At last we get return to the realms of Frankenstein! Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man holds a special place in my heart, as it was the very first horror movie I ever saw... Previously I'd seen a fair few sci-fi flicks and monster movies, some of which contained a good dose of fear. Like many genre fans out there I'd been terrified by the Morlocks in George Pal's The Time Machine, thrilled by the mutant in This Island Earth, and utterly dazzled by the original King Kong.
Plus Doctor Who at the time (mid 70s) had been providing a weekly dose of terror with serials featuring giant maggots, body snatching spiders, creatures from the deep and all manner of ugly and villainous aliens - and if all that wasn't enough the early Tom Baker stories featured homages to The Quatermass Experiment (The Seeds of Doom), Frankenstein and Donovan's Brain (Brain of Morbius), mummy movies (Pyramids of Mars), and The Phantom of the Opera (Talons of Weng Chiang). And the latter threw in the most sinister murderous ventriloquist's dummy of all time Mr Sin.
All great stuff for the budding horror fan. But I'd not yet seen a proper horror film. At that time in the UK, horror films - even the ancient Universals - were only ever shown late at night, so apart from the stuff mentioned above, the closest I'd got to seeing a pure horror movie was a couple of clips on a TV show about movie history and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (which was deemed suitable for an earlier viewing slot).
However in 1977 that was about to change at a rainy Cub Scout camp. In the usual range of activities, it was announced there was to be a film showing. Now we trooped into the hall expecting something from the Children's Film Foundation stable, as was usually the case in these situations. So imagine my surprise and delight when the lights dimmed and the title Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man hit the screen. Needless to say the movie went down a storm with us Cubs. Partly as this showing had the alluring whiff of contraband about it (remember this was the kind of thing that normally screened way past bedtime and years before the advent of video), but mainly because this movie is just so much fun. And for the rest of the weekend, several hundred small boys were either snarling around trees or lurching about with arms outstretched... I don't know who decided on that choice of movie, but they have my everlasting thanks!
So how does this film hold up now? Well it does exactly what it says on the tin. It's still an awful lot of fun and is hands down my favourite of the last four movies in the series. Though it has it's problems. For a start the first half which focuses on Larry Talbot is far superior to the second - it's well constructed and intriguing but when we discover the Frankenstein monster the script lapses slightly.
Watching the series in order, the first question is how on earth did the Monster end up in an ice cave beneath Castle Frankenstein when at the close of Ghost of Frankenstein he was burning up in miles away in Ludwig's manor? Considering the smooth continuity from The Wolf Man this does jar. Admittedly the studio bosses did monkey about with the film. As you may remember the previous film ended with Igor's brain being transplanted into the Monster's body and discovering he was going blind. Hence for this movie Lugosi logically got the role of the Monster, and the script originally had the monster speaking. However test audiences laughed too much at Lugosi's speechs and so Universal ordered the monster's dialogue to be snipped. So one wonders whether there was a Lugosi speech which told how the Monster came to be frozen. Considering the care Curt Siodmak pays to other aspects of the continuity, I find it hard to imagine he would omit bridging the gap in the story from the previous Frankenstein outing, especially as it was written to be Igor in the Monster's body.
No doubtedly these cuts also damage the movie's plot in other ways. For example, we have Lugosi shambling about with arms outstretched but there is no reference made to the monster being blind. But one also wonders what else was lost; I can't imagine Igor not having another evil scheme up his sleeve. One can only hope that someday the lost footage turns up, as I imagine it will produce a second half that lives up to the first.
However despite the above problems, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is still far superior to its predecessor or its two sequels. Creighton Chaney's impassioned performance really holds the film together and the cinematography has a truly epic gothic vision. It's packed with wonderful set pieces - the atmospheric opening with grave robbers breaking into the Talbot mausoleum, the lavish mittel-European village revels, the climatic final battle of the monsters - to name but three. It may not scale the heights set by the first three Frankenstein movies, or The Wolf Man for that matter, but it does satisfy, delivering creepy thrills and spills and manages to contruct a tale which integrates the Wolf Man and the Monster.
And finally, it must be noted that Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is an increasingly important film in cinema history as it is the granddaddy of the the crossover film. Without it we would have no King Kong Vs Godzilla, no Freddy Vs Jason, and no Aliens Vs Predator movies... (though in the latter case that some of you out there may well be thinking that's a blessing). However with Marvel finally getting their characters to crossover on the big screen, we can be sure that movie icons will be going head to head a whole lot more in the future...
JIM MOON, 30th October 2008