Blog Archives

The Cat and the Canary (1939) & The Ghost Breakers (1940) |  A double-bill of ghosts and gags with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment come the Bob Hope/Paulette Goodard classics The Cat and the Canary (1939) & The Ghost Breakers (1940) on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK. 

The Cat and the Canary (dir. Elliott Nugent, 1939)
A decade after the death of an eccentric millionaire, his remaining relatives gather for the reading of the will at his abandoned mansion set deep in the Louisiana bayous. His niece Joyce (Paulette Goddard) is named the sole inheritor, but under the condition that she does not go insane within the next 30 days.

Timid radio actor Wally (Bob Hope) vows to protect Joyce, who must spend the night in the haunted mansion along with her jealous relatives, a creepy maid and a homicidal maniac who has just escaped from a nearby sanitarium…

A slick mix of wisecracking comedy and spooky thrills, The Cat and the Canary turned Bob Hope into a Hollywood star and won Paulette Goddard a 10-year contract with Paramount. One of the earliest ‘old dark house’ mysteries, first filmed as a silent in 1927, it was tailored to Hope’s characteristic style, which he’d go onto hone in his buddy comedies with Bing Crosby, and gave Goddard the chance to shine as the spirited heroine.

Stylishly staged, it boasts wonderfully gloomy performances from George Zucco as a stiff lawyer and Gale Sondergaard as the sinister housekeeper. Following this film, Zucco and Sondergaard went on to play the villainous Moriarty and The Spider Woman in Universal’s big-screen Sherlock Holmes adventures opposite Basil Rathbone. The success of the film led to Hope and Goddard re-teaming for The Ghost Breakers (1940).

The Ghost Breakers (dir. George Marshall, 1940)
Larry Lawrence (Hope), sought in connection with a murder he didn’t commit, eludes New York police by hiding in a steamer trunk belonging to Mary Carter (Goddard), who is sailing to Cuba to take possession of an inheritance – a haunted castle.

Sensing that Mary is in danger, Larry and his valet Alex (Willie Best) precede her to the island, which is seemingly inhabited by a ghost, a zombie and perhaps even a flesh ‘n’ blood fiend…

Romance, comedy and chills are all on offer in this follow-up, with Hope and Goddard battling earthly and un-earthly foes—and trying to keep from ending up as ghosts themselves.

This was the third film version of the 1909 play of the same name, and although it delivers on the gallows humour and atmospherics, the whiff of political incorrectness does permeate. Still, it’s a classic treat, and features a young Anthony Quinn in a dual role (just a year before his breakthrough performance in 1941’s Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power).

Hope also shows his Republican colours in one joke (which he repeats in the 1949 radio adaptation). Director George Marshall remade the film in 1953 (Scared Stiff), featuring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, plus a cameo from Hope and Bing Crosby.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• 1080p presentation of both films from scans of the original film elements supplied by Universal, with The Ghost Breakers presented from a new 2K master
• Optional English SDH
• Audio commentary tracks on both films with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
• Kim Newman on The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers
The Ghost Breakers radio adaptation (4 April 1949) – Do listen to this, as it’s a lot of fun, and Hope’s interaction with the live audience is a hoot.
• Trailers
• Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann

Available to order from Eureka Store:  https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/the-cat-and-the-canary-ghost-breakers/

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) | The influential pre-Code adventure thrills again on Blu-ray

Back in 1924, American author and journalist Richard Connell published what has become one of the most popular and influential short stories ever written (in English) – The Most Dangerous Game. It centres on Sanger Rainsford, a New York City big-game hunter who gets the tables turned on him after he gets washed up on a Caribbean island where he is hunted down by Russian aristocrat General Zaroff and his deaf-mute servant. It’s been adapted countless times – on film, radio and television – and continues to inspire film and television makers, video game developers and even the creators of Paintball. 

But the very first film adaptation remains the best – RKO Pictures’ 1932 fast-paced pre-Code adventure starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, and Leslie Banks, which is now out on Blu-ray, from a 2K restored scan as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

McCrea takes on the role of the heroic big-game hunter (called Bob here), while Banks is the egotistical Zaroff. Fay Wray, meanwhile, plays a character created especially for the film (for added scream queen/romantic interest value).

