Category Archives: Universal Horror

Inner Sanctum Mysteries | Universal’s Lon Chaney Jr showcase on Blu-ray

There is nothing more satisfying than settling down to a classic Universal horror when it comes to a cold, wet wintery day. I have quite a few on various formats, but when I see a new Blu-ray version coming out, I get as excited as I did when I first saw them as a kid on the big screen (as re-releases, of course!). So thank you Eureka Entertainment for adding another 1940s classic to my collection: the Inner Sanctum Mysteries starring Lon Chaney Jr. And what a treat they are.

These six features were based on a US radio show of the same name which ran from 1941 to 1952, whose creaking door opening became legendary. Universal bought the rights as a vehicle for Chaney, who wanted to showcase his talents by starring in each film. Having watched them all and the extras on the Eureka Blu-ray, I now have renewed fondness for Chaney. Filmed before the sad downturn in his career, Chaney is in his prime here. looking ever so suave; while his internal monologues give him the chance to stretch himself as an actor.

But the revelation here is the top-class production design and camerawork, which sparkles in this restoration and reveals ‘a full palette of monochrome’ (a great observation from Peter Atkins in his audio commentary). Also noteworthy is the fantastic supporting cast that graces each chilling mystery (there’s a quite a few fan favourites on show) and the wonderfully atmospheric Paul Sawtell scores. It’s an amazing achievement, especially considering each film was shot in under 12 days.

Here’s a breakdown of Eureka’s two-disc must-have.

DISC ONE

Calling Dr Death (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1943)
After a floating head in a crystal ball introduces us to the first story, Chaney (sporting a pencil-thin moustache) takes the lead as a neurologist who uses hypnotism to discover whether or not he killed his wife. House of Frankenstein‘s J Carrol Naish is the inspector in charge of the case, The Mad Ghoul‘s David Bruce is the man accused of the murder, and Faye Helm (the first victim of Chaney’s Wolfman) also features.

• Audio commentary: Film historian C Courtney Joyner and Regina Le Borg explore the film and TV career of Regina’s director father and how he enjoyed working Chaney. The best bit of trivia: Le Borg was up to direct Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein.
• Trailer

Weird Woman (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944)
Adapted from Fritz Leiber Jr’s Conjure Wife, this mystery finds Chaney cast as a university professor who marries an exotic young woman (Anne Gwynne) who uses witchcraft to further his career – but she comes up against some other practitioners with their own agendas. If you are familiar with Leiber’s book, then you’ll know it was also adapted for the screen in 1962 as Night of the Eagle (AKA Burn! Witch, Burn!). Handsomely mounted, this a faithful take, with a Scream Queen vibe. The Wolf Man‘s Evelyn Ankers and Cat People‘s Elisabeth Russell steal the show. The best bit of trivia: Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) features.

• Audio commentary: Justin Humphreys (The Dr Phibes Companion) and Del Howison (Dark Delicacies: Original Tales of Terror and the Macabre) have great fun while unearthing lots of trivia. Justin’s Les Baxter connection really made me smile.
• Trailer

Dead Man’s Eyes (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944)
Exotic beauty Acquanetta, who is best known for her starring roles in Captive Wild Woman, Jungle Woman and Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, plays the jealous Tanya who blinds Chaney’s artist with acid over his love for Jean Parker (The Ghost Goes West). Offered an operation to restore his sight, Chaney’s Dave but must wait until the donor dies. And when he prematurely conks it, Dave’s in the frame for murder.

  • Trailer
  • Kim Newman on The Inner Sanctum Mysteries – New interview
  • This is the Inner Sanctum: Making a Universal Mystery Series [55 mins] Watch this after you have viewed the films on the second disc, as there are lots of spoilers
  • Radio Episodes: The Amazing Death of Mrs Putnam; The Black Seagull and The Skull That Walked

DISC TWO

The Frozen Ghost (dir. Harold Young, 1945)
In this fourth mystery, Chaney’s a stage mentalist caught up in some weird goings-on in a wax museum. He’s quit his act believing his hypnotism caused an audience member’s death, then becomes the prime suspect when his new employer, a wax museum owner, disappears. Evelyn Ankers plays his heartbroken fiancé and Martin Kosleck (The Mummy’s Curse) is the weird plastic surgeon/sculptor who may or may not behind the shenanigans (see his extra below). This one has shades of Universal’s The Black Cat weaved into the plot.
• Trailer

Strange Confession (dir. John Hoffman, 1945)
Now here’s a tale that’s ripe for a Covid-19-themed update. Chaney’s a dedicated scientist working on an influenza vaccine. J Carrol Naish is the tycoon who cares more for profits and safety [remind you of anybody?]. He steals the formula and has Chaney blacklisted. But when he releases it before all the proper tests are done, it results in the tragic death of Chaney’s son. Loosely based on Jean Bart’s Man Who Reclaimed His Head, this features a young Lloyd Bridges and Mary Gordon (AKA Mrs Hudson from the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films).

