And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... The Story of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman by: Wes

In keeping with my love of monsters and all things horrific, I'm always on the lookout for scary merchandise -- and given how much I appreciate a bargain, I find such products even more appealing when they're sporting frighteningly low prices. Naturally, this means that I love Dollar Tree during the Halloween season. It might be difficult to find true gems amidst the horror-themed gummy snacks and hollow plastic skeletons and styrofoam tombstones guaranteed to crumble into dust before the sun rises on November 1st, but it's not impossible -- particularly when it comes to the audio selections. While any CD for a dollar is a great find, it's during this time of year that the very best ones are stocked: Rocky Horror Picture Show tributes and ghost story compilations and all manner of haunted house sound mashups. Unless you're unlucky enough to be victimized by Freddy Krueger via a freakish spider-like hearing aid, it is truly a good time to have ears.

What an awesome story that would have been...That said, it doesn't have to be late October for one to enjoy the sounds of the spookiest season -- and neither must the autumn leaves be falling and the days growing shorter for me to review a cheap and chilling phonic find. Enter: The Story of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman! I must have snagged this from Dollar Tree in 2004 or 2005, but it was apparently released in 1999... making it 10 years old this year. Well, call this a special 10th anniversary review or something. ;P

Although we'll get to the discussion of the individual stories in a bit -- and amidst those there are a few audio snippets denoted by the length of the clip in [brackets] -- let's first touch on the expectations that one may or may not have upon first encountering the disc. I'm not sure whether it's the cover graphic or the singular form of the word "story," but when I first got the CD I assumed that the tale would involve the titular monsters interacting with each other in some sort of grand crossover adventure. Actually, I didn't expect it to be terribly involved -- I kind of envisioned Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman sitting around a table and sharing their origin stories with each other. This would technically make it three stories rather than the one to which the disc's title alludes, but they would all be part of the frame story, thus comprising a single tale. Yes. Anyway, the actual CD has three separate tales told by three different narrators who presumably have never met and do not meet for the purpose of relating their stories during a dark and stormy night. As such, this title is misleading.

The title is also misleading in that it refers to the story of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. We've already noted that there are actually three separate stories, but certain expectations remain even if we take it to refer to the respective stories of the monsters in question. Although there may not be a single, definitive story for a character like the Wolfman -- every male werewolf could arguably be called that -- Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula do have origin stories that are more or less consistent across their manifold incarnations. Yet while the story of Frankenstein does constitute an abbreviated adaptation of his origins, Dracula's tale has little to do with his established origin. All things considered, a more appropriate title for this CD would have been Stories of Frankenstein, Dracula, and a Wolfman.

Once you toss expectations to the wind, however, what you'll find is certainly enjoyable enough. The CD begins with a tale of Frankenstein, which clocks in at just over 14 minutes and is narrated by Toby. Who's Toby, you ask? He's a hobo who lives in an alley near a young Victor Frankenstein's residence and eventually becomes the houseboy of the doctor-in-training. Sure, he's a poor substitute for Igor, but he does provide an effective firsthand account of the events that lead to the birth of the Frankenstein creature -- which, in this story, are primarily limited to pre-Dr. Frankenstein bringing various equipment and foul-smelling parcels into his laboratory and insisting that Toby remain quiet so that he can continue his work in silence. It ends with the monster's escape, tales of men crushed to death and rumors of a behemoth stalking the streets at night, and Toby's hope that the monster has not found its way... to your town [0:18]. OoOoOoOo.

Like Frankenstein's story, this 15-minute tale of Dracula is also narrated by an average Joe who stumbled into horrific circumstances -- in this case, a young shepherd who ran away from his father's farm and found work at Castle Dracula shortly thereafter. After a few weeks there, Alex is invited to play his flute at one of Dracula's banquets, whereupon he notes the sad, sunken eyes and unnaturally pale faces on each of the guests... and later the complete absence of food on any of the tables. As he plays during future banquets, he notes the dwindling number of guests, but it is not until he sees Dracula kiss a woman and leave her with blood trickling from her mouth that he becomes afraid [0:09]. That fear increases when Dracula snacks on his wrist I only hope they have not found their way... to your morning, and at last -- aided by the rising sun! -- Alex wrenches free from Count Dracula's clutches in a final confrontation. Yet though he escapes with his life, Alex does not hesitate to leave us with these chilling words: Are there more like Dracula? Do they walk among us, hidden and unknown, waiting for the unwary? We can only hope not... or there can be little hope... at all [0:24]. The sentiment is then punctuated by creepy organ music and a wolf howling. Awesome.