Taking advantage of the jungle sets created for co-producers Ernest B. Schoedsack, and Merian C Cooper’s King Kong (including that famous gigantic log), The Most Dangerous Game was filmed at night after Kong had concluded for the day, with many of the cast and crew (including McCrea and Wray) pulling double duty on both productions.

In many respects (such as the excellent production design, optical effects and Max Steiner score – which he pulled together at the eleventh hour), it comes off as a screen test for King Kong. But it really is its own beast – mainly thanks to Leslie Banks’ hypnotic, OTT theatrical performance. 

The Masters of Cinema Series 2K restored scan Blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic and includes some super extras, most notably three radio adaptations featuring Orson Welles and Keenan Wynn (1943); J Carrol Naish and Joseph Cotten (1945) and Paul Frees and Hans Conried (1947), which all dispense with the Fay Wray character and include many lines from the film’s screenplay.

I also particularly enjoyed the audio commentary and totally agree with Stephen Jones’ idea that McCrea and his ripped shirt in the closing scenes inspired the Doc Savage pulp magazine covers that began in 1933, a year after The Most Dangerous Game hit US cinemas.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 2K restored scan
  • Optional English SDH & Unrestored audio
  • Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
  • Kim Newman on the ‘hunted human’ sub-genre
  • Film scholar Stephen Thrower on The Most Dangerous Game
  • Merian C Cooper: Reminisces (1971 audio interview, July 1971)
  • Suspense 1943 radio adaptation
  • Suspense 1945 radio adaptation
  • Escape 1947 radio adaptation
  • German theatrical trailer
  • A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann

The Spine of Night (2021) | An animated ultraviolent fantasy horror thrill ride

Ultraviolent barbarism and cosmic horror collide in an epic animated fantasy from animator Morgan Galen King and Love, Death, & Robots‘ Philip Gelatt. The culmination of seven years of painstaking handcrafted work, The Spine of Night, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD following its exclusive release on the Shudder streaming service.

The film opens with a swamp witch, Tzod (Lucy Lawless), seeking out an ancient guardian (Richard E Grant), who possesses knowledge about a sacred blue flower with mystical properties. Together they share stories about how the bloom has shaped not only their fates but also all existence. What follows is a centuries-spanning saga involving a tomb robber, star-crossed lovers, a maniacal necromancer and winged assassins.

Utilising the old-school rotoscoping process (where the art is literally drawn over reference footage of live-action performers mapping out the movements of the story), this ambitious animated feature echoes the same style used by Ralph Bakshi in Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978) and Fire and Ice (1983), only with a great deal more blood, gore, ultraviolence and nudity (just check it out below).

That rare technique is crucial to the filmmakers’ vision here, and it certainly pays off with a spellbindingly surreal sword and sorcery thrill ride with an existential bent that is certain to please genre fans and is the anti-thesis of the cartoony animated styles currently employed by Pixar, Disney and their ilk.

The Acorn Media International Blu-ray/DVD release includes an excellent ‘Making Of’ featurette, and two shorts, Exordium (8mins) and Mongrel (3min).

The Owl Service (1969) | Alan Garner’s landmark Welsh valley-set children’s drama on Blu-ray

Broadcast in the UK during the winter of 1969/1970, this adaptation of Alan Garner’s 1967 novel of the same name, about an ancient story being brought back to life in a ‘modern/1960s’ Welsh valley, weaves a heady brew of the supernatural, sexual jealousy and class divide. Now, the eight-part Granada Television/ITV series is available on Blu-ray from Network in the UK.

Alison (Gillian Hills), her mum Margaret (who is never seen), her new husband Clive (Edwin Richfield) and his son Roger (Francis Wallis) are taking their first holiday together in a country house in the Welsh countryside, which Alison has inherited from her late dad. The house staff includes the rather peculiar groundskeeper Huw (Raymond Llewellyn), frightful housekeeper Nancy (Dorothy Edwards) and her son, Gwyn (Michael Holden).

When Alison discovers a service of old dinner plates with a pattern that turns into owls when traced on paper, she sets in motion a centuries-old legend that’s connected to Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers, who appears in the Welsh epic poem The Mabinogion. 