• Audio commentary: C Courtney Joyner and (via Zoom) Hellraiser II, III, & IV screenwriter Peter Atkins impart lots of trivia about the film’s production. It’s a great listen, though their audio becomes out of sync with the film which is rather annoying.

Pillow of Death (dir. Wallace Fox, 1945)
The title sounds like a Monty Python sketch, and this final instalment does indeed feature some comic moments. Dispensing with the disembodied head in a crystal ball in the intro, it finds Chaney cast as another murder suspect. This time suffocation is the modus operandi, and the victim is Chaney’s wife. He walks free due to a lack of evidence, then more ‘pillow murders’ take place. But everything is not is what it seems. Along for the ride is Brenda Joyce (AKA Jane from the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies).

  • The Creaking Door: Inside The Inner Sanctum [15 mins] History of the radio series with author/radio historian Martin Grams Jr.
  • Mind Over Matter: Archival interview (20-min) with The Frozen Ghost actor Martin Kosleck, who looks back at his Hollywood career after fleeing Germany where he was targeted by the Nazi’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. A fascinating interview with an incredibly fascinating character, watch out for the expression on his face as he describes Chaney as the most dreadful, old, rude drunk he had ever seen in his life.
  • Radio Episodes: Skeleton Bay, The Man Who Couldn’t Die and Death of a Doll

The Man Who Laughs | The influential silent classic starring Conrad Veidt gets a lauded 4k restoration release

From Eureka Entertainment comes 1928’s The Man Who Laughs on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, and presented from Universal’s 4K restoration, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) which turned Lon Chaney into a superstar, Universal chief Carl Laemmle decided the studio’s next Gothic film super-production would be drawn from another Victor Hugo novel, The Man Who Laughs.

Set in England in the 1680s, the story centres on a young nobleman, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), whose face was mutilated into a permanent grin when he was a child by his executed father’s royal court enemies. Joining a travelling carnival as The Laughing Man, the now-adult Gwynplaine falls in love with his blind companion Dea (Mary Philbin), but his disfigurement causes him to believe he is unworthy of her love. When his royal lineage is discovered and he is granted a peerage, he must choose between marrying a duchess (Olga Baklanova) or fleeing with Dea.

When Lon Chaney became unavailable to play Gwynplaine, Laemmle brought in the ideal alternative – Conrad Veidt, who was also a master at physical performance as witnessed by his iconic turns as Cesare the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) and as Ivan the Terrible in Waxworks (1924).

At the helm was German Expressionist director Paul Leni and cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, who had scored a big hit with Cat in the Canary the previous year. Also on board was Jack Pierce, whose startling makeup on Veidt would echo through the decades – becoming the inspiration for The Joker in the 1940 Batman comic.

Tragedy, romance, and even swashbuckling swordplay all have their part to play in this incredible piece of silent cinema, which features excellent performances from Veidt (whose mannerisms are paid homage to by Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker), Philbin and Baklanova (who would go on to play another sleazy character in Tod Browning’s Freaks in 1932) and some truly astonishing imagery (especially the fantastic character faces that Leni assembles).

A silent classic that needs repeated viewings, and a great addition to Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Universal’s 4K restoration
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (stereo) score by the Berklee School of Music
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (mono) 1928 Movietone score
• Kim Newman on Paul Leni (informative as usual)
The Face Detectives: video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (well-researched with some arty editing – a highlight)
Paul Leni and The Man Who Laughs – video essay by John Sioster (also well researched)
• Rare stills gallery
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford, and Richard Combs

A trio of classic 1930s Pre-Code shockers starring Bela Lugosi on Blu-ray

In 2019, Scream Factory’s first Universal Horror Collection included the all-time 1930s classics The Black Cat and The Raven – two of my favourites – plus The Invisible Ray (another fave) and Black Friday (not so) – starring the kings of horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The box-set was a must-buy for me as they included some stunning Blu-ray presentations, plus a stack of extras, including the fantastic documentary Dreams Within A Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe by Steve Haberman.

Now, I try to avoid double-dipping as best I can, but when I heard that the 1932 Pre-Code chiller Murders in the Rue Morgue was going to be released along withThe Black Cat and The Raven on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series, I just had to check it out.

Directed by Robert Florey as a consolation prize for losing out on Frankenstein, Universal’s third horror outing drew on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1841 story which introduced his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (played somewhat anemically here by Leon Waycoff – later Leon Ames). More Caligari than Poe, the twisted tale sees Lugosi’s mad scientist Dr Mirakle obsessed with creating a new human being by mating his carnival sideshow gorilla Eric (Charles Gemora) with Dupin’s fiancée Camille (Sidney Fox).

Lugosi is terrifically bonkers as the insane genius, cinematographer Karl Freund brings a nightmarish German Expressionist touch to Charles Hall’s Parisian sets (which include twisted buildings, narrow alleyways and a suitably macabre lab), and there are some genuinely unsettling sequences – especially when Lugosi experiments on one of his female victims. Magnificient!

