Sunday, July 25, 2010

April 14, 2010: Psychobabble recommends Philip J. Riley’s ‘The Wolfman vs. Dracula’

Several months ago I reviewed the first book in film historian Philip J. Riley’s “Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters” series. His book on the version of Dracula’s Daughter that was to be directed by James Whale was an invaluable archive of treatments, scripts, and notes about a film that may have been a milestone fusion of horror, comedy, sex, and fantasy along the lines of Whale’s masterpiece, Bride of Frankenstein. The second volume in Riley’s series, The Wolfman vs. Dracula, is not as bursting with original documents, but the film's utter obscurity makes it nearly as essential. That Whale was originally slated to direct Dracula’s Daughter is pretty well known among classic horror cultists. David Skal’s indispensable The Monster Show, published in 1993, contained an abundance of key details about the script. However, even Riley had never heard of The Wolfman vs. Dracula until recently. I sure hadn’t. Screenwriter Bernard L. Schubert (Mark of the Vampire; The Mummy’s Curse) unearthed his script for this long forgotten project sometime in the ‘80s. His scant recollections about the film preface his complete script in Riley’s book.

In short, the film was to serve as a direct sequel to both Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Son of Dracula. Lon Chaney Jr. was to re-don his fuzzy make-up as lycanthrope Larry Talbot. More significantly, the film was also intended to return Bela Lugosi to his rightful place as Dracula (a most welcome return considering Chaney’s hopeless portrayal of the count in Son… although an early concept had Chaney playing both Talbot and Dracula in Schubert’s film!). The film was also to be the second Universal Monster Movie shot in color (Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains was the first). There are several references to this in the script.

Lugosi as the Monster and Chaney as Talbot in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

The film was dropped because Universal didn’t think they needed to waste the expense of color filmstock on a monster movie that already had a built-in audience. Schubert went off to write The Mummy’s Curse, and his script was filed away in his garage for forty years. The closest we got to Dracula meeting the Wolfman in their own picture was Columbia Pictures’ The Return of the Vampire with Lugosi as a vampire who hangs out with a werewolf henchman. That film was released in 1944— the same year Universal’s The Wolfman vs. Dracula was scheduled to hit.

This one remaining artifact of The Wolfman vs. Dracula (dated May 29, 1944) is a first draft, which means it probably would have gone through numerous changes had it eventually been shot. As it stands, the script tells the rather perverse tale of Talbot marrying a peasant girl in order to impel her hangman father to plug him with a silver bullet, ending his reign of wolfy terror once and for all (well, at least until the inevitable sequel). Unfortunately, Dad has already promised his daughter’s hand to Dracula, who takes issue with Talbot’s cock-blocking. Written in the charmingly clunky, exposition-heavy manner of later day Universal Monster flicks like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, but with a greater emphasis on drawing-room debate than bestial carousing, The Wolfman vs. Dracula would have been quite a strange entry in the monster canon, especially considering the intention to film it in color. Yet I could still hear Chaney’s dejected voice speaking Talbot’s dialogue and Lugosi’s chewy baritone speaking Dracula’s in my head as I read this book. Monster fans won’t want to be without it.

Buy it here: The Wolf Man vs. Dracula: An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters
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