Revisiting HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN 20 Years Later
It’s been 20 years since the premiere of the forgotten House of Frankenstein, a mini-series loosely based on the 1944 Universal movie of the same name which saw Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster share the spotlight. Since then humankind has entered a new millennium and experienced history-defining moments that’ll be talked about until the end of existence. For instance, a black president was elected for the first time ever only to be succeeded by a cheeto. The economy also collapsed and it was deemed the worst economic crisis since the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Elsewhere, Pluto had its planet status revoked and now no one cares about it, which is a shame as Disney named a dog after it. I’m pretty sure the Rolling Stones split up and reformed multiple times, and a rover was sent to Mars - which is pretty amazing. And that’s not to mention the joys that occupy our daily lives - broadband, smartphones, Netflix, looking at puppies on Instagram, etc.
These are just several examples of events which might have overshadowed House of Frankenstein’s place in the grand scheme of things. But I think the main reason why people don’t talk about the series anymore is likely due to the fact that people are unaware of its existence. This needs to be rectified.
I get it: the world keeps moving, life goes on, we grow older. That much is certain. Days go by in the blink of an eye, and before you know it we’re 20 years older and edging closer to our last dance with mortality. Death is coming and it’s so close we can almost taste it. We can’t waste a moment: so why spend three hours watching a silly obscure mini-series one IMDB reviewer described as a “stinko pic?” I don’t have the answers to these questions, fellow dying mortals. But I would argue that House of Frankenstein worth an evening of your company.
Prior to The Mummy reboot in 1999, Universal decided to resurrect some old favorites for the small screen. During the ‘90s, NBC was a network renowned for showcasing weekly TV movies in the 9-11 slot, and with Halloween season still in the air, bringing back some of history’s most beloved terrifying creatures for a monster rally sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately, House of Frankenstein wasn’t the gathering purists were hoping for, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit either.
Directed by the prolific Michael Werner from a teleplay by J.B. White, the story follows Detective Coyle (Adrian Pasdar) as he investigates a series of bizarre murders in contemporary Los Angeles. The killer is dubbed the Midnight Raptor, and some citizens are convinced werewolves are responsible, while others claim it’s vampires. Some even think the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel exists and lurks in the shadows claiming victims. Needless to say, they all have valid reasons for their respective beliefs.
When the detective’s girlfriend (played by Teri Polo) gets turned into a werewolf and kidnapped by the vampire, Crispian Grimes (Greg Wise), it all starts to make more sense -- a deadly supernatural mystery is afoot. Elsewhere, Frankenstein’s creature (Peter Crombie) has been brought back from the North Pole by Grimes’ henchmen to be used as a nightclub attraction at his popular party hot spot, the titular House of Frankenstein. The monster escapes, however, and goes on the run, which leads him to Coyle and his werewolf girlfriend. What ensues afterwards is a thrilling saga mined from police procedural mysteries, pulp monster adventures, and TV movie action-thrilers, as a cop, a werewolf, and a monster made up of the body parts of dead people combine their talents to overthrow lycanthropes and bloodsuckers, culminating in a nightclub showdown soundtracked to “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by the Smashing Pumpkins. I live for this nonsense.
Besides Frankenstein’s Monster, the featured creatures aren’t directly lifted from the old Universal films. The vampire and the werewolf appear in different incarnations which aren’t Dracula or the Wolf Man. Given the heritage of those characters, it was disappointing to see them left out of proceedings. That said, Grimes is an enjoyably campy villain who looks cool when he transforms into a gargoyle-like monstrosity. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the werewolves, which are basically regular wild dogs with glowing eyes -- but it’s not to the film’s detriment. It just feels like a missed opportunity to add more cool monsters to the mix, as the makeup effects and costume designs are genuinely charming and impressive.
The movie also boasts an impressive cast, including CCH Pounder who went on to bigger and brighter things. Of course, genre fans will know Adrian Pasdar from another movie with vampires - Near Dark. But the star of the show is Peter Crombie, who still manages to convey the Frankenstein Monster’s inner turmoil. The cast definitely elevates the shenanigans and without the caliber of the actors present, the script’s weaknesses would stand out like a rampaging bull in a china shop. There’s a lot of inherent ridiculousness in House of Frankenstein, but seeing credible talent bring it all to life is a joy to behold.
While I understand that House of Frankenstein might be off-putting to diehard fans of the original classics, a certain type of viewer will find much to enjoy about it. Maybe it’s the type of movie that entertains us for the wrong reasons, but there’s never a dull moment and it boasts that ‘90s TV movie charm you either love or you don’t. It wasn’t the strongest decade for genre fare by any means, but this is a prime example of the forgotten treasures waiting to be rediscovered if you’re willing to traverse back the way and ransack pop culture’s dustiest old tombs. Some treasure is worthless to the rest of the world, but the fun we have and personal memories we make are both priceless and invaluable. To me, that's the power of House of Frankenstein.