'Boris Karloff Collection - 6 Movie Set'
(Boris Karloff, et al / 2-DVD / NR / 2015 / Mill Creek Entertainment)
Overview: Here we now have 6 films with the Master of Horror himself, Boris Karloff! He was the epitome of class and style. No matter how grisly the circumstances, he'd rise above with talent, poise and even charm. Enjoy 6 of his finest chillers from his peak years in the 1930s and 1940s, all demonstrating his amazing range. It's a collection all fervent classic horror fans have been eagerly waiting for!
DVD Verdict: First up is 'The Black Room' (1935), starring Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Robert Allen, and Thurston Hall. This film, little known except amongst traditional horror fans, is a sparkling gem. It is an outstanding story about two twin brothers, one of them evil and the other benevolent, who grow up surrounded by a curse that says the older brother will die at the hands of the younger brother in the mysterious Black Room. Karloff plays both brothers and he is excellent, quipping evil commands and leering as the malevolent sibling and prancing and being overly solicitous as the good brother. Karloff breathes life in every pore of this film. He is the focal point of attention as he speaks each line. Few of his performances show so much of his range and few show him as such a twisted, ruthless individual. This is a must see for the Karloff fan, or any fan of good old-fashioned horror stories.
Next up is 'The Man They Could Not Hang' (1939), starring Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, and Roger Pryor. 'The Man They Could Not Hang' has to be one of Boris's better movies and I have seen it a couple of times. A mad scientist is about to do an experiment to bring somebody back to life using a special device he has invented. His assistant's girlfriend reports him to the police and they arrive before he completes the experiment and is arrested and sentenced to death. After hanging, his assistant takes his body and manages to bring him back to life and he then gets revenge on the people who sentenced him. In a struggle at the end, he is shot and he dies for the second time.
Then comes 'The Man With Nine Lives' (1940), starring Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers, and Stanley Brown. A doctor researching "frozen therapy" seeks out Boris Karloff, the therapy's originator. Boris has been missing from his island laboratory for ten years. After ignoring requests to stay off the island by locals, the doctor and his beautiful nurse discover Boris frozen in secret caves beneath the lab. Boris has been frozen along with a host of villagers. Through flashback it is learned these others came to arrest Boris for murder ten years earlier and they all wound up being gassed and frozen. This is the proof Karloff needs to vindicate his research. He sets out to duplicate his accidental results, his methods become increasingly Machiavellian. Ultimately he is his own undoing. This movie is hard to categorize. The film makers tried to add shock to an interesting sci-fi story. The film succeeds in spite of the efforts to punch it up. The acting is uneven but overall this is a top notch "B" effort. The science is very plausible, a rarity in old laboratory films.
Next comes 'Before I Hang' (1940), starring Boris Karloff, Evelyn Keyes, Bruce Bennett, and Edward Van Sloan. Boris Karloff, typecast in the horror genre, was one of our most underrated film actors. Here is a typical film of his middle career that showcases his versatile skills, equally strong as the benign, elderly scientist and his murderous, strangling younger self. This B-movie packs a lot of atmosphere and suspense into it's hour running time. Any shortcomings cannot be blamed on anyone but the screenwriter, Robert D. Andrews, who was just trying to keep things moving- not such a bad thing, actually. Nick Grinde does an excellent job making the most out of the script and witness Karloff's fireside confession for an example of the film's above average cinematography. It's also nice to see Karloff side by side with Edward Van Sloan again nine years after 'Frankenstein.'
Then comes 'The Devil Commands' (1941), starring Boris Karloff, Richard Fiske, Amanda Duff, and Anne Revere. Dr. Julian Blair has been conducting experiments with research with brain waves. One night, while en route to pick up his daughter from the train station, his wife is killed in a car crash, and Dr. Blair becomes obsessed with using research to be able to remain in contact with his late wife. His colleagues, assistant/Dr. Richard Sayles, and daughter Ann try to convince Dr. Blair, that these experiments are bordering on the occult, by the doctor scoffs them all off. When Dr. Blair's handyman Karl tells his boss of an experience he had with a medium, Mrs. Walters. Dr. Blair goes to the seance that night and uncovers Mrs. Walters hoax, but is convinced that she has extraordinary brain waves. While experimenting using Mrs. Walters, Karl becomes injured, shorting out his brain and nervous system. Shortly after, Dr. Blair (with Mrs. Walters and Karl) moves to a secluded house in Maine to further conduct his experiments, which unnerve the townspeople and the sheriff, who believes the doctor was responsible for the theft of the recently deceased, which Dr. Blair uses as conductors for his experiments. Dr. Blair later becomes convinced that Ann holds the key for communicating with his deceased love, but will he use her before the townspeople storm his house believing him responsible for the death of a local?
Lastly we have 'The Boogie Man Will Get You' (1942), starring Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Max Rosenbloom, and Larry Parks. The plot follows a young woman who decides to purchase an old Colonial mansion in the middle of nowhere with the hopes of turning it into a hotel, even though it is barely standing. Her ex-husband finds her only seconds after she has made the purchase (a plot device never fully explained) and tried to convince her she's been swindled. She doesn't care, having become fond of the eclectic cast of characters that inhabit the house ... but little does she know, the old man who works in the basement is actually trying to create a race of electric supermen! Bodies begin piling up (or do they?), Peter Lorre shows up playing the town mayor/sheriff/notary with a kitten in his coat pocket, and general Hollywood hijinks ensue. The ending is a mess, but it ends up being so convoluted, it somehow finds charms in all of its lunacy. While far from intelligent entertainment, you could do a lot worse for 66 minutes of your life. These are all Full Screen Presentations, with an Aspect Ratio of 4x3.