1940's, abbott, abbott and costello, abbott and costello meet frankenstein, abbott and costello movie, abby normal, black and white, black and white movie, boris karloff, brain, bud abbot, castle, classic, classic comedy, classic Hollywood, Comedy, count dracula, crossover, florida, frankenstein, frankenstein's brain, frankenstein's monster, funny, glenn strange, Horror, horror comedy, horror for kids, horror movie, house of horrors, lon chaney jr., lou costello, reanimate, reanimate frankenstein, the brain of frankenstein, transformation, universal monsters, Universal Studios, vampire, wax museum, wolfman
When I was a kid, my dad raised me on a steady diet of Abbott and Costello. Some of my fondest memories of the two of us include him popping in a tape of the classic duo’s capers after many of our intense Mario Kart sessions. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello contributed a lot to comedy in their thirty years together, most notably the famous “Who’s On First” routine, but for many they reached their peak with 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The meeting of the two teams sounds like something wouldn’t work in theory but does gangbusters in practice. Bud and Lou’s career needed a boost right around the time Universal’s famous movie monsters were dwindling in popularity, so it was decided to bring the two together. Though some, even Lou Costello, had their doubts, the film was so successful that kicked off a whole series of Abbott and Costello running into other notable monsters and characters (with varying levels of quality). It’s arguably the first mainstream horror-comedy and it’s easy to see why it was such a big hit. It’s a loving homage to Universal’s golden age of horror that knows how to poke fun at the cliches it’s wrought and when to inject terror to up the suspense. Even the contrast between our creature actors’ melodramatic, haunted delivery and Bud and Lou’s rapid-fire responses when played against each other provide just as much laughs as suspense.
Our heroes are two Floridian baggage boys named Chick and Wilbur who are comically terrible at their jobs. During their busy shift Wilbur (Costello) picks up a phone call all the way from London from one Lawrence Talbot – aka the Wolfman.
So the title of this movie is a bit of a misnomer. Even though Frankenstein gets sole billing, it’s really about Bud and Lou meeting three of Universal’s most iconic monsters: Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and the Wolfman. You could say it’s…a monster mash.
Talbot, who’s very anxious since it’s his time of the month, tries to warn Wilbur that two crates are arriving for McDougal’s House of Horrors which he must not open for any reason until he arrives. But before he can elaborate further, the moon comes out. Wilbur overhears the painful transformation happening on the other end of the phone, thinks “Man these prank callers need to get their dogs under control”, and hangs up.
McDougal arrives to claim his crates and does everything in the Karen playbook short of demanding to speak to a manager that establishes himself as a nasty, selfish, ill-mannered and greedy son of a bitch. It’s telling that in a movie containing a soulless blood-sucking demon, a ravaging half-wolf beast, and a violent reanimated corpse that he’s the most deplorable thing in it. There is nothing redeeming about him and the only thing worse than anytime he’s on screen is what happens to him at the end. McDougal explains to Wilbur’s surprisingly hot girlfriend Dr. Sandra Morney that the crates he ordered contain the remains of Frankenstein’s Monster and Count Dracula’s coffin, which he plans on displaying at his wax museum.
Chick and Wilbur do a bang-up job bringing down the crates (emphasis on bang), which pisses off McDougal so much he insists they personally deliver them to his museum so his insurance agent can check whether or not they can sue them for mishandling. Personally speaking the wiser option would be to get a different more competent employee to take it from here to make sure nothing else goes wrong, but that’s the way of people like McDougal; scream and point fingers first, think much much later.
It’s a dark, stormy night by the time they reach the House of Horrors, which spooks Wilbur something fierce. Chick and Wilbur read a bit about Dracula and Frankenstein from the lobby cards; Chick believes the monsters aren’t real and steps out for a bit, which leads to that staple of any Abbott and Costello monster flick; Costello sees something freaky going on, calls Abbott back, Abbott misses it, calls Costello out for being a chicken and leaves again, rinse and repeat. It’s not my favorite cliche and it goes on for a loooong while. Wilbur witnesses Dracula – who I’m thrilled to say is played once again by the iconic Bela Lugosi – rise from his coffin and zap the Monster back to life. Interestingly, the Monster is not played by Boris Karloff but by the appropriately named Glenn Strange, though Bud and Lou would later cross paths with Karloff in a separate film, Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer. Dracula hypnotizes Wilbur so he can’t call for help and leads the Monster away. McDougal enters and, seeing his two star attractions have vanished, blames Chick and Wilbur for the theft and has them arrested.
