Monday, December 21, 2015

Kindertrauma to the rescue: It was Lon Chaney Jr., with a puppy*

Lon Chaney Jr. in Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

On October 29, in the midst of Fortnight of Mild Fear, I wrote a post about a pair of hazy movie/TV memories that were lodged permanently in my brain and were driving me batty because I didn't have enough details to identify them.

Here's what I wrote about one of the mysteries:
There's very little to go by on this one. It's the ending of a horror movie from, I'm guessing, the late 1960s or early 1970s (based on my hazy memories of the production values and costumes). The "bad" guy, who is either a Frankenstein's monster type or a hunchback/Igor type, is trying to escape the police via a rooftop. But he is shot and falls to his death. Here's the part that stuck with me, though. He was carrying something bundled up in his clothes. As he lay dead on the ground, a few kittens emerge from his grasp and mew pitifully while walking around on his chest. That's it. That's all I have. I've long hoped that the moment involving the cats is specific enough to help lead me to answer. But, thus far, I've had no luck.
Tom from Garage Sale Finds recommended that I seek help from the brilliant and disturbed Kindertrauma website. I did, and Kindertrauma posted my two queries on November 9. That same day I got an answer to the above mystery.1

Turns out I was remembering 1971's Dracula vs. Frankenstein, a horrific dud of a horror film if ever there was one. I was correct about many of the details, too. And the Igor-like character was played by none other than the iconic Lon Chaney Jr. (1906-1973), in what was, sadly, his final film role.2

My biggest memory error involved the kittens. There were no kittens. It turns out there was only one animal, and it was a puppy — the only friend in the world that Chaney's character (named Groton) had.3

There are more than 40 online reviews of Dracula vs. Frankenstein, according to this index on imdb.com. Here's a representative excerpt from one of them, written by Nate Yapp at classic-horror.com:
"The mad scientist is developing a serum made from the blood of exceptionally traumatized women. His specimens are collected by his hulking, mute manservant Groton (Lon Chaney, Jr.), who clutches a puppy to his chest when he's not wielding an ax. ... His body bloated from years of alcoholism and his voice silenced by the ravages of throat cancer, Chaney is a pathetic figure who lumbers through the movie, desperation etched into the lines of his face. His character, Groton, spends much of the film in a child-like state, so Chaney mugs wildly and pets a puppy, a shadow of his Lenny from [1939's] Of Mice and Men."

Footnotes
*Sorry to plop this down right sugar plum in the middle of the Christmas season, but I've been itching to get this posted.
1. My other query remains open, as far as I'm concerned. Regarding my memories of a short tale of evil spirits and a burning inn, someone has suggested that I'm remembering an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. But I don't think that's right. The mystery lives on.
2. According to Wikipedia, Chaney Jr., who portrayed Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man in so many memorable Universal movies, died of heart failure at age 67 on July 12, 1973 in San Clemente, California. His body was donated for medical research and was dissected by medical students. The medical school kept his liver and lungs in jars as specimens of what extreme alcohol and tobacco abuse can do to human organs. There is no grave to mark his final resting place.
3. I might need a tissue now.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the other scary movie you recall is "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home." It was actually a two-part made-for-TV flick from the late 70s.

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