The film opens with a rare (for the time) pre-title sequence in which two gravediggers invade the Talbot family crypt in search of riches. When they open Larry Talbot’s grave, they discover a well-preserved corpse covered in wolfbane. This affords one of the poor chaps the opportunity to recite the “even a man who is pure in heart” poem from The Wolf Man. He is barely finished when a hand emerges from the coffin and grabs him. The other gravedigger makes a quick exit, we hear a scream, a dropped lantern starts a fire, and credits roll.
Unfortunately freed from his peaceful “slumber”, werewolf Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr., of course) goes in search of someone who can destroy him…permanently. Leaving a trail of fatal wolf attacks in his wake, he tracks down Maleva the gypsy woman (the always wonderful Maria Ouspenkaya), the mother of the werewolf who bit him. Maleva says she “knows a man who has the power to help him” and so the two of them head for Vasaria in search of Dr. Frankenstein. Alas, the poor doctor is dead…but his monstrous creation is not. Before long, the poor residents of Vasaria find themselves coping with a newly-arrived werewolf as well as the return of the Frankenstein Monster!
The joy of this film is its assembly of familiar trappings and performers. Lionel Atwill, the prefect in Son of Frankenstein, plays the mayor of Vasaria. Dennis Hooey, who was Inspector Lestrade in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series, plays essentially the same character here. The horde of angry villagers, a staple in many of the films, goes hunting for the Wolf Man after he kills a young woman. The Monster lumbers into town to spoil a lively Ocktoberfest celebration. And a young doctor, with the best of intentions, can’t resist the urge to see the Frankenstein Monster “at its full power.”
The only major flaw in this enjoyable horror affair is the Monster. Bela Lugosi has taken much criticism for his flat performance, which consists mostly of walking around with stiff arms outstretched awkwardly and growling. To Bela’s defense, the Monster is supposed to be blind, which was explained in a famous excised conversation between the Monster and Talbot (yes, the Monster was supposed to talk!). Even with the blindness explained, I still don’t think Bela could have brought the conviction to the role that Boris Karloff did. But, in all honestly, the Monster is not a fully-realized character in this film—not as he was in the first three Frankenstein films.
The bottom line is that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man has no pretensions of being a classic monster movie. Its goal is to entertain and it certainly achieves that. It was also surprisingly successful and influential. It inspired Universal to assemble even more monsters for House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. And one could say that it provided future filmmakers with the formula for revising a horror franchise—just add another monster, as was done in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Alien vs. Predator, and Freddy vs. Jason.