Like 2005ís release of THE VAL LEWTON COLLECTION, Warnerís HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION ($40) is one of the most eagerly anticipated classic horror DVD collections to come past my viewing station. With such stars as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Lionel Atwill, Faye Wray, Lionel Barrymore, Colin Clive and Humphrey Bogart on the bill, is it any wonder this reviewer couldnít await this particular horror release. Sure, many of the greatest classic horror movies are already available on DVD, but there is still a tremendous wealth of titles to be mined from the studio vaults and a release like Warnerís six film HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION is indeed a cause for celebration.
MARK OF THE VAMPIRE
Todd Browning's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a wonderful old chestnut, which actually plays in two genres- first horror, then murder mystery. The plot of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE follows on the mysterious death of Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert), who was found drained of blood, with two puncture wounds to his neck. The locals suspect vampires; with Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland) fitting the bill, but Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) refuses to believe any such superstitious nonsense. Although, when Borotyn's daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) seems threatened, Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) is brought in to help with the more bizarre aspects of the investigation. The cast of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE also includes Jean Hersholt, Henry Wadsworth, Donald Meek and Ivan F. Simpson.
THE MASK OF FU MANCHU
THE MASK OF FU MANCHU is a film that is not going to win any awards for political correctness, which scores this genre classic many extra points in my book. Boris Karloff gives a terrific performance as Sax Rohmerís Asian super villain Dr. Fu Manchu, who is not only bent on world domination, but the destruction of the white race as well. Lewis Stone portrays Fu Manchuís Nayland Smith arch nemesis in this tale of the fiendish doctorís quest to possess the mask and sword of Genghis Khan, which he will use to rally the Asian masses to his side in his mad quest to rule the world. Look for Myrna Loy in the role of Fu Manchuís perverse and sadistic daughter Fah Lo See. The cast of THE MASK OF FU MANCHU also includes Karen Morley, Charles Starrett, Jean Hersholt, Lawrence Grant and David Torrence.
Directed by Directed by Karl Freund, who made his mark on the genre with the Boris Karloff classic THE MUMMY, MAD LOVE is definitely one of the brightest gems in this marvelous horror collection. Based upon the novel The Hands of Orlac, MAD LOVE tells the story of a brilliant, but unhinged surgeon Doctor Gogol (Peter Lorre), whose love for married actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) borders on obsession. Of course, Yvonne does not return Doctor Gogolís affections, but is forced to seek the surgeonís help, when the hands of her husband, famed pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive) are mangled in a train accident. Unable to repair Orlacís own hands, Doctor Gogol transplants the hands of an executed knife-throwing killer onto the pianist. MAD LOVE resonates with psychological horror as the story descends into the realms of insanity and murder, with Lorreís sublimely creepy and unforgettable performance at the center of this genre classic. Even Lorreís appearance in MAD LOVE is unforgettable; his bald head makes the actor appear strangely more bug-eyed and menacing than usual, not to mention totally deranged. The cast of MAD LOVE also includes Ted Healy, Sara Haden, Edward Brophy, Henry Kolker, Keye Luke and May Beatty.
Todd Browning's THE DEVIL-DOLL is a decidedly bizarre and wonderful little offering the greatly benefits from Lionel Barrymore in the leading role. The plot of THE DEVIL-DOLL follows Devilís Island escapee Paul Lavond (Barrymore) on his complicated quest for revenge. As Lavond was framed for a crime that he didnít commit, he returns to Paris to settle the score with the business partners responsible for his incarceration. However, Lavondís bizarre method of revenge involves cross-dressing, mind control and a scientific breakthrough that allows human beings to be reduced in height to the size of dolls. The cast of THE DEVIL-DOLL also features Maureen O'Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Rafaela Ottiano, Robert Greig, Lucy Beaumont, Henry B. Walthall, Grace Ford, Pedro de Cordoba and Arthur Hohl.
