• Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review
    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 23rd, 2019.
    Director: A. Edward Sutherland/Joseph H. Lewis/William Night/James P. Hogan
    Cast: Lionel Atwill, Gail Patrick, Charles Ruggles, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton, Patric Knowles, Anne Gwynne, David Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, George Zucco
    Year: 1933/1942/1942/1943
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    Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 – Movie Review:

    Shout Factory brings to high definition four more classics of vintage horror from the Universal vaults with their second entry in the Universal Horror Collection series.

    Murders In The Zoo:

    The first film in the set opens with a surprisingly strong scene wherein we learn, and see, that a man has had his mouth sewn shut! It sets the stage for the strange film to come, a film that tells the story of a man named Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwell) who, with his wife Evelyn (Kathleen Burke) in tow, has recently returned home to America after an expedition away in Asia where he’s been gathering exotic specimens for the zoo where he’s employed.

    On the trip back, Evelyn meets a handsome man named Roger Hewitt (John Lodge), and it’s clear that he is very much attracted to her. Obviously, this complicates things when we learn how and why the man in the intro was killed. At any rate, Gorman delivers on his promise and after getting the new specimens safely and securely to the zoo, he decides to get on with his real business – doing away, permanently, with those who would make eyes at his beautiful wife using the animals in his care as instruments of bloody murder!

    Performances here are quite good. Lionel Atwill is excellent as the lead villain, really seeming to get into the role and delivering some great work. John Lodge is just fine, if not as memorable as Atwell, as the film’s hero while Kathleen Burke does a nice job of the villain’s put-upon wife. Charles Ruggles, however, brings the film to a screeching halt whenever he shows up on screen. Cast as the zoo press agent who is afraid of animals, he mugs for the camera and does the whole ‘shiver and shake’ thing but it isn’t all that funny and it tends to take us out of an otherwise pretty effective little chiller. The alluring Gail Patrick and Randolph Scott offer good supporting performances.

    Ernest Haller’s cinematography is excellent and director A. Edward Sutherland manages to stage a few pretty memorable set pieces including death by black mamba, death by alligator pit and, well, a finale that we won’t spoil here but which still packs a pretty strong punch. You’ve got to love pre-code 30’s horror!

    The Mad Doctor Of Market Street:

    Directed by Joseph H. Lewis in 1943, The Mad Doctor Of Market Street tells the story of Dr. Ralph Benson (Lionel Atwill again), who works as, you guessed it, a mad doctor out of his San Francisco office. His latest obsession is suspended animation and bringing the dead back to life – but when his unorthodox methods are discovered, he splits town and winds up on a cruise ship, taking on the new identity of Graham. Drama intensities and a cast of stereotypical supporting characters are introduced - Patricia Wentworth (Claire Dodd) and her Aunt Margaret (Una Merkel), heroic Red Hogan (Nat Pendleton) and Mr. and Mrs. William Saunders (Hardue Albright and Anne Nagel).

    The boat sinks and a small group of survivors wind up on a tropical island they first assume to be deserted. They’re wrong, they learn this when they come face to face with Chief Elan (Noble Johnson) and his tribe. The natives are quite hospitable at first, offering the castaways food and shelter. Benson winds up saving the life of one of the natives, which in turns sees him treated by the tribe as if he has supernatural abilities. He runs with this, convincing the natives that he can raise the dead – but when his actual abilities are really put to the test, he eventually gets his comeuppance.

    “Genius – or fiend?”

