DVD Review: Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection
By Jeff Swindoll Oct 11, 2006, 13:45 GMT
Doctor X - A monster lurks as New York newspaperman Lee Taylor investigates one of the "Moon Killer" murders, in which the victims are strangled, cannibalized and surgically incised under the light of the full moon. The trail leads to the cliffside mansion of Dr. Xavier, where the doctor and his colleagues conduct a strange experiment. Return of Doctor X - New York newspaper reporter Walter Barnett finds himself out ...more
Warner Brothers gives you both a treat and a little bit of a trick this Halloween season with the release of some classic horror films. The treat is wonderful for classic horror movie lovers, but the trick is that if you just want one or two of the films then you get a razor blade filled apple.
Okay, it’s not as bad as the mouth shredding apple but you have to buy the whole set. If you just wanted a specific title from the set then you’re out of luck. However, those clever Warner Brother ghouls and boys have assembled such a nice set that you’ll have no trouble plunking down the cash. Even if they were available separately, the discs are double features and you still might have to buy a couple of discs if you wanted two titles.
For those of us that remember the laserdisc days this set basically replicates the MGM Horror Classics laserdisc release from 1996, but without the hefty price tag. It also throws in two more films and some nice special features. [Though I was sorely tempted I never got that LD set because of the price tag. I’m glad that I waited] No worries since the set is worth every penny, in my humble opinion.
I’m going to put my plot descriptions in chronological order, but that’s not the way they appear on the set. The set puts two films per disc (Mark of the Vampire/Mask of Fu Manchu, Doctor X/Return of Doctor X, and Mad Love/The Devil-Doll) and houses them in 3 slim cases.
Doctor X (1932) The “Moon Killer” is stalking the town and all clues lead back to the Scientific Research Academy. Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill), the head of the Academy, asks the police for more time to find out who the Moon Killer is before they publicize their suspicions that one of the scientists there is a suspect. Dr. X invites all of the suspects (Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford, and Arthur Edmund Carewe) out to his secluded, mountaintop mansions so that he can hook them up to his gizmo that measures psychic beams (or some mumbo jumbo) and reveal the killer. His daughter Joan (Fay Wray) is also present, but has been followed by the smitten newshound Lee Taylor (Lee Tracey) of the Daily World News. Will Dr. X be able to reveal the killer or will his daughter be added to the list of victims?
Dr. X is the first horror film to ever be shot in two strip Technicolor and is presented here in that format. It looks a little beat up, but the Technicolor looks very appealing (look for the blood on the lab coats). The movie is pure hokum, but is actually pretty fun. Atwill plays it straight and the comedy is handled by the newsman Lee Tracey. Scream queen Fay Wray gets to give her pipes a short workout. This may be one of her first horror films, but her queenly status would be cemented when she had a date with a large ape. If you really think about it the subject matter is really pretty raw for the 1930s – cannibalism.
Scott MacQueen provides an interesting commentary and the other special feature is the film’s theatrical trailer. What is somewhat disappointing is that the black and white version that was shot simultaneously is talked about on the commentary, but is not on the disc.
The black and white version used different camera angles and some scenes are different. Ironically, it was the two strip that was thought to be lost but now the black and white version appears to be lost (maybe it is lost, but MacQueen talks about it like he has seen it).
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) Dr. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) is trying to find the lost tomb of Genghis Khan. Within lies the legendary sword and mask of Khan. Legend has it that the possessor of those objects will enslave the world. Dr. Fu Manchu is assisted in his search by his sadistic daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy). Fu’s mortal enemy Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) is out to make sure that Fu cannot get his hands (complete with oversized fingernails) on the sword.
This would be the one and only time that horror icon Boris Karloff essayed the role of Sax Rohmer’s Devil Doctor. Karloff is obviously having a grand old time complete with Asian makeup, over the top lines (Conquer and breed!), and a torture chamber to die for. The makeup and lines would be considered so politically incorrect these days.
However, perhaps not in just our “enlightened” times because Mask of Fu Manchu was subject to many cuts across the land. This cut is the uncut version and complete with all the horror and political incorrectness intact – huzzah! Myrna Loy is also quite wonderful as the devilish offspring of our demented Doctor – screaming in ecstasy as some poor slob is repeatedly whipped.
Special features include a commentary by Greg Mank (author of Karloff and Lugosi: A Story of a Haunting Collaboration). Unfortunately, the theatrical trailer appears to be lost to time. Luckily the uncut print has not. Speaking of having a good time, Mank is obviously having one doing this commentary.
Mad Love (1935) The creepy Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) is smitten with actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake). He attends her grand guignol play and appears to be in ecstasy as she is faux tortured onstage. He approaches her but finds out that she is married to concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). Stephen is in a train wreck and his hands are damaged beyond repair.
