Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.
Release Date: June 15th, 1948 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Charles Barton Actors: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Frank Ferguson, Charles Bradstreet
s midnight approaches in London, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney) paces frantically, waiting for a phone call. Meanwhile, in Florida, stern baggage man Chick (Bud Abbott) bosses around his equal (whom he treats as a subordinate), Wilbur (Lou Costello), as the two work to unload and organize new arrivals. “I’m floatin’ on a cloud of love,” insists Wilbur, a short, pudgy, blathering man-baby, who can’t stay focused on his work when his girlfriend, the classy dame Sandra (Lenore Aubert), stops by. Despite Talbot managing to briefly speak with Wilbur over the phone, warning him about two crates scheduled for McDougal’s House of Horrors, the delivery is made – in person by the two baggage men.
“Chick is right. This is awfully silly stuff.” The two crates, insured for $20,000, contain the remains of the original Dracula and the body of Frankenstein’s monster – or so says McDougal himself, who will arrive with the insurance agent shortly after Wilbur and Chick unload the merchandise. But Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Glenn Strange) aren’t about to be made into museum exhibits so easily. A night of terror for the bumbling duo is about to unfold.
Playing their typical characters, the twosome immediately engage in bickering and shouting matches, with Costello the target of a considerable amount of verbal abuse. They also whip up some slapstick, again with Costello as the pliable dupe, intermittently absorbing hysterically placed slaps to the face. Their signature plays on words and twisty conversations also pop up, supplementing the overarching plot, which further involves something of a love triangle when insurance inspector Joan (Jane Randolph) joins the fray.
“It’s silly, but I’ll do it.” The film isn’t exactly an official Universal Monsters entry, but it does contain many of the hallmarks of authenticity – not least of which is the cast, reprising their famous roles. With corresponding makeup, costumes, sets, and scare sequences, were it not for the goofy leads, this could very well be yet another chapter in the series of classic monster mashups, which had fizzled out of theatrical episodes a few years prior.
Yet even with the obvious comedy intrusion there’s a faithfulness to the properties (from vampire hypnotism to werewolf fury) that could make this tale part of Universal’s canon. Enough of Abbott and Costello’s schtick remains separate from the machinations of the villains that there are essentially two movies here; breaks from the severity of harvesting Wilbur’s brain or draining his neck or feasting on his flesh (as ludicrous as they are when he unleashes his high-pitched yelps) don’t actually stop the antagonists from properly terrorizing their victims. And the reactions of supporting roles are played straight – sometimes impressively remaining calm while Costello wails and whistles. There’s even a bit of genuine adventure, particularly during the climax when all of the otherworldly abominations share the stage, participating in destructive clashes and chases, many of which dispense with the slapstick for more frightful physical encounters. It’s a strange combination that really shouldn’t work (part spoof, part real thriller), yet it manages to be both a convincing monster movie at specific moments and a gut-busting comedy at others.
– Mike Massie