    This one is all over the place – it starts out like a horror movie should but soon shifts gears into a bit of a chase picture before then morphing into an erratic sort of jungle adventure picture. It has some neat ideas at work but it’s more than a little uneven. The fact that most of the characters are overused stereotypes doesn’t help much here, and the depiction of the natives in the second half of the film isn’t exactly enlightened (the movie is very much a product of its time), but there are interesting moments here, almost all of which revolve around Atwill, who is quite good in the lead role. He takes an uneven part in an uneven film and manages to make the most of it, playing his role with laudable enthusiasm and conviction. Not as much can be said of the supporting actors. Una Merkel and Claire Dodd don’t have much to do except gossip, though they look very good here, while Nat Pendleton plays his role of the cliché hero in about as cliché a manner as you would expect. Noble Johnson, probably best known for a similar role as the native chief in the 1933 King Kong or for his turn in the 1932 version of The Most Dangerous Game, does what he can to rise above the material.

    The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx:

    Up next, isn’t quite the horror movie that it sounds like. When it begins, we learn of a serial killer dubbed ‘Doctor Rx’ because of the calling card he leaves with his victims, which is literally a note with ‘Rx’ on it. He’s running about the streets of New York City strangling criminals all of whom have one thing in common – they got off and wound up free thanks to the efforts of a lawyer named Dudley Crispin (Samuel S. Hinds). Hinds figures a mobster he’s representing, Tony Zarini (Matty Fain), might be in trouble so he hires a private eye named Jerry Church (Patric Knowles) to keep an eye on him. It doesn’t work, he’s found dead in the courtroom, the victim of a strangler!

    Detective Captain Bill Hurd (Edmund MacDonald) gets Jerry on his team to investigate, much to the dismay of his wife Kit Logan Church (Anne Gwynne). All signs point to a Doctor Fish (Lionel Atwill) as the culprit, but cracking the case won't be so simple… and the movie takes a decidedly unexpected turn before the big finish (that we won’t spoil here).

    This one is more of a whodunnit with healthy doses of comic relief from none other than Mantan Moreland as Jerry’s butler Horatio B. Fitz Washington and Shemp Howard as Hurd’s right-hand man, a drunk named Detective Sergeant Sweeney. Moreland plays his role with gusto, but the character is written as such a bad, bad stereotype that you can’t help but cringe anytime he’s on screen. Again, the movie is a product of its time. Howard is pretty funny here, clearly channeling his Three Stooges style humor into the part and doing a pretty good job of it. Once again, Atwill steals the show. He could have used more screen time here but he’s good whenever the story pivots to his character. The rest of the cast are fine, Anne Gwynne and Patric Knowles have a reasonable amount of chemistry together.

    The film’s big shift in the last fifteen—minutes or so does manage to kinda-sorta bring the movie into horror picture territory, however briefly, but from there it slams to a conclusion so quickly that it’s over before you know it.

    Not the best picture if you’re after a straight horror picture, but the cast are good and the movie is pretty entertaining.

    The Mad Ghoul:

    Last but not least, Doctor Alfred Morris (George Zucco) conducts some strange research into arcane Mayan sacrifices and discovers a heretofore unknown nerve gas that doesn’t kill its victims but puts them into what is basically a state of suspended animation. After testing this out on his faithful monkey Jocko, Morris’ right hand man, a medical student named Ted Allison (David Bruce), decides to help him further his research into the possibilities this nerve gas offers. After all, Allison’s fiancée, Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers) is ready to head out on tour with Eric Iverson (Turhan Bey), so he doesn’t really have a whole lot of else to do these days.

    Together, the perform a successful heart transplant on the monkey and effectively bring him back to life. This, of course, leads to Morris wanting to try this out on a human guinea pig. This doesn’t sit well with Allison at all, quite understandably, and he wants no part of this. Knowing that Isabel and Eric are involved behind Allison’s back, Morris gases Ted and uses his body to repeat the heart transplant – but it doesn’t go as planned, leading to further complications for all involved.

    This one opens with some neat imagery depicting the Mayan sacrificial rites that Morris becomes some what obsessed with and then slows down a little bit in the middle stretch only to pick up quite nicely in the final act. There are some pretty decent makeup effects on display and some neat ideas at work, but unfortunately Zucco doesn’t have the charisma or sinister presence that Atwill brought to the first three movies. He’s not bad, per se, he just isn’t as much fun to watch.