In The Black Cat, Karloff (heading the bill as just Karloff) and Bela Lugosi (in second billing) paired up for the first time (they would go on to make eight pictures together). It has little to do with Poe or his original 1843 story but is fantastically original in both story and design, and directed with feverish flair by Edgar G Ulmer (who also created the wonderful modernist sets and costumes).

Cat-fearing Lugosi is respected Hungarian scientist, Dr Vitus Werdegast, out for revenge against his former friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), who betrayed him during a bloody conflict and stole his wife while he was in prison. David Manners and Julie Bishop are the newlyweds who get caught up in the deadly game, which involves a cult of Satanists, dead women in glass cabinets, necrophilia, Karloff being skinned alive and a dynamite-filled cellar – all set to a soundtrack of classics by Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Just wonderful.

With its ghoulish brew of lust, revenge and torture 1935’s The Raven was deemed so grotesque by the British censor that all American horror films were banned for two years. Lugosi (credited second as just Lugosi here) gives his definitive mad scientist performance as the crazed Poe-obsessed plastic surgeon Dr Richard Vollin, whose unrequited love for his latest patient, interpretive dancer Jean (Irene Ware) drives him to madness.

Luring Jean, her fiancé Jerry (Lester Matthews), who is also Vollin’s assistant, and her father, Judge Thatcher (Samuel Hinds), to his home along with some other dinner guests, he exacts his revenge with some devilish torture contraptions including a pendulum and a shrinking room. Karloff is the unfortunate murderer on the run, Bateman, whose face is purposely disfigured by Vollin so that he does his bidding – but ends up the hero of the piece.

While lacking the fantastical atmosphere of The Black Cat, this Universal outing is packed with thrills and has the look and feel of the popular action serials that director Lew Landers helmed around the same time. A timeless classic.

Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set includes the following special content…

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations, with The Raven presented from a 2K scan
• Uncompressed LPCM monaural audio tracks
• Optional English SDH subtitles
Murders in the Rue Morgue – Audio commentary by Gregory William Mank
The Black Cat audio commentaries by Gregory William Mank (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Amy Simmons
The Raven audio commentaries by Gary D Rhodes (carried over from the Scream Factory release) and Samm Deighan
Cats In Horror – a video essay by Lee Gambin
American Gothic – a video essay by Kat Ellinger
The Black Cat episode of radio series Mystery In The Air, starring Peter Lorre
The Tell-Tale Heart episode of radio series Inner Sanctum Mysteries, starring Boris Karloff
• Bela Lugosi reads The Tell-Tale Heart (carried over from the Scream Factory release)
• Vintage footage (of Karloff and Lugosi inspecting black cats in a publicity stunt)
• New interview with author Kim Newman
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film critic and writer Jon Towlson; a new essay by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and rare archival imagery and ephemera

The Night Walker (1964) | William Castle’s twisty thriller moves to a haunting Vic Mizzy beat

The Night Walker (1964)From Final Cut Entertainment comes the first-time UK DVD release of William Castle’s 1964 thriller The Night Walker.

In her last feature film before heading to TV land, Barbara Stanwyck reunited with her former husband Robert Taylor for this mystery-suspense from legendary showman Castle, who casts aside his usual gimmicks and instead relies on the reputation of Psycho author Robert Bloch, who wrote the screenplay under the original title, The Dream Killer.

The Night Walker (1964)

Stanwyck plays Irene Trent, a former beauty-parlour owner who is plagued by dreams of a fantasy lover. When her blind, possessive inventor husband Howard (Hayden Rorke) is killed in an explosion in the upstairs lab of their mansion home, Irene inherits his fortune…

But fact and fantasy get all messed up when Irene’s lover (Lloyd Bochner) appears before her and whisks her off to be married. Unsure whether it was a dream or not, Irene enlists the help of her husband’s attorney, Barry Moreland (Robert Taylor), to uncover the truth… But all is not what it seems as The Night Walker makes his nightmarish return…

The Night Walker (1964)

Aside from the twists, turns and red-herrings, there’s some genuinely creepy moments to be found in the monochrome chiller, including a frightening image of a hand clutching an eyeball, which jumps out at you in the opening sequence as Paul Frees narrates a prologue on the subject of nightmares.

When I first saw this film as a youngster, I was deeply shocked by Hayden Rorke’s cane-tapping entrance from out of the shadows, which slowly revealed his horribly burned face. But it wasn’t his disfigurement or the idea that he might be an undead ghoul that disturbed me – it was seeing I Dream of Jeannie‘s Dr Bellows playing it mean and despicable. But I have to admit his make-up was pretty cool.

While light on the camp hysterics of the same-year’s Strait-Jacket (starring Joan Crawford), Castle’s woman in peril follow-up is a surreal, entertaining treat that will have you guessing till the very end. Stanwyck plays it with serious intent, and earns our sympathy (and respect) as a result, while Vic Mizzy’s harpsichord-fused score deftly underpins the film’s funereal tone (now: is it just me, or does the main theme sound like Food, Glorious Food from Lionel Bart’s Oliver). The exteriors were all shot at the Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch mansion in LA, which would become home to Elsa Lanchester and an army of rats in 1971’s Willard, while Mizzy’s catchy soundtrack got a Percepto Records CD release in 2002 (which now fetches ridiculous prices).

