• The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: March 17th, 2019.
    Director: Lloyd Corrigan/Forde Beebe/George Waggner/Jean Yarbrough
    Cast: Boris Karloff, Warren Hull, Jean Rogers, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erikson, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, Gale Sondergarrad, Robert Lowery, Virginia Grey, Martin Kosleck, Alan Napier, Rondo Hatton
    Year: 1937/1942/1944/1946
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    The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 – Movie Review:

    Shout Factory brings to high definition another four classics of vintage horror from the Universal vaults with their third entry in their (thankfully – yah!) ongoing Universal Horror Collection series.

    Night Key:

    First up, the immortal Boris Karloff plays David Mallory, a kindly, white-haired scientist who is screwed over by Stephen Ranger (Samuel S. Hinds), who takes his latest invention – a security system – and basically runs off with the patent for it. Mallory’s eyes are going, he’s getting up in years and wears thick glasses. However, he knows that before he shuffles off this mortal coil, he needs to do everything that he can in order to provide for his daughter Joan (Jean Rogers).

    As such, Mallory decides to give Ranger a taste of his own medicine by creating a device that will unlock his previously impenetrable invention to render it useless. Mallory, however, is fairly unaware that a bunch of criminals led by the Kid (Alan Baxter) are out to get ahold of Mallory’s titular invention and use it for their own sinister purposes, coercing them into helping out with some robberies and quickly gaining the attention of the cops.

    Not even close to being a horror film, despite its inclusion in this set, Night Key is hardly Karloff’s best work but it does give the actor a decent part to work with and you can’t help but like him in the role. Anytime he’s on screen, the movie is pretty entertaining, and when he’s not… well, it can be a bit dull. The middle part of the film is fairly lifeless, but it picks up steam in the last ten-minutes or so where it showcases some genuinely cool electrocution effects and some neat prop work. It’s also cool to see the lovely Jean Morgan, of the Flash Gordan serials, show up in this one even if she isn’t given all that much to do.

    Night Monster:

    The second film in the set begins when a psychologist named Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey) is asked to investigate that goings on at an old dark house called Ingston Mansion, and use his expertise to properly gauge whether or not Margaret Ingston (Fay Helm), the daughter of wealthy wheelchair-bound Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan), is in check or not. They live in the home, located in a swamp, with a butler named Rolf (Bela Lugosi) and a chauffeur named Laurie (Leif Erickson). Most around Margaret believe her to be insane, despite her claims to the contrary, but after his initial observation, Harper sides with her. Meanwhile, Kurt works with a yogi to practice ‘materialziation,’ which seems to have helped him regain the use of his arms.

    Before long, investigator Dick Baldwin (Don Porter) arrives, conveniently in time as Harper has been receiving some unusual threats that are getting under her skin. Three more doctors with ties to Kurt - Dr. Timmons (Frank Reicher), Dr. Phipps (Franics Pierlot) and the seedy Dr. King (Lionel Atwill) – are called out to investigate in Harper’s footsteps, and it isn’t long before someone or something starts picking them off, one at a time. Baldwin finds himself playing detective, trying to figure out who the killer might be and putting a stop to their acts before yet more bodies pile up, and to keep Harper, who is he is falling in love with, safe from harm.

    This one works very nicely. It’s paced very well and it features a great cast. Lugosi isn’t given as much screen time as his fans will want, but he definitely makes the most of what he does get and really stands out as weird old Rolf. Porter and the lovely Hervey have a reasonable amount of chemistry here and Helm and Morgan are pretty great as the Ingston family.

    The movie is loaded with atmosphere and features some neat effects work. It plays out much like an Agatha Christie whodunnit at times, but the supernatural elements that are worked into the story make this something different, without seeming like they’ve been crammed into the picture simply to include some supernatural elements. Very entertaining stuff and one that fans of classic Universal horror pictures should most certainly appreciate.

    The Climax:

    Up next is the only color film in the set. Dr. Frederick Hohner (Boris Karloff, in his first color film appearance) serves as the physician to the prestigious Vienna Royal Theatre where he falls obsessively in love with the beautiful the star of the theater’s latest production. When she decides to put her career over their relationship, Frederick’s obsession takes over and he commits the ultimate sin.

    Ten years later, Frederick meets another beautiful young singer named Angela Klatt (Susanna Foster) who reminds him quite a bit of the woman he once loved, and killed. It isn’t long before Frederick’s mind goes back into the fits of jealousy and obsession that he thought he had left behind those many years ago and soon he’s decided she’ll never sing for anyone but he. What he doesn’t count on is Susanna's fiancé, Franz Munzer (Turhan Bey), from figuring out his motive and stepping up to stop him.

    Shot in blazing Technicolor, this is a very good-looking film but far from an unsung classic. Karloff is simply okay here, never managing to conjure up the heaviness he was able to bring to so many of his more iconic, and more interesting, lead roles. He looks the part and he’s still got that great use working in his favor, but he seems unusually distant and uninterested throughout. The supporting cast are okay, but never great.