Due to the fact that it was shot in two-strip Technicolor, DR. X is one of the most historically significant horror movies from Hollywood's golden age. Also in the filmís favor is the presence silver screen icons Lionel Atwill and Faye Wray. Atwill was a marvelous actor, who was always able to make the most of the material or rise above, even if he went way over the top. Faye Wray was very beautiful and always made for the perfect damsel in distress, plus she could shriek her head off better than anybody. On the negative side, DR. X suffers from a terminally wisecracking reporter, not to mention, a mystery whose solution is easy to guess. The use of color isnít always the perfect, due to the limitations of the early Technicolor process, which sometimes gives DR. X the look of a colorized movie. The laboratory sequences at the end of the film use color much more effectively and are remain genuinely creepy. The plot of DR. X follows a series cannibalistic moonlight killings that lead back to the scientific institute headed up by Dr. Xavier (Atwill). The cast of DR. X also includes Lee Tracy, Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Leila Bennett, Robert Warwick, George Rosener, Willard Robertson, Thomas E. Jackson, Harry Holman, Mae Busch and Tom Dugan.
THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X
THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X isnít a sequel DOCTOR X, even if the titles are similar. THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X is significant in the cannon of golden age horror films as it features Humphrey Bogart in his only horror movie performance. In THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X, Bogart portrays Marshall Quesne, an pasty faced medical assistant, who is somehow tied to the mystery surrounding an actress that was reported murdered, yet turns up alive and then dies (again) under strange circumstances. Unfortunately, reporter Walter Garrett (Wayne Morris) ends up loosing his job over the story about the murdered actress, since he was the only one to see the body prior to said actress showing up in the newspaperís offices threatening a lawsuit. Turning to his friend Dr. Mike Rhodes (Dennis Morgan) for help, our newspaperman goes searching for an answer as to how the dead actress was able to make an appearance before taking that very final bow. The cast of THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X also includes Rosemary Lane, John Litel, Lya Lys, Huntz Hall and Charles C. Wilson.
Warner Home Video has made all the movies that comprise the HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION available on DVD in the proper 4:3 full screen aspect ratios of their theatrical releases. All the films but DR. X are presented in black and white. The transfers are somewhat variable, but all look good, especially when one considers the age of these films. DR. X is taken from the only surviving film elements, which do exhibit their fair share of blemishes, THE MASK OF FU MANCHU has had its censored footage restored, but said restored footage is in rougher shape than the film proper. THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X is probably the best looking of the bunch, appearing quite spiffy throughout. Sharpness and detail is generally good across the board, but each film has its own differences and peculiarities. Blacks are generally deep and the whites appear stable. Contrast and grayscale range from good to very good. As for DR. X, the colors have all the odd properties of the two-color Technicolor process, but produce decent saturation. The film elements for all the films show some signs of age, some more, some less, all within acceptable tolerances. Film grain is noticeable in all of the films, with MARK OF THE VAMPIRE exhibiting the heaviest grain. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern.
All of the films in the HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION come with acceptable to more than respectable Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. The majority of background hiss and noise have been cleaned up in the mastering process, but some remains, as does a bit of distortion that creeps in, in places. Fidelity is decidedly limited, the music is thin and the sound effects are canned at best. Dialogue remains understandable. No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard movie/scene selection and set up features. Supplements include informative running audio commentaries for each of the films except THE DEVIL-DOLL. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE features a commentary with historians Kim Newman and Steve Jones. THE MASK OF FU MANCHU features a commentary with author Greg Mank. MAD LOVE features a commentary with author Steve Haberman. DOCTOR X features a commentary with horror scholar Tom Weaver. THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X features a commentary with director Vincent Sherman and author Steve Haberman. All the films in the collection feature theatrical trailers except THE MASK OF FU MANCHU.
Warnerís HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION is amongst this reviewerís most eagerly awaited DVD releases of 2006. All of the titles in the collection have been given high quality presentations, which are certain to please fans. Highly recommended.
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