The Night Walker (1964)

There’s also a collectable paperback tie-in, written by Sidney Stuart and based on Bloch’s screenplay, which was published in 1964 by Awards Books. This features the same imagery as the poster art, which was a variant of Henry Fuseli’s influential 1781 painting The Nightmare – of a demonic creature crouching over a sleeping woman. In the poster art, this incubus is painted as a horned devil, which does not appear in the film. However, it does have a curious link to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Night Walker (1964)

On the audio commentary of Optimum Home Entertainment’s 2006 Blu-ray release, del Toro revealed his inspiration for the Pale Man (the ogre who inserts a pair of eyes into the palms of his hands) was based on an image from a film poster that he once saw as a youngster. While he doesn’t mention the name of the film, he was most probably referring to The Night Walker, because of that eyeball in the hand that appears in the opening sequence and on the poster art (which Final Cut have reproduced here for their release). By the way, I have to credit film historian Tim Lucas for being the first to muse over this connection. But I think he’s hit the mark.

The Night Walker (1964)

Final Cut Entertainment’s UK DVD release features a lovely print of the film, but is lacking in bonus content – like the audio commentary that was included on the Shout Factory Blu-ray release in the US (whose trailer I have included below). Still, if you are a collector of William Castle’s films, and don’t have a multi-region player, then you should consider adding this to your collection.

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Your Guide to Universal’s Mummy Films of the 1940s

The Mummy's Ghost

Recently, I got a hold of Universal’s The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection on Blu-ray, which gave me a chance to revisit not only the Karloff original, but also the 1940’s Kharis Mummy movies, which I had not seen since I was a kid.

Now released in HD for the first time, they sure look great, but – boy! – aren’t they a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns? Here’s a look back at the shuffling mis-adventures of Kharis, the ancient Egyptian avenger…

The Mummy's Hand

The Mummy’s Hand, 1940
Starring Dick Foran, George Zucco, Cecil Kellaway.
Director: Christy Cabanne.

Eight years after Boris Karloff donned bandages for Karl Freund’s The Mummy, Universal resuscitated the movie monster (now called Kharis, as Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep had crumbled to dust) for four new adventures. Cowboy star Tom Tyler is the black-eyed Egyptian avenger restored to life (with the fluid from a handful of Tana leaves) by Andoheb, George Zucco’s-newly appointed High Priest of Karnak, to wreak revenge on the archaeological team who are trying to locate the tomb of the Princess Ananka (whom Kharis tried to raise from the dead back in 1472 BC, but ended getting buried alive with his tongue cut out).

Dick Foran is the archaeologist, Steve Banning, and Wallace Ford is his wisecracking sidekick, Babe Jenson; while Cecil Kellaway is the travelling magician who funds their doomed trip, and Peggy Moran is his daughter who gets carried away by Kharis (literally) when Zucco’s Andoheb decides to make her immortal – much to Kharis’ annoyance.

To save on the budget, Kharis’ back-story incorporates Karloff’s incarceration from the 1932 film, while the temple from Universal’s 1940 adventure Green Hell is also re-used as Zucco’s secret lair in the Hill of the Seven Jackals. Looking at it today, the film is a bit of a joke as there’s no real horror on display, suspense or drama (although Tyler’s weird black eyes still disturb). It plays more like a comical adventure serial, and nobody bothered to double-check the hieroglyphics (which are meaningless), the Arabic (misspelled), or doing any historical research (Zucco’s temple is more Mayan than Egyptian, and his character mistakes the Incas as coming from Mexico).

Except for the odd flash of inventiveness that recall Universal’s 1930s glory days when German expressionism informed its production design, it’s a poor start to the Kharis series. Thankfully, Hammer would put their own macabre stamp on the iconic creature when they used this film and its sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb, as the basis for their 1957 Technicolor version.

The Mummy's Tomb

The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Dick Foran, Turhan Bey.
Director: Harold Young.

30 years after the Banning Expedition desecrated Princess Ananka’s tomb in The Mummy’s Hand, Kharis (who survived his blazing demise) is transported to a cemetery in Mapleton, Massachusetts by Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey, aka the Turkish Delight), under the orders of George Zucco’s expiring Andoheb (who somehow survived being shot multiple times in the previous entry) to hunt down and kill the remaining members of the dig and their descendants.

Purists have often wondered whether it really is Lon Chaney Jr all the time under Jack Pierce’s make-up and bandages (as there are three stunt people also credited, including Eddie Parker); and whether playing a role in which he neither speaks nor is recognisable was a wise career choice. His shuffling Kharis is pretty poor. Moving at a snail’s pace with one lame arm, it’s incredible that any of his victims don’t just run away – instead they stay put (as though frozen in fear), or pretend to be cornered so that he can lunge at them with his one powerful arm (he was supposedly restored partially paralysed in the first film because of a lack of Tana leaf juice) and strangle them to death.

