Title: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Year of Release: 1943
Director: Roy William Neil
Length: 72 mins
Starring: Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr
This is, by my reckoning, is the oldest offering thus far in the #RetView series, which is no bad thing. From the iconic opening scenes of a couple of graverobbers skulking through a cemetery at night during a storm and breaking into a tomb only to get attacked by a rogue werewolf, you just know you’re in for a treat. As the title suggests, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man was kind of a mash-up between two of cinema’s biggest stars of the time, a bit like a formative version of Alien vs Predator. Both Frankenstein’s monster and werewolves have been covered before here. Lots. And lots. But this is where it all started. Or, more precisely, ‘it’ started shortly before this because Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man acts as a combined sequel/spin-off to both The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and the Wolf Man (1941).
It was directed by Irish-born Roy William Neil, who became most famous for his work on the classic Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone made by Universal Studios. The plot follows the luckless werewolf Larry Talbot (Chaney Jr) who, now free of his earthly restraints thanks to those misguide graverobbers, keeps blacking out every time there is a full moon and doing unspeakable things to people, which are then invariably dubbed ‘animal attacks’ by the press, though of course certain figures know the score and are determined to avoid a public panic. One day, he wakes up in a hospital in Cardiff (which would be enough to make anyone question their life choices) prompting a discussion between a Cardiff police inspector and a colleague in Llanwelly which goes something like this:
“Have you got anything in your files on a man named Lawrence Talbot?”
“Of course! He lived here.”
“That’s alright, then. We’ve got him up ‘ere in our hospital.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want him in our hospital. He died four years ago.”
Being a proud Welshman, I have to voice my disappointment that none of these esteemed actors and actresses even attempted a Welsh accent. Everyone sounds like they’re from London. Anyway, there’s another full moon, which sends our mate Larry into a tizz again and he turns into something resembling a Yorkshire Terrier. Unable to live with the guilt, he thinks death is the only way to escape the werewolf curse. He meets a gypsy woman Maleva (Ouspenskaya) who advises him that the only way to stay dead is to confer with Dr. Frankenstein. The doctor himself is long dead but his equipment is in working condition, leading Talbot to team up with scientist Dr. Mannering (Knowles) and Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Massey). Talbot then embarks on a ludicrous attempt to have his life sucked from his body and transferred into that of Frankenstein’s monster (Lugosi) which leads to an almighty rumble, with Talbot in full terrier mode, at Frankenstein’s castle, all of which takes place amid a backdrop of rampaging, torch-carrying villagers hell-bent on sabotaging everything.
The authors of the exhaustive book Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films describe the initial reception to Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman film as “lukewarm,” with many writers and reviewers of the day treating it as a little more than a joke. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that, “There’s only a little tussle at the end. And that only lasts but a moment. They are both washed away during same. Too bad. Not very horrible.” Kate Cameron of The New York Daily News gave the film two-and-a half stars, noting that, “The producers have spent time and money on the production and have gone to considerable trouble to give it the proper atmospheric touches.” Harrison’s Reports wrote: “For those devotees who like their horror pictures strong, this one will fill the bill … The action and the eerie atmosphere conforms to a familiar pattern, but it does not detract from the film’s horrendous nature.”
Elsewhere, Variety magazine said that Siodmak, “delivers a good job of fantastic writing to weave the necessary thriller ingredients into the piece” and Film Daily called it, “A horror feast in which devotees of the weird and the fantastic will gorge themselves to bursting.” A more contemporary piece written by Kim Newman for Empire magazine sums the whole thing up nicely in calling the film, “Silly, but enormous fun.”
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the first of what would become known as the “monster rally films” , was followed by other name-brand film monsters in crossovers such as House of Dracula (1945) before things reached peak absurdity with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein three years later. It is also credited (in particular by Kim Newman) with setting the precedent for future similarly-themed films like King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and even Freddy vs. Jason (2003).
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Universal’s original plan was to have Lon Chaney Jr. (who had played Frankenstein’s monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein) portray both the monster the Wolf Man. The plan was dropped due to concerns that the limited special effects available would not be sufficient. There were also concerns about the physical strain it would place on Chaney to play both parts.