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‘House of Frankenstein’ was the original Monster Mash-up

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Film Society is hosting a cinematic monster mash Tuesday with a screening of “House of Frankenstein.”

The screening begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26 at the New Ulm Public Library. The screening is free to the public.

“House of Frankenstein” was released in 1944 and is famous for being the first film by Universal Pictures to team up three of its big-name movie monsters. The plot to “House of Frankenstein” involves a mad doctor, played by Boris Karloff, who escapes from prison and uses Count Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster to exact revenge against his enemies.

The overall plot of the film is the least important part of the movie. Contemporary and modern-day critics agree, with “House of Frankenstein” the strength of the film is not the story, but the appeal of getting three iconic monsters on the same screen.

“House of Frankenstein” was a continuation of Universal’s Horror brand. The film studio had been producing regularly for over a decade. The studio was synonymous with horror movies throughout the 1930s and was a financial success for Universal. By the 1940s, Universal realized if audiences liked to see a movie with a single monster, they might be more willing to attend a film with multiple monsters.

The studio’s first experiment with combining monsters was 1943s “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man,” with “House of Frankenstein” picking up where that film ended and adding Dracula to the mix.

This technically makes “House of Frankenstein” a sequel to the Dracula movies as well. However, the connection to previous Dracula films is tenuous as the role was recast for this film. Bela Lugosi had originated the role for Universal, but other actors took over the role for the subsequent film. In “House of Frankenstein” John Carradine plays the vampire.

Dracula was not the only character to be recast. Frankenstein’s monster was also recast, this time played by Glenn Strange. Boris Karloff, who first played the monster, chose to play the mad Dr. Gustav Nieman instead. Original Wolf Man actor Lon Chaney Jr. did return for this movie, playing the werewolf for the third time.

The constant switching of actors was another fun feature of the Universal Horror films. The studio had developed an impressive stable of actors they could reuse across films. The swapping of roles allowed several performers to show off their range as actors.

“House of Frankenstein” was another success for Universal Pictures. Most critics at the time acknowledged the overall plot was ridiculous and the horror was minimal, but it was enjoyable to see all three iconic characters on the same screen. Seeing Karloff, Chaney and Carradine act together was worth the price of admission.

Over 70 years after its release, “House of Frankenstein” retains its novelty. The film also set a precedence that is still impacting film to this day. “House of Frankenstein” kickstarted the concept of the “cinematic universe.”

A cinematic universe is a collection of films that exist in the same continuity. By placing all three monsters in the same film, Universal Pictures established that all their Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolfman movies took place in the same continuity. This further implied every horror film produced by the studio was part of the same ongoing story.

Universal ran with this idea. After the success of “House of Frankenstein” other monster collaborations followed. “House of Dracula” was a direct sequel. Abbott and Costello would later meet Frankenstein as well as the other monsters.

Today, Cinematic Universes are a popular trend in Hollywood, with most studios trying to create their shared universe of films. Universal Pictures is even trying to resurrect their original cinematic universe. Until they succeed, the audience still has the original horror collaborations like “House of Frankenstein”.

The New Ulm Film Society will start the screening of “House of Frankenstein” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Film Society members will provide additional information on the movie before and after the screening.

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