    Still, the movie has a few decent set pieces working in its favor and the strong beginning and end make up for a slower middle stretch. Production values are okay, the score is solid and the camerawork is quite good.

    Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of the four films is presented on its own separate Blu-ray disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in black and white in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio. Murders In The Zoo probably could have done with some additional cleanup work as it doesn’t look like it was given a full restoration. As such, there’s mild print damage and small scratches evident throughout. Still, detail levels aren’t bad at all for a film of this age and the picture is filmic and stable throughout. The Mad Doctor Of Market Street and The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx both look quite a bit nicer and cleaner, the elements were clearly in noticeably better shape than the first movie. The Mad Ghoul also looks quite a bit better than the first one, the image is very clean and shows no print damage at all. All four films look solid enough, free of compression artifacts, edge enhancement and noise reduction. Detail isn’t always perfect, but it definitely rises above previous DVD editions in some pretty noticeable ways.

    The DTS-HD Mono tracks supplied for each film are fine. Optional subtitles are provided for each of the four features in English only. While range is understandably limited throughout the four films, there aren’t really any problems here. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow. You’ll hear a little bit of hiss here and there if you listen for it but there’s nothing really distracting about it. No problems were noticed during playback.

    Extras are spread across the four discs in the set as follows:

    Murders In The Zoo:

    The main extra on the first disc is a commentary track with author/film historian Greg Mank. Although there are occasional small stretches of quiet, Mank generally does a pretty nice job of detailing the history of this picture. He spends quite a bit of time talking about Lionel Atwell and the interesting, sometimes controversial, life that he led but also details the film’s history with the censors in various territories, the tragic and insane events on display in the film’s still shocking conclusion, the marketing behind the film (including how Gail Patrick was credited as ‘The Panther Woman’ in the film’s advertising campaign), the locations that were used for the shoot and quite a bit more.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery.

    The Mad Doctor Of Market Street:

    Extras for The Mad Doctor Of Market Street include the film’s original theatrical trailer and a still gallery.

    The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx:

    Included on the third disc in the set is Gloriously Wicked: The Life And Legacy Of Lionel Atwill, a twenty-minute featurette where Mank speaks about Atwill’s work doing live theater, his transition over to film work, how he wound up becoming very well-known for his horror pictures, his personal life, his run-in with the law over owning some stag films and then how the later part of his career was affected by that. It covers much of the same ground as the commentary track on Murders In The Zoo, but it’s got a lot of good clips that relate to what Mank is speaking about.

    A still gallery is also included.

    The Mad Ghoul:

    The main extra for The Mad Ghoul is an audio commentary from film historian Thomas Reeder. This track focuses very heavily on producer Ben Pivar, which makes sense given that he wrote Stop Yellin' - Ben Pivar And The Horror, Mystery, And Action-Adventure Films Of His Universal B Unit. We learn how and why Pivar got into the film business and how be wound up at Universal where he cranked out a lot of their low budget pictures. We also hear Reeder’s thoughts on some of the themes and ideas that the picture explores, we get some details on Zucco and the rest of the cast and learn about the film’s director as well.

    The disc also includes a still gallery.

    Menus and chapter selection options are included on all four discs, which fit inside a flipper case. This case, in turn, fits inside a nice cardboard slipcover that also contains an insert booklet containing credits for the four features and a nice selection of vintage promotional art and images for the films included in the set.

    Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 – The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory’s release of The Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 presents four B-horror pictures from the Universal Vaults in fine shape. There aren’t as many extras here as there were in the first collection but it’s still great to get these lesser known titles on Blu-ray. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I'm glad this set is available, but it isn't anything I have to have. It would have been more fun if somebody had shoved a live snake up the ass of whoever thought bringing Ruggles into Zoo was a good idea. He just kills an interesting film.