To keep the budget small and to fill out the running time, extensive flashbacks from The Mummy’s Hand are used before we get a repeat of the previous film’s revenge plot – only minus the wise cracks and pratfalls. The film does have some atmospheric cinematography and lighting effects, courtesy of George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London), especially the scenes set in the American gothic-styled cemetery. And it all looks a treat in this HD Blu-ray presentation, although it does show up the rubber mask on the Mummy as well.

Like the first film, it ends with a frightened lovely (Elyse Knox) dressed in another stunning Vera West gown being carted off by Kharis, so that the infatuated High Priest can make her his immortal bride. And, once again, the villain is shot while Kharis goes up in flames…

The Mummy's Ghost

The Mummy’s Ghost, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, George Zucco.
Director: Reginald LeBorg

My favourite of the Kharis mummy series, this one starts off just the last two, with George Zucco again playing the withered old High Priest (who seems to have more lives than a cat) who tasks another acolyte, this time a youthful John Carradine (as Youssef Bey) with bringing Ananka and Kharis back home to Egypt.

Bizarrely, Ananka’s protectors aren’t the High Priests of Karnak now, but Arkam. However, those Tana leaves are still lurking about – but with added mythology. Just as wolfbane can cure lyncathropy if prepared during a full moon, the fluid taken from the Tana leaves during the same lunar cycle can usher forth Kharis’ ghost (hence the title).

While the film is basically the same plot as the previous two, director Reginald LeBorg does stir things up by having the Princess reincarnated in the shapely form of former pin-up Ramsay Ames. She plays Amina Mensori, a student of Egyptology who is based in the very same town that Kharis shuffled amok years beforehand. LeBorg brings much flair to the proceedings, and there’s a real effort to make Chaney’s Mummy more menacing looking (BTW: his appearance ended up being used as the template for Aurora’s classic glow in the dark model kit that I have had since I was a kid).

In a clever nod to The Bride of Frankenstein, Ames gets a white streak in her perfectly-coiffured bonnet, which turns pure white as Ananka’s soul takes over (causing her to age rapidly) when Kharis ends up carrying her down into the murky depths of a nearby swamp in the film’s climax.

The Mummy's Ghost

The Mummy's Curse

The Mummy’s Curse, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Virginia Christine, Martin Kosleck.
Director: Leslie Goodwins.

Five months after the release of The Mummy’s Ghost, Universal rushed out this final sequel for a Christmas release, thus completing Lon Chaney Jr’s trio of turns as the shuffling undead Kharis (although he did spoof the character in an episode of Route 66 in 1962’s Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing). And – except for one sequence – this is the worst of the lot.

Unlike today, Universal had little care for their franchise and totally stuffs up the continuity and mythology by setting this follow-up in Louisiana instead of New England. When the swamp where Kharis and Ananka drowned is planned to be drained the Scripps Museum sends two representatives, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and an Egyptian colleague Zandaab (Peter Cobb), to retrieve their bodies. Of course, Zanbaab is secretly a high priest of the Arkam set, and he has help in construction worker Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), who has Kharis’ body interred at an old abandoned monastery.

Meanwhile, Princess Ananka emerges from a muddy coffin and ends up a Jane Doe in the care of Halsey and his girl Betty (Kay Harding). Of course, its not long before Kharis arrives on the scene and whisks her away for the final showdown at the monastery… which ends badly for one and all, especially poor Ananka.

This was a rare horror entry from British-born director Leslie Goodwins, who was better at low-budget comedies, and also marked the feature debut of Virginia Christine, who’d go onto light character roles. It’s quite poor, and reeks of racial stereotyping, especially the Cajun Joe character. Chaney only gets one good scene, at the end, as the monastery collapses on him (watch him keep his composure as a heavy brick smashes into his face); and the day-for-night shots are infuriating. But it does have one scene which still haunts, and that’s when Christine’s Ananka emerges from her resting place in the swamp. It’s a striking scene, especially in the way in which Christine plays it.

The Mummy's Curse

Of course, Universal couldn’t keep their Mummy down for too long. In 1955, Abbott and Costello got their chance to have a date with Klaris (a pun on Kharis) for their 28th and final film comedy, with Eddie Parker wearing what looks like a onesie decorated with a bandage motif. Except to fans of the comic duo and their verbal gymnastics, this was a poor end to their feature film careers.

Abott and Costello Meet the Mummy

Universal Pictures unveils a new world of gods and monsters – Dark Universe

Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters…

Universal Pictures has announced that its series of films reviving the studio’s classic monster characters for a new generation will be known as Dark Universe. The motion logo for the new initiative features a musical theme composed by Danny Elfman and will debut in theaters preceding The Mummy, which will be released on 9 June.