Regarded as something of a landmark, The Owl Service is not your typical children’s TV drama (especially given the way it addresses adolescent sexuality within a pagan context and uses experimental editing to infuse the story with supernatural elements). The cast is all excellent in their respective roles, though Edwards and Llewellyn chew the scenery at every chance, and their bizarre characterisations so belong to the weird universes of The League of Gentlemen, Twin Peaks and their ilk – as does the final episode, which is OTT bonkers surreal.

And if you are a film location fan like myself, you might like to know that The Stone of Gronw replica, created for the series, still lies in situ on the bank of the River Dovey today. I will so be paying a visit one day soon.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Archive interviews with Alan Garner from 1968 and 1980
• Commentaries on selected episodes by writer/broadcaster Tim Worthington
• Image gallery
• Limited edition booklet written by Stephen McKay, Chris Lynch and Kim Newman

ORDER FROM NETWORK: https://new.networkonair.com/the-owl-service/

The Owl Service is out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Network

An original ‘owl service’ ceramic plate that inspired Alan Garner’s novel.
According to Griselda Garner, (Alan’s wife), the service originally belonged to her aunt, who bought it at a farm sale in Somerset but then ‘packed [it] away and put [it] in a barn because she said that the owls watching her eat gave her indigestion’. Image: Bodleian Libraries

The Ballad of Tam Lin | Ava Gardner casts a seductive spell in Roddy McDowall’s off-kilter British fantasy curio on Blu-ray

In her last major lead role and 44th feature, Hollywood legend Ava Gardner holds seductive sway in the rarely seen, often overlooked 1970 British fantasy, The Ballad of Tam Lin, which was also the sole directorial credit of Roddy McDowall (who ‘escaped’ the Planet of the Apes to do his pet project). It’s certainly a weird one, and that’s probably why I love it so much. Think part folk horror/part Blow-Up style Swinging Sixties critique, shot through a psychedelic lens.

Based on a folkloric Robert Burns poem, the fantasy centres all on Gardner as the Praying mantis-like Michaela Cazaret, an immortal witch/creature whose current lover/victim is London photographer Tom Lynn (Ian McShane). With her coterie of thrill-seeking hipster hangers-on (who imbue her with the energy she needs to survive), Michaela heads to her moorland estate in the Scottish Borders for some psychological fun and games. But when Tom falls for the local vicar’s daughter Janet (Stephanie Beacham), who soon falls pregnant, Tom is doomed to ritual sacrifice… 

Gardner’s presence permeates the screen thanks to McDowall’s devoted direction, and she looks every inch the screen goddess thanks to cinematographer Billy Williams’ lighting and framing. McDowall pre-planned every shot, and the results are sublime. He then paired his meticulously curated images with a heady mix of musical styles, including songs by folk favourites Pentangle and an evocative score by composer supremo Stanley Myers.

Supporting the divine Gardner is a bevvy of up-and-coming British talent, including McShane and Beachman, as well as Joanna Lumley, Madeline Smith and Jenny Hanley, elder statesmen Cyril Cusack and Richard Wattis, and also a pre-Rocky Horror Peter Hinwood and pre-Withnail and I Bruce Robinson.

Of course, the big question is, why didn’t McDowall go on to direct more films? Some say that as a keen/professional photographer, he had done what he set out to do. Another theory is that he was so stung by the debacle (which is explained in the audio commentary and booklet) that caused the film to sink into obscurity (after its truncated 1972 US release at The Devil’s Widow) that he just gave up. It’s a pity, as I would have loved to see what he’d do next. Still, if he had, he may not have continued with the Apes films (particularly my favourite, 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).

I am so pleased it has been given so much renewed love in this BFI UK release. But it is the extras that make this a must-have for any cult film collector – as it includes an insightful audio commentary by the BFI Flipside co-founders, plus interviews with cast members Ian McShane, Stephanie Beacham and Madeline Smith, and Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee. Also included are some typically offbeat extras that so fit the BFI Flipside’s quirky and obscure agenda. An Australian Blu-ray release was also put out in November 2021 by Imprint, with a mix and match of similar extras (check them out below).

