ICONS OF HORROR
As a huge fan of vintage horror movies and screen icon Boris Karloff in particular, I have to give Sony Pictures Home Entertainment high praise for releasing their ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: BORIS KARLOFF ($25) on DVD. What stands out in my mind about Karloff is the fact that he was a consummate professional and a good actor, who never turned in a bad performance. Heck, even with questionable material, Karloff always had the ability to rise above, making everything in which he appeared worth watching- even if it was only for the opportunity to see him. Featuring four of the films Karloff made for Columbia during the 1930ís and 1940ís the ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION offers chills, melodrama and even a few laughs for genre fans like myself.
THE BLACK ROOM
THE BLACK ROOM alone is worth the price of admission for this set, which makes the remaining three films something on the order of tremendous supplements. THE BLACK ROOM is one of my favorite Karloff movies (of which there are many) and features the horror icon in dual roles, which clearly demonstrates his acting prowess. Not only does Karloff create separate personalities for the characters, but also does a great job mixing personalities when one character impersonates the other. Not strictly a horror movie, THE BLACK ROOM is more of a gothic costume melodrama with horrific elements, in which Karloff portrays Baron Gregor de Bergmann and his younger identical twin brother Anton. Born under a prophecy/curse that condemns the Baron to be killed by his younger sibling in the Black Room, the brothers have been estranged for years.
However, at Gregorís behest, Anton returns to the familyís ancestral home, bearing no ill will towards his older sibling. In fact, Anton is far kinder, nobler and better adjusted than his older brother, who has possessed all the wealth and privilege of the title Baron, which has caused Gregor to become a tyrant. Additionally, certain peculiarities in Gregorís personality have caused the Baron to become so reviled by the peasantry, that he has become a prime candidate for assassination. During a peasant uprising, Gregor relinquishes his title to his younger brother; however this is just a ploy, with elder sibling killing the younger, so that he can assume the guise of "Baron Anton" and put an end to the prophecy. The cast of THE BLACK ROOM also includes Marian Marsh, Robert Allen, Thurston Hall, John Buckler, Torben Meyer, Katherine DeMille, Henry Kolker, Colin Tapley, Edward Van Sloan, Egon Brecher, Helena Grant, Marion Lessing and Robert Middlemass.
THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG
THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG finds Karloff in one of his best "mad doctor" roles, although his character doesnít initially start out that way. In THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, Karloff portrays benevolent scientist Dr. Henryk Savaard who is experimenting with a way restore dead patients to life, in an effort to revolutionize the field of surgery. However during his first experiment, Savaardís nurse alerts the authorities, who burst in on the doctor and arrest him after he has terminated the life of a volunteer, but before he is able to revive the young man. Of course, the narrow-mindedness of the police, medical examiner, prosecutor, judge and jury lead to a speedy conviction and death sentence for Dr. Savaard. However, Savaardís assistant utilizes the doctorís technique to restore Savaard to life, after the doctor had been taken to the gallows. But instead of vindicating himself and demonstrating his supreme medical triumph over death, Savaard begins a murderous vendetta against those who brought about his execution. The cast of THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG also includes Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, Roger Pryor, Don Beddoe, Ann Doran, Joe De Stefani, Charles Trowbridge, Byron Foulger, Dick Curtis, James Craig and John Tyrrell.
BEFORE I HANG
BEFORE I HANG is another offering that places Karloff in the guise of "mad doctor"- yet once again, our "mad doctor" doesnít intentionally begin his career in that fashion. Sure, as elderly Dr. John Garth, Karloff doesnít get off to an auspicious start- due to a committing a mercy killing, but the good doctorís heart is certainly in the right place, as his experiments to reverse the aging process will surely attest. Able to continue his experiments from behind prison walls, with the aid of the institutionís physician Dr. Ralph Howard (Edward Van Sloan), Dr. Garth perfects a serum to turn back the hands of time, which of course, he uses on himself. While indeed younger, Dr. Garth suffers killer side effects from the serum- turning him from kindly Dr. Jekyll into a murderous Mr. Hyde. Perhaps the good doctor should have refrained from using a killerís blood as a component in his anti-aging serumÖ The cast of BEFORE I HANG also includes Evelyn Keyes, Bruce Bennett, Ben Taggart, Pedro de Cordoba, Wright Kramer, Bertram Marburgh, Don Beddoe, Robert Fiske, Kenneth MacDonald and Frank Richards.
THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU
THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU was made to capitalize of Karloffís then recent stage success in the Broadway production of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Of course, Karloff couldnít relinquish his Columbia Pictures movie image, thus this studio placed him in another "mad doctor" role, although this time out, things are intentionally played for laughs. In THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, Karloff portrays misguided Professor Nathaniel Billings, who wants to do his bit for the war effort, by creating supermen to take on Hitler an the Axis forces. Unfortunately, the professorís experiments donít bear fruit, other a high body count amongst the traveling salesmen population, which is rapidly dwindling. The cast of THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU also includes Peter Lorre, Max 'Slapsie Maxie' Rosenbloom, Larry Parks, Jeff Donnell, Maude Eburne, Don Beddoe, George McKay, Frank Puglia, Eddie Laughton, Frank Sully and James C. Morton.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made all the films that comprise their ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: BORIS KARLOFF available on DVD in the proper 4:3 full screen aspect ratios of their theatrical releases. I have to say all the black and white films in the collection look quite good for their age, each producing a fairly sharp picture with more than respectable detail. Certainly there is some variation between the films; THE BLACK ROOM offers the best looking picture, while THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU is the weakest, due to a somewhat dark transfer. Blacks are deep across the board, and the whites are generally stable. Contrast and grayscale are good, but as I mentioned earlier THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU is on the dark side and can be a tad murky. The film elements for all the films show some signs of age, some more, some less, none being too bad. Film grain is noticeable in all of the films, with THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU exhibiting the heaviest grain. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained.
All of the films in the ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: BORIS KARLOFF come with more than respectable Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. As expected, the majority of background hiss and noise have been cleaned up in the mastering process. Sure there are some minor inconsistencies to the sound, but nothing to detract from the presentation. As three of the films are more than sixty-years-old and one over seventy, fidelity is decidedly limited. Dialogue remains understandable. No other language tracks have been included on the DVDs, but English subtitles are provided.
The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard language set up features. Chapters are encoded onto the DVD, but they cannot be accessed from the menu system, instead, the chapter ship function can be engaged while the film is playing. No supplemental content is provided.
As a Karloff fan, I am delighted that the Sony has made their ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION available on DVD. The films look and sound good- so there are no complaints on that front. If you are like me, and canít get enough Karloff, then ICONS OF HORROR COLLECTION: BORIS KARLOFF is a must have. Highly recommended.
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