Friday, October 09, 2009
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
The plot couldn’t be sillier. Dracula has discovered the remains of the Frankenstein monster and he enlists the aid of shady scientist, Dr. Sandra Mornay, to bring Frankenstein back to life. Dr. Mornay has no problem hobnobbing with the famous vampire and together they hatch a plan to locate a new, less volatile brain to inhabit the monster. Enter the bumbling, nervous Costello. Observing Costello Dr. Mornay remarks, “I feel I have exceeded your fondest wishes. The new brain I have chosen for the monster is so simple, so pliable; he will obey you like a trained dog." As Costello is pursued by this dangerous duo, he meets a most unlikely protector, Larry Talbot whose only hiccup is that he occasionally turns into a wolf man.
It’s no secret that I only recently discovered the Universal monster movies a few years ago. For some reason I never had any interest in these films growing up, which probably had more to do with their shabby presentations and endless commercials on Creature Double Feature than for any other reason. However after watching them on DVD for Horrorthon a few years ago I’ve been hooked on the genre ever since. After burning through all the Dracula, Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Mummy films several times, I’ve been searching for more to fill the void. I was delighted to discover that several Abbott and Costello “horror” films were made in the mid-40s using some of the same sets and actors from the 1930s Universal films.
A little background; as interest began to wane in the Universal monster movies of the 30s, Universal scrambled for ways to keep their lucrative franchises alive. Evidence of Universal’s desperation began to show once the company started doubling and tripling up their monsters in such movies as Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. The modern day equivalent of this desperation includes films like Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator. When even these monster pairings began to fail Universal made one last ditch effort to make some dough off of their monsters. During this time that Universal was bleeding money, Abbott and Costello were enjoying enormous success. Somewhere along the way it was suggested that Abbott and Costello star in a horror/comedy vehicle along with the aging Universal monsters. The plan worked like gangbusters spawning a number of additional comedy/horror pairings including "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy."
I must confess, I’ve never seen any Abbott and Costello routines in my life. Until I watched this film I didn’t even know which one was Abbott and which one was Costello. I assumed that their humor would be dated and unfunny like the Marx Brothers (IMHO). While probably not a good vehicle to gauge the quality of their humor, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein did nothing to alter my perception. The humor is pretty stupid, essentially consisting of Costello looking worried as he spies monsters in the shadows. The vapid story is just an excuse to get Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man in the same room together. The real treat, however, is seeing Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi reprise their famous roles. Lon Chaney, Jr. always makes me laugh with his downtrodden, dysthymic portrayal of Larry Talbot, a kind of David Banner character and Bela Lugosi is always terrific as Dracula, even when neutered in such a silly movie.
Although the monsters are given little to do beyond act as stimuli for Costello’s worried reaction shots, it’s still fun to see those famous “monsters” stumbling about those old creepy castle sets while loud trumpets blare “scary” music. There is little that’s funny and there’s nothing that’s scary in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, but for horror classic purists it’s a must see.