Saturday, September 6, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #18: House of the Wolf Man

"House of the Wolf Man" is a 2009 homage to "House of Frankenstein"/"House of Dracula". Directed, produced (along with Roland Rosenberg) and written by Eban "Sick Girl" McGarr, it's by no means a bridge between the latter set and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", instead standing as an impression of Universal monster-rallies: a tribute, in essence, in the "Young Frankenstein" vein, but beyond a few sparks of comic relief, played straight. 

In this regard, like a Universal entry, "House of Wolf" is shot in glorious, textured black-and-white (by Royce A. Dudley), and yes, it does have a number of famous (and not-so-famous) monsters on board and a score by Nate Scott that's virtually lifted from one of Universal's '40s installments. However, story-wise, "House of Wolf" feels primarily like a homage to James Whale's "Old Dark House", various Monogram and PRC films, as well as William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill", than what Universal prolifically produced during its successful sequel reign. 

The story's host is Dr. Bela Reinhardt, portrayed by Ron Chaney (grandson to Lon Jr. and great-grandson to Lon Sr.), a cold, calculating character who's summoned a group to his castle for a "competition" to determine who will inherit his vast estate, which includes all of his documented, scientific knowledge.

The participants include brother and sister, Reed and Mary Chapel (Dustin Fitzsimons and Sara Raferty); the amusingly bookwormish Conrad Sullivan (Jerome Loncka), seductive Elmira Craig (Cheryl Rodes) and pompous, big-game hunter Archibald Whitlock (Jim Thalman). 

Most of the participants soon regret having consented to the weird assembly, particularly with ghoulish butler Barlow (John McGarr) wandering about and an otherwise mostly concealed old "witch" (Saba Moor-Douchette) surfacing, who looks as if she rolled right from out the pages of "Tales from the Crypt".

As the guests grow ever suspicious of Reinhardt's intent, it's eventually revealed that he holds a link to an infamous doctor, as well as a legendary curse. Large, wolf-like tracks also populate the estate, which Whitlock's "foot men" detect and abetted by their fearless leader, vainly track. 

All this leads to a monstrous climax, capped by a relentless werewolf (played predominately by Billy Busby), the Frankenstein Monster (Craig Dabbs), and none other than Dracula, (Michael R. Thomas, exuding uncanny Lugosi-like charm), along with three, very hideous "brides". 

Unfortunately, the main monsters appear very late in the proceedings and perhaps if only sprinkled throughout the movie, their presence would have been far more in tune with "House of Frank"/"House of Drac", instead of a being simply a string of extended cameos. Nevertheless, the brawl between Monster and Wolf Man, while it lasts, is quite satisfying. 

The overall make-ups and creature designs, on the other hand, are well worth the wait. As fashioned by Michelle Chung, Sarah Dorsey, Ron Karkoska, Ana Preciado, Mike Rotello and Mark Villalobos, their overall look inches just enough from Universal to avoid copyright infringement, but like any quality Jack Pierce rendering, the personas resonate with immense character, strange beauty and impressive detail. 

In the end, McGarr's opus is at best experimental yet heartfelt, short and sweet enough to set just the right mood for an atmospheric evening. It's by no means all it could have been, but remains admirable for at least stepping in the right direction. For those hankering for something along the lines of "Corpse Vanishes" with traces of the Universal masterpieces, it should gratify, instilling a style of filmmaking that hasn't graced the screen for nearly seven decades: a most ambitiously admirable attempt on that basis alone.

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