    But the visuals are legitimately great. The use of music is also impressive. As far as technical merits go, this one scores high marks and it is worth seeing simply for the fact that it is Karloff in color for the first time ever – just keep your expectations in check as the film itself is a lesser entry in Universal’s horror catalogue.

    House Of Horrors:

    Last but not least, Marcel De Lange (Martin Kosleck) is a sculptor whose avantgarde work is too much for the mainstream. When an art critic named F. Holmes Harmon (Alan Napier) accompanies Marcel’s latest buyer to his studio and then talks him out of making the purchase, the poor starving artist decides to head to the water front and end it, once and for all.

    When there, he comes across the unconscious body a murderous criminal known as ‘The Creeper’ (the instantly recognizable Rondo Hatton). He takes him back to his studio and nurses him back to health, using the three dollars in the man’s wallet to buy them some food. When The Creeper realizes that Marcel has done for him, he calls him friend and, after conversing a bit, agrees to pose for him for what will surely be Marcel’s masterpiece! Meanwhile, art critics across New York’s art scene wind up dead, their spines snapped in much the same way as some of The Creeper’s female victims. A cop named Larry Brooks (Bill Goodwin) ties the murders to a cheesecake artist named Steven Morrow (Robert Lowry) and his art critic girlfriend Joan Medford (Virginia Grey), but quickly realizes that there’s something more sinister at play than they could possibly be responsible for.

    As briskly paced and entertaining as it is predictable, House Of Horrors makes for a good time at the movies. It has an uneven mix of humor and horror – the constant snappy banter than exists between Lowry and Grey’s characters can be a bit irritating! – but when the film is focusing Kosleck (who will absolutely remind you of Udo Kier in this performance!) and Hatton, it’s pretty great. The film doesn’t offer a lot of surprise, we know where it’s going and how it’s going to get there, but we get some nice atmosphere in the murder set pieces and Hatton’s naturally bizarre and lumbering presence in the film goes a long way towards making it work.

    The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 – 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 their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratios. Detail levels aren’t bad at all for a film of this age and the picture is filmic and stable throughout. 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 first two films in the set are advertised as being taken from new 2k scans of ‘fine grain film elements’ and the third from a ‘fine grain interpositive.’ The three black and white films show good contrast, strong black levels and a decent grey scale. Tthere’s a bit of noticeable wavering on the right side of the screen in a few scenes in House Of Horrors but it’s minor and most probably won’t notice it. Detail is a bit softer on this film than the others. The Climax, being the only color picture, looks quite nice. Colors pop a fair bit and the image, like the others, is in quite nice shape.

    The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 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:

    Night Key:

    Extras on disc start off with a new audio commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and Dr. Robert J. Kiss. They cover how Karloff became involved with this and the quality of his work as the lead, the directing style, the story itself, some of the effects work and the contributions of the cast and crew involved with the picture.

    Additionally, the disc includes a theatrical trailer, a production design stills/production artwork gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Night Monster:

    This disc also features a new audio commentary, this time from film historian Gary D. Rhodes. There’s talk of Lugosi’s work in the picture as well as Atwill’s and the rest of the principal cast members. Ford Beebe’s direction and career is covered in a fair bit of detail as well, and there’s talk of the production values and set design.

    A theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection are also included.

    The Climax:

    Film historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones contribute a new audio commentary for this third film. If you’ve heard these gents before you’ll know what to expect – lots of facts and opinion and occasional dashes of good-natured humor. There’s talk about the cast and crew, the quality of Karloff’s performance, other similar productions that the filmmakers had a hand in, the use of color in the picture, comparisons to Phantom Of The Opera and much more.

    A theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection are also included.

    House Of Horrors:

    This last film features a new audio commentary by film historian/Hatton expert Scott Gallinghouse, who offers up plenty of information about the director, the crew and specifically Hatton’s presence in this picture as well as some interesting biographical details about his life and times. He explores some of the themes that the picture toys with and talks up the visuals as well.

    In addition to the commentary, the fourth disc also contains a great featurette called The Creeper – Rondo Hatton At Universal, again with Gallinghouse. This twenty-two-minute featurette is pretty great, exploring how and why Hatton wound up working in as many of the studio’s pictures as he did and covering his career and interesting life in quite a bit of detail.

    A still gallery, menus and chapter selection are also included.

    All four discs 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.

    The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 – The Final Word:

    The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 is another welcome addition to Shout! Factory’s line. Some of the films are better than others but fans will be happy to have all four of them in high definition for the first time and even when the movies aren’t always amazing, the commentary tracks that accompany them are typically excellent. On top of that, the presentations are quite nice. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I really like NIGHT MONSTER, but it is the only one of the four. So this is yet another of the Universal sets that I will pass on.