Over three decades after the Frankenstein Monster was “blown to atoms” at the climax of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Dr. Frankenstein’s son Wolf returns to his father’s estate with his wife and young son. Unfortunately, the villagers can hold a grudge for a really long time, so they’re not so pleased that a bona fide Frankenstein is back in the castle. The wily, wooden-armed Inspector Krogh is assigned to keep tabs on Wolf, making sure he has no plans to cook up another monster.
While exploring his father’s demolished laboratory, Wolf happens upon Ygor, a blacksmith turned grave robber who is squatting in the ruins. With his broken neck and crooked spine, Ygor is a real charmer who reveals a much more astonishing surprise to Wolf: his father’s creation, still alive but currently dormant. The Monster survived, and befriended Ygor before slipping into a coma.
Determined to prove that his father was not a madman, Wolf sets out to revive the Monster and fix his abnormal brain issues. However, crafty old Ygor has his own agenda, planning to take revenge on the town council that sentenced him to be hanged years before…
Once again the control panels are blinking and the Jacob’s Ladders are arching, as Wolf attempts to bring the big guy on the slab back to consciousness. Initially it appears the resurrection is a failure, but when little Peter starts describing the friendly giant in the big woolly coat who visits him at night, it’s clear that the Monster has risen.
Pretty soon some of the villagers are found with their “hearts burst,” a common symptom of Frankenstein-ish mayhem. Wolf becomes tangled in a game of cat and mouse with the rightfully suspicious Inspector Krogh, and in the end must challenge Ygor and save his son from the Monster’s clutches.
Released in 1939 and directed by Rowland V. Lee, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN was the last of Universal’s A-level Frankenstein films, and it’s brimming with wonderfully quirky characters. Basil Rathbone unravels nicely as Wolf, but he is upstaged constantly by Lionel Atwill as Krogh, who swings a mean wooden arm. Boris Karloff once again shines through Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup, this time relying on his physical chops and foregoing the speech he acquired in the previous film. The movie is practically swept away by Bela Lugosi as the unsavory Ygor, in what many consider his greatest film characterization.
The dialogue is crisp and clever, and the film is kept moving by a dynamic Hans J. Salter score (which would be poached by other Universal horrors for years to follow). Director Lee stages the scenes with great attention to composition, throwing shadows against high ceilings in shots drenched in German expressionism. At a running time of 99 minutes, it may be the longest of Universal classics, but is worth every minute of your time.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN was a box-office success, reinvigorating the studio’s horror series. If Frankenstein could have a son, why couldn’t one of their other movie ghouls? So in 1943, SON OF DRACULA was born, and sent to America to inflict his bloodsucking tendencies on unsuspecting Southerners. With Bela Lugosi no longer under contract, the studio turned to their go-to monster man, Lon Chaney Jr., to fill the cape.
When Kay Caldwell (Louise Albritton) returns to her plantation home after traveling overseas, she seems different to her family. Now obsessed with black magic, Kay has invited Hungarian Count Alucard to stay with them, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Frank (Robert Paige). Alucard is tall, aristocratic, mysterious…and he’s Dracula.
Upon his arrival he turns into a bat and secretly kills Kay’s pop, which makes Kay quite wealthy. Despite warnings from a conveniently located swamp witch, Kay then accepts the Count’s marriage proposal.
Meanwhile, the town doctor becomes suspicious of the Count, and the two large boxes he brought with from Europe. He calls upon an old friend, a Van Helsing wannabe named Professor Lazlo, to help him investigate. It doesn’t take long for Lazlo to figure out that Alucard is Dracula, but a little too late. Kay marries the Count.
Distraught by this and worried for her safety, Frank attempts to shoot Alucard, but accidentally kills Kay instead. Now one of the undead, Kay visits Frank in his jail cell and offers him immortality as well. The truth now known, Frank escapes his cell and rushes to destroy the vampire in a fiery final confrontation.
SON OF DRACULA is a surprisingly atmospheric entry in Universal’s B-level monster parade. The creepy swamp setting is a refreshing change from the usual lederhosen and horse-drawn carriages. What Chaney lacks in natural eloquence, he makes up for with a commanding presence.
The only question that remains is one that classic film buffs have toiled over for years: is Chaney actually playing the son of Dracula, or playing the old man himself? Watch SON OF DRACULA and decide for yourself…