Dark Universe was begun by core creatives Alex Kurtzman, who also serves as director and producer of The Mummy, the inaugural film in the new classic monster series, and The Mummy producer Chris Morgan, who recently saw The Fate of the Furious, the sixth film he wrote for the Fast & Furious franchise, claim the biggest opening in history at the global box office when it opened on April 14. Also joining the enterprise to inspire and entertain a new generation are such visionary talents as Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp.

“When Universal approached us with the idea of re-imagining these classic characters, we recognised the responsibility of respecting their legacy while bringing them into new and modern adventures,” said Kurtzman and Morgan.

In another exciting development, Oscar winner Bill Condon will follow his worldwide smash Beauty and the Beast, one of this year’s biggest hits—which crossed $1 billion at the global box office and became the most successful musical of all time—by directing Bride of Frankenstein, from a screenplay by Koepp, which will be released on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

“I’m very excited to bring a new Bride of Frankenstein to life on screen, particularly since James Whale’s original creation is still so potent,” stated Condon. “The Bride of Frankenstein remains the most iconic female monster in film history, and that’s a testament to Whale’s masterpiece—which endures as one of the greatest movies ever made.”

Dark Universe films will be distinguished by performances from some of the most talented and popular global superstars stepping into iconic roles, as well as electric new talents whose careers are starting to break through.  The Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s Monster will be played by Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem, who appear together later this summer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Those actors join Tom Cruise as soldier of fortune Nick Morton and Russell Crowe as Dr Henry Jekyll, who lead the all-star cast of The Mummy, along with Sofia Boutella, the actress who embodies the title role in that film.

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Universal’s Complete Legacy Collection | Four Classic Monsters Blu-ray Box Sets featuring 22 HD firsts

Universal Classic Horror Legacy Collection

Universal Pictures’ stable of classic monsters featuring Frankenstein (and his creature), Dracula (and his kin), the Mummy (and his tanna leaf-chewing disciples) and the Wolfman (and his brood) have all been unleashed again onto Blu-ray in the UK in four new box sets containing 27 classic creepies, (*22 of them Blu-ray firsts) and all digitally restored so that fans, both old and new, can witness just why this monster club remains one of cinemas finest creations.

Now, back in 2012, I rushed out and bought the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection featuring 8 classics and a host of bonus content. It was a beautiful release featuring all my old favourites gorgeously restored. This one includes many of those special features (all marked ! below), but the big plus is including ALL of the sequels of each of the four monster legacies.

Mind you, there’s no Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon or Phantom of the Opera this time round, but hopefully Universal will eventually release them under their Complete Legacy Collection banner – which will be most welcomed by film completists like myself.

So here’s what you get… (*) is new to Blu-ray

The Frankenstein Legacy Collection

Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein* (1939), Ghost of Frankenstein* (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics!
• The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made A Monster!
• Karloff: The Gentle Monster!
• Monster Tracks (subtitle file, interactive pop-up facts about the making of Frankenstein)!
• Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)!
• Frankenstein Archives!
• Boo!: A Short Film!
• Feature Commentary With Film Historian Rudy Behlmer!
• Feature Commentary With Historian Sir Christopher Frayling!
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics!
• She’s Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein!
• The Bride of Frankenstein Archives!
• The Bride of Frankenstein commentary with Scott MacQueen!
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott And Costello Theatrical Trailer
• Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein commentary With Film Historian Gregory W. Mank

The Dracula Legacy Collection

Dracula (1931), Dracula’s Daughter* (1936), Son of Dracula* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• Dracula (1931) Spanish Version!
• Introduction to the Spanish Version by Lupita Tovar Kohner!
• Dracula: The Restoration!
• The Road To Dracula!
• Lugosi: The Dark Prince!
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal!
• Alternate Score By Philip Glass with the Kronos Quartet!
• Four Unrestored Trailers!
• Dracula Archives!
• Monster Tracks Pop-Up Facts (subtitle file)!
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein commentary With Film Historian Gregory W Mank

The Wolf Man Legacy Collection

The Wolf Man (1941), She-Wolf of London* (1946), Werewolf of London* (1935), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• Centennial Trailer
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• Monsters By Moonlight!
• The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth!
• Pure In Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.!
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce!
• The Wolf Man Archives!
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott And Costello Theatrical Trailer
• Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein Commentary with Film Historian Gregory W. Mank

The Mummy Legacy Collection

The Mummy (1932), The Mummy’s Hand* (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb* (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost* (1944), The Mummy’s Curse*, (1944), and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy* (1955)

Special Features
• The Mummy Feature Commentary with Film Historian Paul Jensen!
• Mummy Dearest Featurette!
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce!
• Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
• Unravelling the Legacy of the Mummy!

