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This review appears direct to the web courtesy of THE CINEMA LASER.

POVERTY ROW HORRORS

Leave it to The Roan Group to release a group of obscure, but entertaining, horror titles that certainly would be overlooked by every other Laserdisc company. As the title POVERTY ROW HORRORS implies, these titles were originally released by companies at the lowest echelon in Hollywood, and were designed primarily as programmers to fill out an evening’s movie entertainment. The POVERTY ROW HORRORS collection ($80) is comprised of three titles MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG, THE MONSTER MAKER and KING OF THE ZOMBIES.

MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG stars horror icon Bela Lugosi as an evil Chinese mastermind bent on world domination. Lugosi’s character hopes to fulfill prophecy and gain extraordinary powers by acquiring the 12 coins of Confucius- which have surfaced in Chinatown. In typical Hollywood style, a wise cracking reporter ends up on Lugosi’s murderous trail, impeding the Chinese villain’s progress in acquiring the coins. MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG is an entertaining potboiler which would make a great companion piece to THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. THE MASK OF FU MANCHU is a true genre classic starring Boris Karloff, Lugosi’s chief rival amongst horror icons. As always, Lugosi is great fun to watch, especially in the role of the evil oriental with a mysteriously Hungarian accent. Wallace Ford, Arline Judge, Fred Warren and Lotus Long fill out the cast. The Roan Group have given MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG a respectable black and white transfer. The image is a little soft and grainy, but this is typical for some of the film stocks available during the thirties. The film element does have its share of age related problems which do call attention to themselves at times. Since MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG is over 65 years old, and wasn’t produced or preserved by a major Hollywood studio, the fact that any 35mm material still exists on the title is something of a small miracle. The digital monaural soundtrack also suffers from age related anomalies, yet the dialogue remains intelligible.

THE MONSTER MAKER is a film I remember watching during my early childhood. Hey, when I was a kid, any time any horror film played on television (morning, noon or night), I was glued to the set. Kind of explains why I turned out the way I did. THE MONSTER MAKER stars J. Carrol Naish as a doctor of dubious distinction who specializes in acromegaly. Acromegaly is a disease that effects the pituitary gland, and which causes deformity to the head, hands and feet. Actor Rondo Hatton, who suffered from acomegaly, managed to turn the disease to his advantage by appearing in a number of horror films sans makeup. His frightening visage was certainly enough to frighten audiences. In THE MONSTER MAKER Naish’s mad doctor infects a concert pianist with the disease, when he becomes an obstruction to Naish’s overtures to the pianist’s daughter. Naish’s character uses the pianist’s disease, and his expertise in treating acomegaly, to bring him the object of his desires. In addition to Naish, the cast of THE MONSTER MAKER includes Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell, Wanda McKay, Terry Frost, Glenn Strange and Sam Flint. The black and white transfer for THE MONSTER MAKER looks a good deal better than that of MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG, thanks to the fact that THE MONSTER MAKER was mastered from superior 35mm film elements. THE MONSTER MAKER has richer blacks and an overall better level of contrast. The film element itself does have a few markings and other slight problems, but overall it is in good shape. The digitally encoded monaural soundtrack shows some signs of age, but the fidelity is quite good for an old film with an optical soundtrack.

KING OF THE ZOMBIES is a goofy horror/comedy in the vein of THE GHOST BREAKERS or ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY. Comedian Mantan Moreland is front and center as the valet to the film’s hero. Moreland’s performance is a gem with numerous wisecracks and panicked reaction shots. Moreland displays a comic/cowardly persona that rivals the one Bob Hope made famous in THE GHOST BREAKERS. While some of the humor may be a bit too racial for these "politically correct" times, I found KING OF THE ZOMBIES to be good fun and quite entertaining. The plot of KING OF THE ZOMBIES revolves around the survivors of a jungle plane crash who encounter a strange doctor and the zombies under his control. In addition to Moreland, the cast of KING OF THE ZOMBIES features Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, Henry Victor, Guy Usher, Marguerite Whitten, Leigh Whipper and Madame Sul-Te-Wan. Of special note, KING OF THE ZOMBIES received an Academy Award nomination for best musical score- something of a first for Monogram Pictures, which produced the film. KING OF THE ZOMBIES is the best looking and sounding of the three films that comprise the POVERTY ROW HORRORS. The film element is in very good shape, with only minor markings. The black and white transfer itself is quite detailed with a deep black level. The digitally encoded monaural soundtrack had few age related anomalies. The POVERTY ROW HORRORS collection was pressed in the UK by PDO. The pressing had only minor speckling, and side four is encoded in CAV. The three films are presented on four sides of this double disc set, and comes packaged in a gatefold jacket which features liner notes by Tom Weaver, author of the book POVERTY ROW HORRORS!.

 
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Laserdisc reviews are Copyright 1997 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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