Meanwhile Dracula makes his way to a castle on an island – you know, one of those island castles that pop up all over Florida which aren’t owned by Disney? What supervillain has the time, resources and will to build such a massive and obviously evil stronghold in the middle of Florida?
At the castle, Dracula greets his accomplice, Sandra. Yes, it turns out that this incredibly smart and foxy scientist isn’t really inexplicably in love with schlubby Wilbur (and who says horror movies are unrealistic?) She’s seducing him as part of Dracula’s scheme. Having acquired and studied Dr. Frankenstein’s notebook, Sandra and Dracula deduced that the good doctor failed in his original experiment by giving his creature an Abby Normal brain instead of an Avery Normal one. Their idea is to transplant a working brain that will make him easier to control – namely, Wilbur’s. Understandable, but granting your lumbering slave a mind of his own is both a blessing and a curse, as Mr. Burns learned the hard way.
And once the mighty Frankenstein’s Monster bends to his new master’s will, their next step is to show him around schools across the country to inspire the next generation of scientists – nah, just messin’ with ya. Of course they’re going to take over the world.
Meanwhile Chick and Wilbur are bailed out by another beautiful woman who is strangely attracted to Wilbur, Joan. But like Sandra, she too has a modus operandi; Joan’s an insurance investigator hoping to dig up some info on the missing monsters for McDougal.
Talbot shows up to Chick and Wilbur’s apartment supporting Wilbur’s claims about the monsters but Chick believes they’re both crazy. He asks why Talbot doesn’t just go to the police with what he knows, but Talbot tells him that’d mean explaining why he knows what he knows and who he really is. Admittedly, they touch upon a pretty neat idea at this part. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe and Universal’s own forthcoming star-studded spine-tingling Dark Universe –
I’m sorry, I couldn’t say that last one with a straight face.
The point is, the former two franchises would never have kaboomed into the massive epic mulitplayer crossovers they are now if it weren’t for Universal’s classic monsters laying the groundwork with their team-ups almost a century prior. Technically the three creatures featured here died several times before this outing, but of course they’re back because movie monsters can never stay dead; they just get rebooted and brought back to life like the proverbial zombie. Talbot’s motives usually differ in each of his films, ranging from him trying to find a cure to his lycanthropy with varying degrees of success, to tracking down and destroying other monsters in the Universal canon before they can cause more damage, as we see him doing here. I am all onboard with a monster traveling the world to fight other worse monsters than he; that is an amazing premise and part of why I enjoy the recent Godzilla movies, dumb as they are. How they pull off this particular showdown, however…
Yeah, we’ll get back to that.
Talbot begins to fret because there’s another full moon out soon and the clock is ticking. That’s one of many major hangups I have with werewolf movies in general; they only have reason to worry once a month when there’s a full moon, but for some reason the moon is always full every damn night of the week! How many tidal waves and ecological disasters do you think are happening in other parts of the world because the moon decided to fuck with one poor slob?
Anyway, Talbot tells the boys to lock him in his room and not open the door no matter what they hear. Wilbur helps out since Chick certainly isn’t in their corner, but finds Talbot forgot his suitcase and returns to drop it off. Of course, Talbot’s…changed significantly in the interim. He tries to attack a blissfully unaware Wilbur but misses as Wilbur keeps getting up and moving at just the right time.
The next day Sandra visits the boys to remind them about the big costume party she’s throwing. No sooner does she leave than Joan shows up to charm Wilbur. Wilbur invites Joan to the party, raising Chick’s hackles since he can’t convince Wilbur to give up one of his dates for him. Before they leave, they drop in on Talbot to find he’s gone all Rolling Stones on his room. Talbot tells them his story but even Wilbur’s suspension of disbelief has its limits.