 

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The House of the Seven Gables (1940) | When Universal adpated Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic Gothic novel

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AN ANCIENT HOUSE! A MURDER SECRET! A HIDDEN TREASURE!
For 160 years the New England Pyncheons have lived under a curse after an ancestor had a man called Matthew Maule condemned to hang so that he could steal his land and build his dream house in Salem. When patriarch Gerald (Gilbert Emery) dies during a heated argument with his aspiring songwriter son Clifford (Vincent Price), his other son, Boston lawyer Jaffrey (George Sanders) seizes on the opportunity to claim the house for himself and have his brother sent down for murder.

But when Clifford’s intended bride Hepzibah (Margaret Lindsay) inherits the family estate, she kicks Jaffrey out and locks herself up in the house and from the outside world. Two decades later, Hepzibah has turned into a bitter sinister, but the arrival of orphaned niece Phoebe (Nan Grey) and the machinations of a mysterious lodger Holgrave (Dick Foran) could prove to change her fortune, and reunite her with her beloved Clifford.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

‘What a pity man must inherit their ancestors ignorance, instead of their wisdom’
This 1940 Universal melodrama, directed by Joe May, is a handsome adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, but fuses its Gothic themes of guilt, retribution and atonement with a contemporary take on Cain and Abel and a bittersweet romance over three acts.

Appearing in one of his earliest screen roles, Vincent Price’s native midwestern accent comes through, especially in the first act, where he brings an educated, theatrical quality to his happy-go-lucky bohemian Clifford who despises his family’s dark history. And this is used to great effect in his trial scene (a travesty of justice that infers the Salem witch trials of 1692), in which he evokes Maule’s curse (‘God has given him blood to drink’) on his brother Jaffrey, who has used the most degenerate means to keep the house on the belief a fortune in land deeds and gold lies hidden within its walls. And following Clifford’s incarceration, Price’s voice takes on a melancholy timbre to denote his weariness at his captivity. He would go on to use this sombre tone to great effect in his more famous roles, in which he played cads and villains, but here he shows his mettle as a romantic leading man.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

Keen eyed viewers might recognise a scene in which Vincent Price’s Clifford points out the unsavoury professions of his ancestors whose portraits decorate the walls of the family home, for it was later used by Roger Corman in his first Poe picture, The House of Usher, and then spoofed by Price in 1966’s Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

Vincent’s voice also comes in fine form in singing the theme tune, The Color of Your Eyes, by Frank Skinner and Ralph Reed. But it’s not the only time that Price would display his wonderful baritone on screen. He filmed a musical sequence for 1944’s Laura, but it was removed in the final cut, while for many years his singing at the end of Dr Phibes Rises Again (Somewhere Over the Rainbow) and Madhouse (When Day Is Done) went missing in action during the VHS era.

While Vincent Price and George Sanders (at his slimy best) are the star names here, they were virtually unknowns at the time, while 1930s star Margaret Lindsay is a revelation, and watching her Hepzibah change from light and gay sweetheart to bitter crone (whose rasping voice sounds very much like Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful) is pathos personified.

As Matthew Maule, a direct descendant of the man who cursed the Pyncheons and a committed abolitionist who helps Clifford get his revenge, Dick Foran makes for a engaging hero, but his character also gave the film’s screenwriter Lester Cole the chance to inject some personal political views with lines like: ‘How is it possible to arrest a man for speaking freely of freedom in a country whose constitution guarantees freedom – and justice?’. These left-wing views would later earn the film some notoriety when it was shown on TV in the 1950s during the McCarthy communist witch-hunt era.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

But the film’s politics are overshadowed by the film’s two romantic storylines which see Hepzibah and Clifford finally reuniting after so long apart, and Matthew (masquerading as Holgrave) courting and catching Phoebe, while providence and fate work against the vile Jaffrey.

The direction might be a touch too sentimental for modern audiences, but the solid lead performances, Frank Skinner’s Oscar-nominated musical score, the atmospheric photography and the authentic recreation of the original 16th-century Turner-Ingersoll mansion in Salem that inspired the Hawthorne novel, makes this Universal melodrama a classic worth repeating.

The House of the Seven GablesTHE UK DVD RELEASE
The Screenbound Pictures Region 2 DVD release presents a pristine transfer of the 89-minute black and white film in a 1:37:1 aspect ratio.

The only extra is a 10-minute interview with star Vincent Price on Aspel and Company (1984) in which he looks back at some highs and lows of his screen career, and reveals to the British chat show host Michael Aspel what frightens him most.

Available from: http://www.classicfilmsdirect.com/product/the-house-of-the-seven-gables

The Leech Woman (1960) | Staying young forever comes at a deadly price in the Universal B-movie classic

The Leech Woman (1960)

Old women always give me the creeps!
When US endocrinologist Dr Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) encounters 152-year-old Malla (Estelle Hemsley), he discovers she may hold the key to eternal youth. Accompanied by his alcoholic wife June (Nightmare Alley‘s Coleen Gray), Talbot takes Malla back to her African tribe, the Nandos, where she transforms back into her youthful self (To Kill A Mockingbird‘s Kim Hamilton) with the help of a ring filled with a miraculous elixir. However, there’s a deadly price to be paid: as the ring’s secret ingredient is secretion of the male pineal gland that can only be obtained by killing its host.

