“Now will you give me my chalk?”
Dr. Gustav Niemann (Boris Karloff) is a mad scientist who is in prison for trying to put a human brain into a dog. His cellmate is a hunchback named Daniel (J. Carrol Naish). A lightning storm causes a cave-in and Niemann and Daniel take the opportunity to escape. They are picked up by a traveling showman named Professor Lampini (George Zucco). Niemann has Daniel murder Lampini so he can use his traveling horror exhibit as cover for his diabolical plan. He wants to kill the men who are responsible for him being put in prison. His first victim is Burgomaster Hussman (Sig Ruman). One of the exhibits in the show is purported to be Dracula. Niemann revives the vampire (John Carradine). He promises to serve Dracula if he kills Hussman. The vampire kills the Burgomaster and then seduces his granddaughter. When Dracula is chased by inspector Arnz (Lionel Atwill), Niemann abandons his coffin. Without protection Dracula is turned to dust by the sunlight.
Niemann and Daniel continue on to find Frankenstein’s castle. At the foot of the castle they find a band of gypsies. Daniel saves a young gypsy woman named Ilonka (Elena Verdugo). He falls in love with her. Niemann is preoccupied with his ideas of revenge. At the castle, Niemann finds both Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange) and Lawrence Talbot, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). They are both preserved in the ice beneath the ruins. Niemann thaws them out. He promises to find Talbot a cure for his curse just like he promised Daniel a new body. Promises he will not keep. In the meantime Ilonka is falling in love with Talbot. Daniel is jealous.
Niemann kidnaps two former associates who gave evidence at his trial. Strauss (Michael Mark) and Ullman (Frank Reicher). He tells them he is going to put one of their brains in the body of the Monster and the other in the body of The Wolfman.
“House of Frankenstein” was released in 1944 and was directed by Erle C. Kenton. It was written by Curt Siodmak who must have had a headache by the time he was done. I can’t help but think that Dracula got the short end of the stick on this one. George Zucco even more so. Horror movie stars are discarded right and left and more are added in this hap-hazard monster stew. Although not the best of movies there is a strange attraction to it even though it is perhaps a little confusing to the brain.
The one thing about piling all your monsters together is each one has a limited amount of screen time. But it’s J. Carrol Naish that shines the brightest here. His portrayal of the love struck hunchback shows his versatility. Although of Irish decent he could play any character and just about any nationality. Although with his dark looks, he’s only played an Irishman once that I know of. Time magazine once referred to him as ‘Hollywood’s one man United Nations’. He’s the kind of actor who, unless you know it’s him, you wouldn’t even know he was in the movie. Between his chameleon looks, his raw talent and his gift for dialects he could do it all.