Special features

  • Presented in High Definition in the original aspect ratio 2.35:1 // BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM 2.0 mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Audio commentary by BFI Flipside co-founders William Fowler and Vic Pratt (2021) 
  • Love You and Leave You For Dead (2021, 11 mins): Ian McShane on Tam Lin
  • An Eerie Tale to Tell (2021, 10 mins): Stephanie Beacham on Tam Lin
  • Ballad of a B-Movie: Revisiting Tam Lin (2021, 12 mins): an interview with Roddy McDowall biographer David Del Valle
  • Legendary Ladies of the Silver Screen: Ava Gardner (1998, 18 mins): Roddy McDowall remembers Ava Gardner and The Ballad of Tam Lin in this adoring archive introduction
  • Adventures Along the Way (2022, 32 mins): an interview with Madeline Smith
  • Listening In (2022, 27 mins): Jacqui McShee, the lead singer of the seminal British folk group Pentangle, recalls the writing and recording of the film’s cult soundtrack
  • Hans Zimmer on Stanley Myers (2021, 20 mins, audio only): the much-loved composer discusses the work of Stanley Myers
  • Red Red? Red (Jim Weiss, Chris Maudson, John Phillips, 1971, 34 mins): an impressionistic study of a commune in Devon where people dress up, play instruments, make love and take part in strange revolutionary games
  • Border Country (26 mins): rare short films from the BFI National Archive reveal rural lifestyles at Scotland’s edge
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Booklet with a new essay on the film by the BFI’s William Fowler, essays by Sam Dunn and Corinna Reicher, a contemporary review by Tom Milne from Monthly Film Bulletin and notes on the special features and credits

ORDER from the BFI Shop: https://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-ballad-of-tam-lin-blu-ray.html

THE US IMPRINT EXTRAS NOT PORTED OVER
• Audio Commentary from author and journalist Dr Adam Scovell
• Interview with Cinematographer Billy Williams;
• Interview with Actress Delia Lindsay 
• Interview with Actor Kiffer Weisselberg
• Interview with Assistant First Director Peter Boyle
• Tam Lin & the representations of the witch in film Visual Essay from author Kat Ellinger 

Karloff in Maniacal Mayhem | Three creepy classics from the Universal vaults head to Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Maniacal Mayhem – the two-disc Blu-ray boxset featuring three tales of terror from the Universal archives starring Boris Karloff: The Invisible Ray (1936), Black Friday (1940) and The Strange Door (1951). Available from 17 October 2022.

Each film is presented in 1080p from 2K scans of the original film elements with optional English SDH. Also included is a limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on all three films by film writers Andrew Graves, Rich Johnson, and Craig Ian Mann.

While The Invisible Ray and Black Friday were previously included in the first volume of Scream! Factory’s Universal Horror Collection in the US, this is the first Blu-ray outing for The Strange Door

THE INVISIBLE RAY (dir. Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
This vintage sci-fi sees Karloff playing the first of his many sympathetic scientist-turned-society menace roles and is a direct follow-up to his first pairing with Bela Lugosi, 1935’s The Raven. He plays astronomer Dr Janos Rukh (Karloff), who is contaminated by a super-powerful element he dubs Radium X. Lugosi is Dr Benet, a fellow scientist who devises a temporary antidote. But when Benet presents the discovery as his own, Rukh becomes consumed by revenge and goes on a killing spree.

Featuring effective luminescent special effects from John P Fulton, some great sets (borrowed from Flash Gordon and Frankenstein), excellent performances from Karloff and Lugosi, and a thrilling climax in which Violet Kemble Cooper (playing Karloff’s mother) saves the day, The Invisible Ray is a sci-fi classic that still stands up today. Footage later turned up in the 1939 Lugosi serial, The Phantom Creeps

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

BLACK FRIDAY (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1940)
Karloff and Lugosi are at it again in this bizarre gangster/horror film penned by Curt Siodmak. Karloff plays amoral surgeon Dr Sovac, who transplants part of a mobster’s brain into the body of his dying college professor friend George (Stanley Ridges), creating a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who starts murdering his former criminal associates.