On learning that she is to be the next test subject, June kills her husband, steals the ring and heads back to the US under the guise of her own niece Terry Hart. But settling into her double life, June/Terry discovers she must kill and kill again to retain her beauty. But one of her victims proves her undoing when tries to win the affections of her lawyer Neil (Grant Williams aka The Incredible Shrinking Man)…

The Leech Woman (1960)

‘She drained men of their loves and lives’
Produced as a second feature to the US release of Hammer’s The Brides of Dracula, 1960s The Leech Woman is curious entry in Universal’s classic horror cycle. Helmed by screenwriter Edward Dein (who worked on the 1940s Tom Conway Falcon movies) it’s a strange brew of jungle adventure (cue stock footage of African wildlife and tribal dances), marriage meltdown soap drama and sci-fi fantasy.

While not exactly a spoof, the film doesn’t play it entirely straight, and this is evident from the outset as Coleen Gray and Phillip Terry trade acidic insults as bitter couple June and Paul Talbot in the film’s first act, which contains all of the film’s best dialogue, including: ‘I can’t reach you without crawling into a bottle’ and ‘As I doctor I resent the word butchering as much as I resent looking at you!’ Of course, being the first husband of Joan Crawford, Terry probably had a lot of material to use for these hilarious scenes.

And as a pertinent reminder of Universal’s horror pedigree, there’s some in-joke references to 1941’s The Wolf Man and 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb that will tickle the fancy of classic horror fans, while 1950s scream queen Gloria Talbott is super fiery as Gray’s love rival, Sally.

The Leech Woman (1960)

‘I’ll show you! I’ll becoming beautiful again!’
With vanity, Gerascophobia (the fear of growing old), and modern society’s obsession with halting the aging process at the heart of the thriller, the most revealing line of the film: ‘There’s only one trouble with running away – you always meet yourself when you get there’. Which is what eventually happens to June when, cornered by the police after killing Sally, decides to leap to her death rather than face the horror of seeing herself age and shrivel up (courtesy of make-up legend Bud Westmore’s box of tricks). However, she does get to take her swan dive in a chic silver lamé culottes-styled evening dress creation by Bill Thomas (the same costume designer who also did all the fab gowns in Douglas Sirk’s big-budget soapy 1950s melodramas).

This is campy B-movie fun with an acid tongue and one important lesson: never try to steal Nandos’ secret recipe for their delicious chicken marinade.

The Screenbound Pictures DVD release features a pristine print of the black and white horror, with Dolby Digital mono sound.

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The Black Cat (1941) | This vintage horror whodunit is a nostalgic laugh riot

The Black Cat (1941)

There’s something wrong in the house of Winslow
Wealthy eccentric Henrietta Winslow (Cecilia Loftus) loves her cats more than anything or anyone, and when it comes to the reading of her own will, Henrietta discovers ‘she has more relatives hanging around her than a dead sheep has surrounded by vultures’, so remarks antique dealer Mr Penny (Hugh Herbert) when he accompanies estate agent Gil Smith (Broderick Crawford) to Henrietta’s crumbling mansion to take inventory of her estate.

But she’s not dead yet, fellas! Well that little matter doesn’t stop one of Henrietta’s money-hungry relatives from stabbing her to death with a hatpin… But what they don’t know is that there’s a clause in her will that prevents all of them getting anything until her beloved pets and housekeeper Abigail are dead. And that’s the killer’s cue to use secret passages and a storm as cover to do just that…

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This 1941 black and white horror whodunit was Universal’s answer to Paramount’s 1939 comic creeper The Cat and the Canary, and it was just as successful at the box office.

Providing the sinister stares are Bela Lugosi as gloomy gypsy manservant Eduardo and Gale Sondergaard as surly housekeeper Abigail (who has a puss like a lemon rinse), while Basil Rathbone takes time out from his Sherlock Holmes’ duties to play an adulterous cad ‘who should have been actor’, (according to Henrietta). Of course, Universal’s resident ghouls are just red herrings as the real killer is eventually unmasked as… Alan Ladd, Claire Dodd, John Eldredge or Gladys Cooper (you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out).

As flirty niece Elaine, Anne Gwynne makes for a sparky heroine, while burly Broderick Crawford tries to be Bob Hope but comes off more like Lon Chaney Jr. Then there’s veteran comic Hugh ‘Whoo-hoo!’ Herbert who acts like he’s in another movie altogether.

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Featuring atmospheric camerawork that landed Stanley Cortez the cinematography gig on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (check out the cat lamps that turn a fireplace into a giant feline face); a script that crackles with one-liners; and a creepy mansion that comes with it own crematorium dedicated to deceased pussies, The Black Cat is a nostalgic laugh riot.

And while it may have nothing to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story, save for some eerie cat howls, and the film’s gags run out of steam towards the end, the energy of the classy cast certainly makes up for those minor oversights.

The Black Cat is released on DVD in the UK from Final Cut Entertainment

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