless endeavor. It doesn’t help matters much that the filmmakers forgo the two most important elements from Carpenter’s version: the overwhelming atmosphere of paranoia, and Rob Bottin’s masterful make-up FX (here replaced by overused, cheap digital effects that make the creature look too cartoonish). Winstead makes a likable protagonist but unfortunately she doesn’t have much to do besides run and scream. As with the victims in these Thing movies, one can’t help feel this film itself got thinged, and is just a pale imitation of Carpenter’s classic. C

Please follow me on Podbean at The Video Verdict! Our latest episode is on The Thing From Another World and Carpenter’s remake!

Ghostwatch, The Vampire’s Ghost, and White Zombie

GHOSTWATCH (1992) Before The Blair Witch Project came this superlative journey into home video horror, in which the crew of a BBC television series airs a live show from a reportedly haunted house in North London. Real-life TV personality, Sarah Greene, along with her cameramen, spend the night in the small home of the Early family, whose mother (Brid Brennan) claims she and her two daughters (Michelle Wesson and Cherise Wesson) have been continually terrorized by a malignant presence that smells of rotten cabbage. Highly creative and genuinely chilling, Ghostwatch was groundbreaking in its day—and ridiculed when people felt fooled by the “reality” aspect!—and remains an excellent piece of early POV horror. Twenty-plus years after its release, it’s still influencing a new generation of found footage films, including (and most obviously) Paranormal Activity, REC, Lake Mungo, and director Rob Savage, who has stated Ghostwatch was a direct inspiration for his terrific 2020 homage, Host. A pioneering must-see for the found footage fan. A

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (1945) What if Humphrey Bogart’s Rick from Casablanca was a vampire? This is essentially the plot of The Vampire’s Ghost. A curious take on the vampire film, it’s the story of 400-year-old Fallon (John Abbot), who runs a bar in a small African village and begins to grow tired of his blood-drinking ways. When Fallon falls in love with his friend’s gal pal (Peggy Steward), he decides to make her his immortal companion and flee the country. The film follows the typical vampire lore (fangs, crucifixes, etc.), but in an interesting twist, Fallon is presented as more human than vampire, being able to walk in the daylight and, hypnotism aside, can’t transform into a bat or wolf. While not perfect, Vampire’s Ghost is surprisingly good, with an excellent performance by Abbot and a screenplay that focuses more on well-written characters than cheap shocks, feeling inspired more by Val Lewton than Todd Browning. Definitely worth seeking out for the 1940s horror fan. B

WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) Hot off the success of Dracula, Bela Lugosi made several low-budget horror vehicles, but none in that time period—aside from Dracula—have attained the legacy of White Zombie. On his wedding night, a young man (John Harron) is plunged into a nightmare when his new bride (Madge Bellamy) is turned into a mind-controlled zombie by Haitian witch doctor, Murder Legendre (Lugosi). Having originally done the deed for a lovelorn plantation owner (Charles Frazer), Legendre ultimately falls in love with the young woman and takes her for himself to his cliffside abode where his army of zombified servants do his biding. Although often heralded as the first zombie film, White Zombie is more of a supernatural melodrama, and its Dracula inspirations are obvious—mysterious foreign man with powers; damsel-in-distress; cobweb-filled castle, etc. Lugosi’s presence, a dense, almost claustrophobic atmosphere, and a surprisingly violent end help make this a slick, but slight, little flick. B