Yvonne uses Gogol’s infatuation to get him to repair Stephen’s hands so that he can play again. Gogol complies but replaces the pianist’s hands with those of a recently executed knife throwing murderer. Gogol then comes up with another scene to drive Stephen insane and claim Yvonne for his very own. Will he succeed or will it be Gogol that drops off the precipice and into the abyss of insanity?
Behind Mask of Fu Manchu, Mad Love is my favorite disc in the set. It all comes from the deranged performance of Peter Lorre. The finest hour is when he is posing as the reanimated killer – complete with metal hands and an neck brace since the killer was beheaded! Excellent film from director Karl Freund and her German expressionistic touches. If you’ve never seen this one, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Special features include a commentary by author Steve Haberman, who even graces us (opinions may vary on the quality) with his Peter Lorre imitation. The theatrical trailer is also included. The trailer is a doozy, featuring Peter Lorre chatting on the phone about his role in Mad Love.
Mark of the Vampire (1935) The vampire has returned. It was believed that a vampire was responsible for the death of Sir Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) year before. Now again vampires are stalking the estate’s grounds in the form of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter (Carol Borland). Sir Borotyn’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) appears to be the next victim. It’s up to Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) and Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) to make sure that she doesn’t fall under the Count’s spell.
Mark of the Vampire is a remake of the lost Lon Chaney picture London After Midnight. If you’re at all familiar with that picture you know that the vampires roaming around the fog bound estate are [spoiler] all part of a ruse to capture the real killer. What’s even funnier is that this elaborate ruse is not actually what catches the killer – it’s hypnotism! [/spoiler] Bela plays the Count, complete with bullet to the temple, as only Bela can. Unfortunately he has only one line and that’s at the end of the picture. The more interesting role is that of Borland who was hand picked for the role by Lugosi. She became a cult figure for her reminisces of having worked with Lugosi.
Mark of the Vampire features a commentary by Kim Newman and Steve Jones. It’s another commentary where the participants have a helluva time, the listener along with them. The theatrical trailer is also included - ironically Lugosi has many more lines in the trailer than in the actual picture.
The Devil-Doll (1936) Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) escapes from Devil’s Island with Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) in tow. They make it to Marcel’s hideaway and are greeted by his creepy wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano). It seems that Marcel is a scientist and has perfected the process which he can shrink people. He wants to help the world by shrinking people so that food supplies can never run out but his process makes the subject mindless and under the mind control of the scientist.
Unfortunately, Marcel drops dead. Lavond has other plans for Marcel’s discovery and goes back to Paris to revenge himself on those responsible for putting him on Devil’s Island. To make sure that his daughter Lorraine (Maureen O’Sullivan) doesn’t recognize him he dons drag and masquerades as the proprietress of a doll shop.
Devil-Doll is a bit of a hoot with Barrymore running around in drag for most of the film. The concept is a bit of a stretch but can be enjoyable if you turn off your brain. Where the film suffers is in the special effects department. The primitive effects occasionally make it where you can actually see through parts of the little doll people (maybe we can rationalize that their atoms are unstable or something). What blows the movie way over the top is the outlandish performance of Ottiano, who shamelessly mugs for the camera and looks like Elsa Lanchester gone bonkers.
Sadly, Devil-Doll is the one film in the set that doesn’t have a commentary. The only special feature is the theatrical trailer.
Return of Doctor X (1939) Walter (Wayne Morris) is a newspaper reporter who is supposed to be interviewing actress Angela Merrova (Lya Lys). When he shows up at her apartment he finds her dead and her body drained of blood. Being the good newshound he calls the paper first to get the news on the front page and then calls the police. When the police arrive they don’t find a body.
The next day Merrova shows up at the paper and threatens to sue the paper for greatly exaggerating her demise (but she does look awful pale). He contacts his pal Dr. Rhodes (Dennis Morgan) to find out if Merrova could’ve survived the wound he saw. They’re called upon the scene where a blood donor has been also drained of blood. This leads them to consult the blood expert Dr. Flegg (John Litel) and his creepy assistant Quesne (Humphrey Bogart), but the real trail will lead them to the child murderer Dr. Xavier.
It should be said up front that this Dr. X is no relation to Lionel Atwill’s Dr. X. It’s a sequel in name only. The real attraction is Humphrey Bogart in his only horror role, complete with pale complexion and distinguished white streak in his hair. The movie was done fairly cheaply but it’s Bogie that everyone looks back to the movie with interest.
Special features on this title are truly special. It features a commentary with Steve Haberman and the 99 year old director Vincent Sherman. Sherman’s voice and memory don’t sound like that of a 99 year old man. Unfortunately, Sherman died a short time after this (short of his 100th birthday) so we are very fortunate to have this commentary track. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included. All films are presented in their original fullscreen aspect ratios.
The package is quite handsome in my opinion and well worth the money. I am ecstatic to have these films on DVD, especially the uncut Mask of Fu Manchu. They’ll make the perfect treat under your Halloween tree.