And then there's the tale of the Wolfman, which is also about 15 minutes. In terms of the narrator's relationship to the titular monsters, this one's probably the most confusing of the three stories. It starts out narrated by a woman with an oddly ethereal voice before presumably transitioning into her retelling of how she became... what she became. The problem? The voice she uses to tell the story is quite different, trading the airy quality of the introductory voice for a more down-to-earth tone and a pronounced country accent [0:18] -- but unless she's imitating her manner of speaking from when she was "fully" human (though as far as I know, contracting lycanthropy doesn't cause one to talk like a ghost), that doesn't seem quite right. It almost makes me wonder if there aren't two wolfwomen here: one to introduce the story and another to tell it.

Anyway, the story begins with Beth -- the second narrating wolfwoman and possibly the first as well -- and her boyfriend Rob getting lost during a hiking trip. With the sun setting and darkness approaching, Rob proposes a brilliant idea: he'll leave Beth alone in the woods while he hikes ahead to find their car! Since Rob is so much faster on foot than Beth, he'll supposedly be able to locate the car and drive back to get Beth in less time than it would take him to reach the vehicle with Beth in tow. He also argues that she'll be safer in one place -- the path is dangerous, and she could fall in the dark and break a leg or something. There is, of course, one major problem with Rob's plan: he's leaving his girlfriend alone in the woods at night with howling wolves and Jason Voorhees and god knows what other monstrosities lurk amidst the trees after dark! Rest assured, ladies out there, if you are ever hiking in unfamiliar woods with me... well, I probably won't abandon you even in the daytime, let alone at night. I might leave you in a public place like a movie theater -- particularly if you're getting on my nerves -- but not in the woods. And especially not if we happen to be lost in the very same woods in which, five years earlier, one of the locals disappeared without a trace.

But ah, that is indeed the case in this tale, as Matthew Sykes (no relation to Wanda) went hiking in those very woods five years prior and was never seen again. So naturally, shortly after Rob leaves, Matthew shows up to accost Beth for hanging out alone in a dark forest like a flipping idiot -- and then, with that night being a full moon, he gleefully transforms into a wolf and bites her on the shoulder. Beth turns into a wolf too, laments the fact that she can never leave the woods again, and... apparently has never seen an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel." If nothing else, the characters of Oz and Nina taught us that becoming a werewolf doesn't necessarily mean that you must be killed or even alter your schedule significantly: you just need a heavy-duty cage to contain yourself for a few nights every month. Still, in keeping with the nature of the CD, being forced to remain in the wilderness for the rest of her life and unable to interact with her loved ones again makes for a much bleaker ending for Beth... and for YOU if you cross her path on the night of a full moon.

Humans, humans, whatcha gonna do / whatcha gonna do when they come for you

And oh, there's also a bonus track that features all of the sound effects employed during the stories as well as a few extras! They don't have much practical use as a full track and aren't all that interesting by themselves, though if you have the capabilities to extract them you could probably put them to good use in your own Halloween party or spooktacular independent projects (assuming that nobody cares enough to sue you for using audio effects ripped from a $1 CD). The sounds are not only pretty diverse, but some of them, like the "electronic ghost" [0:57], are fairly unnerving. That warbling spectre just sets my spine a rattlin'.

Final thoughts: The Story of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman is an excellent way to kill an hour or so, and repeat listenings (I probably listened to the full CD around three more times while writing this review) are also fairly enjoyable. Yes, the stories themselves may not be what one would initially expect (though having read this review, you now know much better), but they're undeniably entertaining and feature fun voice acting and sound effects. For those of you with actual friends in the vicinity, it would probably make for welcome listening at a quiet get-together -- I can easily see four or five people listening to the stories while snacking on frozen hors d'oeuvres and drinking boxed wine. Provided that they're old enough to handle the horror, children might appreciate these tales as well. And hey, it's tough to beat the price! Although this CD is long gone from Dollar Trees at the time of this writing, it's entirely possible that it'll show up again this coming Halloween season. And if you don't want to wait until the fall to try your luck, you can always snag it from the Amazon Marketplace! Some sellers are even offering it for a single penny (though the shipping costs bump the total up to $2.99), and lots more have the CD for just a dollar (or about $4 with shipping). For a darkly delightful audio disc like this, anything less than a five-spot is a howling good deal. ;)

-- Wes --
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