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Universal Horror Collection Volume 1 Blu-ray Review

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Karloff and Lugosi fans will treasure Universal Horror Collection Volume 1.

The Universal Horror Collection Volume 1 Blu-ray set contains 4 films that starred both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The first film on the set is 1934’s “The Black Cat” which is based on the Edgar Allan Poe story. The story concerns a newlywed couple (the Alisons) and the eccentric Dr. Vitus winding up at the house of a creepy and wealthy architect (Poelzig) after an accident. Vitus and Poelzig have a history together and, unbeknownst to Vitus, Poelzig has kept the Doctor’s daughter secretly as his wife. Oh, and Poelzig has a satanist cult. To say this is a weird and off-the-wall horror movie is an understatement. The tone is unusual, the story is all over the place (and often underdeveloped), and both Karloff and Lugosi are playing among the weirdest characters of their careers. Still, it’s worth watching out of sheer curiosity because it’s not really comparable to many movies.

1935’s “The Raven” (which is also based on an Edgar Allan Poe story) is easily the best of the four films here. The film begins with a woman named Jean being injured in car accident. The retired, macabre, Edgar Allan Poe loving Dr. Vollin is called in to save Jean’s life and he does so. In the process, he becomes obsessed with her. The other key storyline here involves a criminal named Edmond Bateman who needs his face changed. Vollin makes him look like a monster and uses him for his evil deeds in a blackmail like fashion. Along with “Dracula,” Lugosi gives one of the best performances of his career as the weird, creepy, and mad Dr. Vollin. Lugosi is truly the star of this movie and you can tell from the start that he is relishing the opportunity he has been presented with. Karloff has a much more standard role here, but is the heart and soul of the film in many ways. In terms of the film itself, it cleverly integrates various Poe story elements while also telling a story about obsession in its many forms.

1936’s “The Invisible Ray” is a sci-fi horror film revolving around a brilliant scientist named Janos who become a murderous highly radiated being after coming into contact with a substance called Radium X. Of the 4 films, this is the weakest of the lot as it falls victim to a meandering middle act, a dull romantic subplot, an excess of dry dialogue, and uninvolving pseudo-science. Boris Karloff is the lone highlight here as Janos as he manages to give the character more depth than is on the page. Sadly, Lugosi has very little to do here as Dr. Benet.

Last, but not least is 1940’s “Black Friday.” No, this is not about the shopping bonanza on the day after Thanksgiving. This is more of a gangster sci-fi film than a horror film. The plot begins with a scientist/Dr. Sovac (Karloff) who is sentenced to death. The story then flashes back to Sovac and his friend Professor George Kingsley who is injured in an accident by gangsters. To save George, Sovac has to do a brain transplant from a criminal (Red) who happens to have a large amount of money stashed away. Naturally, complications ensue. The Jekyll and Hyde esque story about greed, crime, and science gone awry moves pretty quick and is an admirable genre mash-up. Strangely, Lugosi and Karloff are not the MVPs here unlike the previous 3 films. Instead, actor Stanley Ridges absolutely steals the show playing dual roles as a mild mannered Professor and a murderous gangster.

Video/Audio:

Presentation: 1.33:1 1080p. How does it look? Every film aside from “The Black Cat” has a new 2K scan from the original elements. “The Raven” looks the best here while “Black Friday” also impresses. “The Black Cat” looks a bit rough while “Ray” appears hit-and-miss (it’s a bit too grainy and scratch filled especially with the radiated FX shots).

Audio Track: DTS-HD Mono. How does it sound? “The Black Cat” sounds a bit scratchy but the other 3 films have quality Mono tracks.

Extras:
* A booklet featuring credits and photos.
* Still galleries for all 4 films.
* Trailers for “The Invisible Ray” and “Black Friday.”
* An audio recording of Lugosi reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” and a radio drama of the same classic story featuring Karloff.
* “Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema Of Edgar Allan Poe”- A thorough new 56 minute documentary about the history of cinematic Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.
* “A Good Game: Karloff And Lugosi At Universal- Part One: The Black Cat,” “A Good Game: Karloff At Universal- Part Two: The Raven,” “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi At Universal- Part 3: The Invisible Ray,” “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi At Universal- Part 4: Black Friday”- New extras about the four film’s history. Lugosi and Karloff are, of course, talked about in great length. Interviews with film historians are included.
* 2 commentaries on “The Raven.” One by Gary D. Rhodes and the other by Steve Haberman. Both tracks are incredibly informative and full of facts.
* 2 commentaries on “The Black Cat.” one by Gregory William Mank and the other by Steve Haberman. You can’t go wrong with either of these factual commentaries.
* “Vintage Footage- The Black Cat Contest”- Brief silent footage of a black cat contest.
* Commentary on “Black Friday” by Constantine Nasr. Informative, but it’s rather dull to listen to this clearly scripted track.
* Commentary on “The Invisible Ray” by Tom Weaver and Randall Larson. Tom does much of the commentary with Larson only doing some. Both provide a wealth of information despite the scripted and somewhat stilted tracks.

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June 19, 2019 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , , , , , ,

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