This was the last of the Karloff-Lugosi Universal pairings. Unfortunately, they have no scenes together. Originally, Karloff was to play the professor and Lugosi the doctor. Still, Karloff didn’t want to do another dual role (he’d already down that in 1935’s The Black Room), so Lugosi got short shrift by the director and handed a minor role instead – which is a shame because this is quite a thrilling little gem, which plays more like a crime film than outright horror. Ridges, however, does an excellent job playing the two roles. Writer Siodmak later revisited the brain transplant idea in his 1942 sci-fi novel Donovan’s Brain and its subsequent 1953 film adaptation.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

THE STRANGE DOOR (dir. Joseph Pevney, 1951)
Charles Laughton takes centre stage as the wicked 18th-century French nobleman Sire Alain de Maletroit, who has imprisoned his brother Edmond (Paul Cavanagh) in a dungeon for 20 years. Now he wants to ruin the life of his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest) by forcing her to marry the roguish Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley). But his plan is upset when Denis attempts to rescue the girl, aided by Karloff’s abused servant, Voltan.

Coming out a year before The Black Castle, this costume shocker based loosely on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson boasts an incredibly OTT performance from Laughton, who outshines everyone else in the cast – including Karloff, who stays in the shadows for most of the film.

In his biography, Charles Laughton – A Difficult Actor, Simon Callow wrote of his performance, ‘he messes sloppily around, pulling faces, slobbering, leering, chuckling, wheezing, a nightmarish display of an acting machine out of control’. He’s so spot on – and that’s what makes this so much fun to watch. 

You also get some wonderfully evocative Gothic sets and dressing, including a creepy cemetery and castle backdrop that’s pure classic horror Universal-style. Indeed this was the last of the studio’s period chillers before it headed into science fiction territory. Also appearing are Batman‘s Alan Napier and a fave of mine, Australian actor Michael Pate.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman
• Three radio adaptations of The Sire de Maletroit’s Door (Escape – 4 August 1947, Theatre Royal – 1 November 1953, CBS Radio Mystery Theatre – 6 February 1975)
• Stills galleries – production stills, artwork and ephemera

Identification of a Woman (1982) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s final film gets a 40th-anniversary restoration release

Michelangelo Antonioni’s rarely seen final masterwork, 1982’s Identification of a Woman (AKA dentificazione di una donna), is the director’s own bookend to his lifelong exploration of the imprecise nature of human relationships, incommunicability and alienation. Now it’s getting a 2K restoration release from CultFilms on Blu-ray and digital on-demand (from 12 September 2022).

After his wife leaves him, a film director (Tomas Milian) is searching for a muse while preparing his new film. He enters into a passionate affair with a striking young aristocratic woman (Daniela Silverio). But after a stranger orders him to stop seeing her, she vanishes shortly after… While searching for her, he encounters a young actress (Christine Boisson), who joins him on the hunt for his missing muse.

Tellingly prescient, Identification of a Woman is a spellbinding anti-romance depicting a modernising world beset by fear and was awarded the Anniversary Prize at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. Each frame, beautifully conceived by Antonioni and cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, is an essential part of the storytelling. Having undergone a new 2K restoration, this Blu-ray release finally does justice to the original vision of Antonioni’s painterly yet unsettling masterpiece.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Full HD 1080p from 2K restoration
• Original Italian audio
• New, improved English subtitles + closed caption subtitles for HOH
• New video essay by scholar Pasquale Iannone
Identification of a Director: a candid, in-depth interview with Antonioni’s wife Enrica Fico-Antonioni
With Michelangelo: an intimate hour-long video diary of Antonioni filmed by Enrica

Edge of Sanity (1989) | The lurid Anthony Perkins Jekyll and Hyde meets Jack the Ripper horror on Blu-ray

When his experiments into a new anaesthetic using cocaine go awry, respected London physician Dr Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) takes off into the night in pursuit of sensual pleasures under the guise of Mr Jack Hyde. As his wife Elisabeth (Glynis Barber) continues her charity work with Whitechapel’s fallen women, Jekyll’s growing addiction draws him into an escalating cycle of lust and murder as the seemingly unstoppable Hyde. Can he be saved? Does he want to be saved?

