BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review

Universal Horror Collection Volume One: The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), and Black Friday (1940) - Blu-ray Review

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Black Cat

Karloff.  Lugosi.  What’s not to love about this pairing?  Absolutely nothing at all and the proof is Scream Factory's new 2K scanned release of the films that make up the Universal Horror Collection, Volume One.

Pre-Code Hollywood fascinates me.  There are a lot of grand and wonderful films reflecting the true culture of the time period from 1930 – 1934.  Man, it must have been a wild time.  These films, featuring strong sexual innuendos, different races mingling together, strong female characters, lots of skin, malicious murders, and horrors upon horrors of grisly situations still resonate.  Which is why the first volume of Universal Horror Collection is of so much interest.  Satanism?  Yeah, it is here, too. 

"Moody and full of great moments in horror history, most of these films are classics in their own right and bound together like this, well, they make purchasing it an absolute necessity"


Starring Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi, this set includes some of their strongest and strangest features: The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), and Black Friday (1940).  It definitely will not disappoint fans of these two horror icons as their work here – often complementing each other – is some of their very finest in the genre of horror and suspense.  Who can forget Karloff’s thin-lipped smile in The Black Cat?  Or the trap set by a wild-eyed Lugosi in The Invisible Ray?  No one.

The first movie in the set is The Black Cat and that film, thanks to a continuous score from American composer Heinz Eric Roemheld, establishes exactly why this set of four movies matters to Horror buffs like myself as two towering GIANTS of horror history go at it.  This movie is STILL a monster-sized success and, arriving a few years after Dracula and Frankenstein, proved to be a BIG money-maker for Universal even though no monsters were included; only Satanists.  While loosely based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe, this movie is made memorable by Lugosi’s skinning of Karloff and not so much the work it is based on.

Poe’s beloved poem, The Raven, is the target for the next feature included in the set.  While Karloff had just stepped away from Bride of Frankenstein and was still top-billed by the studio, he plays second fiddle to Lugosi in this film, even though the title sequences here have both actors listed as KARLOFF and LUGOSI only.  And Lugosi simply steals the flick with a demented performance as the dominant character.  Unfortunately, it would be his final opportunity to be the leading man.

The Raven sees Lugosi as retired surgeon Dr. Richard Vollin (who just happens to be obsessed with Poe and his many depictions of torture) who plays mad doctor when his lust for a woman causes him to disfigure Karloff’s Edmond Bateman in order to do his bidding.  Things go wrong, though, when his newly deformed man-turned-monster refuses to be the bad guy.  Quick moving and full of interesting set pieces, this horror film might not be as well-executed (or received) as The Black Cat, yet it definitely proves that these two titans of horror had no problem, at the time, in playing second fiddle to the other. 

That drama would come later because, by 1936, it appears to be in bubbling a bit with The Invisible Ray when Karloff is pronounced as “THE GREAT KARLOFF” by Universal and is sold as a Science Fiction film instead of horror.  Yes, things are changing and the production value of the film is also obvious as Frances Drake, a fine actress, is also included.  But Lugosi’s treatment at Universal was beyond obvious.  He was a second class act in their eyes and it was beginning to show. 

The Invisible Ray, with the Griffith Observatory being new to Hollywood, is a different sort of Mad Scientist flick, though.  It is a horror film, though.  It just doesn’t go to the extremes of what had come before in the other pairings.  Lugosi, as Dr. Felix Benet, makes the best of the role he’s given but this is Karloff’s picture through and through and, as the sympathetic mad scientist Dr. Janos Rukh who invents a telescope that allows humans to bounce rays of light in the Andromeda Galaxy in order to see Earth’s past, his presence gets illuminated when an unknown radiation turns him into a killing machine.  These two actors, of course, are professionals and their play off of each other is damned remarkable, making The Invisible Ray a must-see of science-fictiony horror hokum. The Raven

The final film included is Black Friday, a disappointing final film for their pairing at Universal.  Appearing in 1940, this flick takes its Science and its Fiction and sprinkles a bit more gangsters into the mix, creating a brain transplanting film that might have been the final crack between Lugosi and Karloff as parts were switched due to Karloff’s insistence.  That’s right, Karloff and Lugosi never share the screen.  What’s the point then?  The kicker here is that, after the success of Son of Frankenstein (a film in which both titans of terror share the screen), actor Stanley Ridges is the film’s star.  This should have been a no-brainer for Universal

And it was - as it was originally cast correctly - supposed to be a strong vehicle for both Lugosi and Karloff, but that’s not what happens here, making this film a terrible miss.  Karloff gets the role he wanted upon his request (and he maybe thought Lugosi would get the better part for him, too), but Lugosi gets relegated to a bit part and, ironically, never shares the screen with Karloff as a result.  Perhaps Karloff didn't know that Universal would stiff Lugosi due to his accent.  It's hard to say; the point is that Ridges gets the part that should have been Lugosi's and fans of Ridges will be pleased by the switcheroo.  But, damn, this film suffers as a result.

Moody and full of great moments in horror history, most of these films are classics in their own right and bound together like this, well, they make purchasing it an absolute necessity and the new-found appreciation for them is practically palpable. Now, for Part Two . . .

5/5 beers

Black Friday

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Shout Factory
Available on Blu-ray
- June 18, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:

Discs: Blu-ray Disc; four-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

With new 2K scans, these films – all in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a strong English 1.0 DTS-HD MA tracks.  The black-and-white photography is ripe with details and depth, highlighting the scope of the productions.  There are lots of sumptuous looks at torture chambers, houses, laboratories, and cities, too.  Interiors are solid, too, with lots of strong details.  The cast and their faces are perfectly captured by the black and white photography; lines and imperfections add great character to the individual stories, too.

Commentary:

  • See Special Features.

Special Features:

Scream Factory has jammed this release with lots of commentaries and a series of retrospective looks at each of the films.  They are all quite interesting and fans will eat them up.

DISC ONE: THE BLACK CAT

  • NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Gregory William Mank
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman
  • NEW Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema Of Edgar Allan Poe – Narrated By Doug Bradley
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff And Lugosi At Universal Part One: The Black Cat
  • Vintage Footage – The Black Cat Contest
  • Still Gallery

DISC TWO: THE RAVEN

  • NEW 2K Scan Of The Original Film Elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Gary D. Rhodes
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff And Lugosi At Universal Part Two: The Raven
  • Audio Recording: Bela Lugosi Reads “The Tell-Tale Heart”
  • Still Gallery

DISC THREE: THE INVISIBLE RAY

  • NEW 2K Scan Of The Original Film Elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Authors/Film Historians Tom Weaver And Randall Larson
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff And Lugosi At Universal Part Three: The Invisible Ray
  • Re-Release Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

DISC FOUR: BLACK FRIDAY

  • NEW 2K Scan Of The Original Film Elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary With Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff And Lugosi At Universal Part Four: Black Friday
  • Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Show: “The Tell-Tale Heart” Starring Boris Karloff
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 4/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4.5/5 stars

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