Chick, Wilbur and Joan show up at Sandra’s castle for the party that night and they meet her handsome lab assistant Dr. Stevens, who instantly hits it off with Joan. A lot of Abbott and Costello’s features have a B-plot featuring a romantic couple to whom our duo’s antics are tangentially related, but while that worked with the Marx Brothers and even with Laurel and Hardy, they almost never do with Abbot and Costello. You get the feeling that Universal’s seen those previously mentioned films and recognized they had a romance, but threw one in theirs because they thought they needed it without really knowing how to tie it into the main story. That could be forgiven if the romantic partners were interesting characters; however, Stevens has little to no presence and barely does anything until the very end, and Joan serves no purpose other than being another damsel in distress alongside Wilbur.
While Sandra and Joan go powder their noses, Talbot phones in and warns the boys that Dracula’s there and has ordered a bunch of electrical equipment to help bring Frankenstein’s Monster to full strength. Chick, thoroughly tired of all the Dracula drabble, drags Wilbur on a search of the castle from the ground up to prove he isn’t real. They find a secret passage leading to an underground pier, and Wilbur finds another secret passage within the secret passage where he encounters the Monster and Dracula waiting to attack him. Cue a repeat of the misunderstanding with Chick, this time with a revolving door thrown in to keep things interesting.
Meanwhile Joan and Sandra do a little investigating themselves when the other isn’t looking; Joan discovers Frankenstein’s notebook and Sandra finds Joan’s calling card in her purse. The ladies return to their beaus with Sandra’s colleague, Dr. Lejos.
Sandra makes up an excuse to skip the ball and tells Dracula in private about her growing concerns. She thinks it’s too risky to pull off the brain swap now that the authorities are on to them, Stevens is asking too many questions about the experiment, and Wilbur is coming close to blowing their plans. But Dracula’s never one to call it quits and brings Sandra around to his side…by turning her into a full-fledged vampire. She even gains a Transylvanian accent after she’s bitten. Meanwhile McDougal shows up at the party in his true demonic form –
Talbot also arrives to ask Wilbur what he’s found in the castle. Chick dons a werewolf mask which causes Talbot to freak out; I’d say it’s because he’s forced to face the monster he is inside, but really I think he’s offended by Chick’s insensitive portrayal of wolfmen.
Dracula and Sandra make their entrance together. Wilbur instantly notices something’s off with Sandra but nobody will listen to Talbot’s warnings that Lejos really is Dracula. Sandra takes Wilbur for a stroll and confirms his suspicions that she’s gone batty.
Sandra is about to bite him when Chick and Talbot come running in looking for Joan, who’s vanished with Lejos. While searching for her out in the woods, Talbot transforms for the eighteenth time and pursues Wilbur. Wilbur, convinced the monster’s really Chick wearing his mask just to mess with him, actually gets in a few good punches and kicks and walks away unscathed. No longer in the mood to munch on main characters, the Wolfman grabs a bite of McDougal instead.
McDougal catches sight of Chick with the wolfman mask and is convinced he tried to kill him; Wilbur running in among the witnesses and accusing Chick of attacking him too doesn’t help his case. McDougal names Wilbur as his accomplice and when the two make a break for it, the partygoers form an angry mob to catch them. Wilbur reaches the boat where he finds an entranced Joan, and Dracula, who hypnotizes him again. Chick witnesses everything this time but Dracula puts him under his spell too and spirits away Wilbur and Joan.
Chick comes to the following day and finds Talbot going through his usual “oh god who or what did I kill this time” morning phase. Now that Chick believes him about the monsters running loose, even repeating Wilbur’s cry of “I saw what I saw when I saw it!”, the two make their way to Sandra’s place to rescue Wilbur.
