Watching the Universal Monsters! The ones no the Blu-ray box, that is. And you just can’t discuss the monsters without Abbott and Costello.
Here’s what happens: Buddies and co-workers Chet and Wilbur get caught up in a plot involving Count Dracula wanting to revive Frankenstein’s monster. They’re aided by Larry Talbot, a.k.a. the Wolf Man, who is on a mission to stop Dracula.
Monster! The big deal here is that the great Bela Lugosi finally returns as Dracula. His accent is a lot less pronounced after two decades, and Drac is more like the various B-movie mad scientists he’d been playing. Still, he’s having fun, playing the role with devilish smile the whole time.
Also a monster! Instead of making us wait all movie for Frankenstein’s monster, the monster is up and about in the opening scene. Still the marquee star, he gets another great scene at the end, smashing up the laboratory like he always does.
Also a monster! In House of Dracula, Talbot finally got the cure he so often sought, and his curse was lifted. But now he’s back, still transforming into the Wolf Man. He’s a full-on antihero this time. We get the sense he’s been pursuing Dracula for some time, now putting him in the Van Helsing-type role.
Also a monster! Sandra, a researcher, starts out as Dracula’s assistant. To ensure her loyalty, he bites her. She apparently turns into a vampire after this, attempting to bite Wilbur at one point. She later gets tossed out a window during Frankenstein’s monster’s rampage.
Also a monster! Then there’s one more classic monster who shows up at the end. I won’t spoil it, in case anyone still hasn’t seen this movie.
Bud and Lou: The plot (yes, there is a plot) has to do with Dracula setting up a lab so he may transplant Wilbur’s brain into Frankenstein’s monster’s body. Why? One line says this will make the monster less combative and more submissive to do Dracula’s will. Another line says it’s because Wilbur has witnessed the monsters and therefore is open to supernatural experiences. Should we add Wilbur to the official list of Universal monsters?
Hapless humans: Joan is an insurance investigator who, along with Sandra, pretends to woo Wilbur to uncover info about Dracula. The movie kind of forgets about Joan in the third act, suggesting that she ends up with another character, Professor Stevens, who doesn’t do much. There’s also McDougal, who works with Chick and Wilbur. He accuses them of stealing, and later gets killed by the Wolf Man.
Thrills: After all this time, this is the movie that offers the big multi-monster brawl that the franchise keeps promising. Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man all duke it out in lab, and then on a burning pier. The Wolf Man taking out Dracula in the final moments is especially exciting. Hardcore monster fans turned off by Abbott and Costello should at least see the final battle.
Laughs: Our heroes have two modes in the movie. One his boy-who-cried-wolf antics, in which Wilbur reacts outrageously with fear upon seeing the monsters. Then the pivot into romantic comedy mode, in which Wilbur has two beautiful women pursuing him romantically, much to Chick’s befuddlement. Wilbur’s over-the-top screams are supposed to be the big comedic set piece, but I prefer his and Chick’s various one-liners and quips, which are the real comedy gold.
Thoughts upon this viewing: What’s great about this movie is that the monsters are (mostly) played straight, so that it’s not just comedy, but a bona fide monster movie. Despite all of Wilbur’s hysterics, the stakes are high and the monsters are genuinely dangerous. It’s the real deal.
Next: Visual comedy.
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