Produced by the legend that is Harry Alan Towers (AKA the king of the co-production deal), this 1989 independent horror is an intoxicating fusion of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Jack the Ripper’s real-life reign of terror over Victorian London – but with an interesting (contemporary) spin that incorporates the power of drugs to unleash the unconscious mind.

From an idea by Towers (under his Peter Welbeck pseudonym) and helmed with a surreal, lurid eye by French erotica director Gérard Kikoïne, Edge of Sanity afforded Perkins one of the best performances in his final years before his death in 1992. Sporting just a bit of red eyeliner and red lipstick, a pallid complexion, and greased down bangs, he brings his bisexual drug fiend Hyde to savage, livid life (and chews the scenery in the best possible way), and effectively counterpoints this with a gentlemanly, staid Jekyll, who is the embodiment of Victorian values.

The film also boasts hugely atmospheric lighting and camerawork, and evocative Budapest location work. Indeed just some set-up shots were filmed in London, but you’d never guess – except for one scene that takes place at Budapest’s famed Art Nouveau Gellért Thermal Bath. Kikoïne also makes excellent use of the red and pink-tinged brothel set for the film’s kinky hallucinogenic scenes that border on Ken Russell-styled excess.

Thanks to this new 2k restoration, this is the best the film has ever looked. Indeed I had only ever seen it before in a muddy VHS print, so this has been a revelation – as have been the extras, which add a new dimension to the horror slasher.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• Brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative by Arrow Films
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Audio commentary by writer David Flint and author/filmmaker Sean Hogan
French Love: an interview with director Gérard Kikoïne (French with subtitles)
Staying Sane: Gérard Kikoïne discusses Edge of Sanity (French with subtitles)
Edward’s Edge: an interview with Edward Simons
Over the Edge: Stephen Thrower on Edge of Sanity (ED: loved Stephen’s analysis of the film’s anachronisms which places Hyde into a late-1980s post-punk, goth and alt clubbing context and compares them with the visual style of Derek Jarman)
Jack, Jekyll and Other Screen Psychos: an interview with Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture author Dr Clare Smith
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jon Towlson

Outside the Law (1920) | Tod Browning’s silent gangster thriller starring Lon Chaney sure packs a punch

From the director who gave us Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932) and the legendary silent screen star who was the Man of a Thousand Faces, comes the gritty 1920 American crime drama, Outside the Law, on Blu-ray (from a 4k restoration) as part of Eureka! Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

While under contract at Universal Studios (1919-1923), director Tod Browning crafted a string of melodramas with strong female protagonists, including nine features with the studio’s leading actress of the era, Priscilla Dean, who was best known for her anti-heroine tough girl roles. Following his breakout role in 1919’s The Miracle Man, Lon Chaney became America’s foremost character actor thanks to his acting prowess and his incredible make-up skills.

Chaney and Dean first paired together in Browning’s 1919 melodrama The Wicked Darling, and on the back of that film’s success were reunited for Outside the Law, which not only showcases their talents but also Browning’s burgeoning aesthetic for melodrama and the grotesque. It also heralded the beginning of Chaney and Browning’s 10 picture collaborations which would result in some of their finest work on screen.

Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Outside the Law sees Dean playing tough gangster Molly Madden, the daughter of mob boss Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis) who is trying to go straight with the help of Confucianist philosopher, Chang Lo (E Alyn Warren). When he is framed for murder by notorious hoodlum Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney), Molly seeks out safecracker Dapper Bill (Wheeler Oakman) to stage a double-cross to get revenge. Let the chase begin!

Boasting elaborate set design, stylised camera compositions, meticulous editing, and thrilling action sequences, including a very bloody and violent climax that gives even today’s big-budget crime dramas a run for their money, Outside the Law is one of the most exciting, intelligent, psychological driven American silent crime dramas that makes it a certified genre classic.

While Dean is certainly the star of the film, it’s Chaney who steals every scene, and he gets to show his range and make-up skills in two very diverse roles: that of the vicious Black Mike and as Ah Wing, the heroic Chinese servant who ends up saving the day. Now, I know this is a [SPOILER], but Chaney gets to shoot himself in a cleverly-constructed scene that took two weeks to film. For that scene alone, it’s worth seeking out this gorgeous restoration release.