Dracula and Sandra prepare a terrified Wilbur for his impending craniectomy. Stevens discovers Joan trussed up and unconscious and confronts Dracula, but Sandra knocks him out. Chick and Talbot break Wilbur free and revive Stevens. The three run back in to save Joan while Wilbur prepares their escape boat but Dracula puts him in a trance (I swear this guy gets hypnotized more often than Mowgli) and summons him back. Chick distracts Dracula while Talbot attempts to free Wilbur from the operating table by the beautiful light of the full moon –
– leaving Wilbur screaming as he’s caught between the Wolfman and Dracula. Frankenstein gets a jolt of electricity too early, breaks free from his bonds and comes for Wilbur too. Sandra tries to stop him, but the Monster picks her up and throws her screaming out the window. Knowing what befalls the other monsters it’s the most brutal death in the film and I’m surprised they spent it on the character who isn’t one of the big three. Chick finally unbolts Wilbur and from here it’s nothing but a crazy chase throughout the castle with all the monsters appearing at every turn. There’s enough suspense and variety in the gags to keep this from becoming your average Scooby-Doo doors scene and it’s a lot of fun.
But at last we see Dracula and the Wolfman, monster vs. monster, the confrontation this whole movie was building towards…Aaaaand Wolfie just jumps out the window taking Drac in his bat form out with him into the lake. Oh come on, we have the definitive vampire and werewolf facing each other and we don’t even get a fake-out vision of them fighting each other to the death?! Bad form, movie! Bad form!
Meanwhile McDougal and his posse have tracked Chick and Wilbur to the island and WAIT JUST A COTTON PICKIN BURGER FLIPPIN FIELD GOAL KICKIN BANANARAMA DING DONG MINUTE – why isn’t McDougal a werewolf?! He was just bitten last night! It’s still a full moon out and Talbot changed about fifty times already; this isn’t a Highlander “there can be only one” situation either because McDougal pops up again after Wolfie goes out the window. Why make Talbot change but not McDougal, a character who clearly deserves that terrible fate after acting like a huge jerk to everyone throughout the picture and bringing all the monsters stateside in the first place? Do wolfman bites have an extreme delayed reaction? Do they not count towards the current full moon cycle? Did McDougal pour some silver on the wound just to be cautious? Was he going to be killed in an earlier draft and some exec thought it would bring the mood down so they ordered a rewrite where he survived just fine, plot holes be damned? Or is he that much of an asshole down to the genetic level that it counteracted the lycanthropy?
All right, the film’s nearly over; McDougal sees Frankenstein’s Monster shambling towards him and swims away in a panic (just pretend he got eaten by alligators offscreen). Joan and Stevens set the pier ablaze – good to know someone in this movie knows how to properly kill one of these monsters – and Chick and Wilbur escape in McDougal’s rowboat. While Wilbur rightfully chews out Chick for not listening to him and Chick says he’s glad every single monster is dead, they’re both scared off by a last-second surprise cameo – The Invisible Man, voiced by Vincent Price.
…who sadly does not return as him in Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man.
Horror is a genre I respect more than I love, if you can’t already tell; regardless, if you want to start your kids on a steady horror diet, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a good place to start. It’s a decent introduction to the “unholy trinity” of Universal Monsters with plenty of laughs to balance out anything that might frighten them. It’s great seeing some of these actors return to their famous roles, the effects are deliciously cheesy, and it looks like everyone involved is having fun, the same of which can’t be said for many other Abbott and Costello outings when taking their vitriolic partnership into account. The banter between our duo is a lot of fun, something which I’m sorry to say doesn’t quite carry over in these reviews – it’s either stop it dead for a bunch of quotes or zip through to the action – but the zingers and gags are terrific, take my word for it. It’s Lou who carries the comedy, however. Bud, you’re a great straight man, but Lou has got the timing, the quirks, and the stamina for the physical bits. He steals the show. All in all, I had a lot of fun revisiting this movie, even more than I thought I would. For all its faults, I can see why this is considered a comedy classic, a respected entry to the Universal horror canon, a prime example of how to mix horror with humor, and one of Abbott and Costello’s most beloved films.
Thank you for reading! I’d like to give a shout-out to my generous patrons Amelia Jones for her support and to The Animation Commendation for suggesting I finally review this film. Patreon supporters can get such fun perks as sneak peeks of reviews, extra votes, movie requests and more!
Join me November 6th when Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews returns on schedule with Rapunzel. The Fievel Goes West review will be up soon, I promise.
Artwork by Charles Moss.