Now while much effort has gone into the preservation of the film, two short sequences were impossible to repair – and while it is unfortunately this happens during a crucial moment in the film, it is still great to see Outside the Law restored and made available to a new generation of cinema lovers more than a century after it was released.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
  • Musical score by Anton Sanko
  • New video interview with author/critic Kim Newman
  • 1926 re-release alternate ending (from a rare Universal Show-At-Home 16mm print)
  • A collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Richard Combs

Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/outside-the-law/

Man Made Monster | Universal’s 1941 mad scientist shocker ignites on Blu-ray

Lon Chaney Jr makes his horror debut alongside Hollywood’s most exquisite villain of the 1930s and 1940s, Lionel Atwill, in Universal’s 1941 horror Man Made Monster, which makes its UK Blu-ray debut in Eureka Entertainment’s two-disc Three Monster Tales of Sci-fi Terror box-set (due out 11 April 2022).

THE TOUCH OF DEATH!
When carny Dan McCormick AKA Dynamo Dan, the Electric Man (Chaney Jr) miraculously survives a bus crash into a power line, electrophysiologist Dr John Lawrence (Samuel S Hinds) invites him to stay at his medical facility, The Moors, so he can study him and his seemingly natural immunity. But the kindly doctor’s assistant, Dr Paul Rigas (Atwill), has other plans.

In secret, Dr Rigas pumps Dan with increasingly higher doses of electricity so he can prove his theory that he can create a race of electrically-charged super slaves. Soon poor Dan becomes a ghostly glowing killing machine and nothing can stop him – not even the electric chair.

Man-Made Monster (the hyphen was added for the film poster) was originally planned to be a vehicle for Bela Lugosi when it was first mooted back in 1936 under the title The Electric Man. But it was shelved as being too similar to the same year’s The Invisible Ray.

In his first leading role, Chaney Jr gives an endearing turn as the gentle pooch-loving everyman in the film’s first half. But once he’s drugged up on Atwill’s electrical fixes, he turns into a mute, slow-moving monster. Luckily, we have John P Fulton’s effective special effects, some moody lighting and a great lab set to enjoy as well as Atwill’s feverish performance. This is possibly his most OTT mad scientist role and he milks the ripe dialogue to the hilt – most significantly his big speech when questioned about challenging the forces of Creation:

‘Bah! You know as well as I do that more than half the people of the world are doomed to a life of mediocrity – born to be nonentities, millstones around the neck of progress, men who have to be fed, watched, looked over, and taken care of by a superior intelligence.’

Atwill also gets some choice lines when revealing his insane idea to an elegant Vera West-styled Anne Nagel, who plays the film’s plucky heroine, June: ‘I’ve always found that the female of the species was more sensitive to electrical impulse than the male. Shall I show you how it was done?‘.

Shot in three weeks on one of Universal’s cheapest budgets, Man-Made Monster proved a modest winner at the box office when released in March 1941, and earned Chaney Jr a contract with the studio. It also kick-started his horror career which would be cemented when he reteamed with director George Waggner for The Wolf Man nine months later. Atwill, meanwhile, was facing a personal crisis. Just a few months after his character, Dr Rigas, commits perjury in the film’s big courtroom scene, Atwill was given a five-year probation sentence (and blacklisted) for the same offence over the 1941 alleged occurrence of a sex orgy at his home.

Be prepared for a tearful ending featuring Hollywood canine Corky (he’s so darn cute).

The Eureka Classics box-set, Three Monster Tales of Sci-fi Terror also includes 1957’s The Monolith Monsters and 1958’s Monster on the Campus. You can read my reviews on those films by clicking on the titles. Also included in the box set are brand new audio commentaries on each film, photo galleries and a limited edition collector’s booklet.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
• 1080p presentations on Blu-ray
• Disc One – Man-Made Monster and The Monolith Monsters 
• Disc Two – Monster on the Campus (available in both 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios)
Man-Made Monster – Audio commentary with authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
The Monolith Monsters – Audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
Monster on the Campus –  Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Optional SDH subtitles on each film
• Collector’s booklet written by film scholar Craig Ian Man

Order from the Eureka Store: https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/three-monster-tales-of-sci-fi-terror/

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