Blog Archives

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/

Revolver | Sergio Sollima’s radical 1970s crime Italian thriller starring Oliver Reed fires up on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Sergio Sollima’s hard-hitting 1970s poliziottesco, Revolver, starring Oliver Reed and Fabio Testi, on Blu-ray from a brand-new 4K restoration as part of the Eureka Classics range. Available from 16 May 2022.

Milan prison warden Vito Cipriani (Reed) finds himself in a moral maze when kidnappers snatch his wife Anna (Agostina Belli) and demand the release of pretty crook Milo Ruiz (Testi).

Allowing Ruiz to escape, Cipriani plans to use him to get his wife back – but it soon becomes clear that powerful forces want Ruiz dead, as he is key to the assassination of a notorious French capitalist.

Gaining help from Ruiz’s lover, Carlotta (Paola Pitagora), to get over the mountain border, the determined lawman heads to Paris with Ruiz in tow to confront the kidnappers!

‘Makes Death Wish look like wishful thinking!’ was the tagline that accompanied Revolver upon its belated 1976 US release (where it was retitled Blood in the Streets), but this 1973 Italian crime thriller is much more than a gun-totting exploitation.

Versatile Italian director and screenwriter Sergio Sollima (17 April 1921 – 1 July 2015), gained international cult status with his trio of groundbreaking spaghetti Westerns, The Big Gundown (1966); Face to Face (1967); and Run, Man, Run (1968), before turning his eye to the poliziotteschi genre with 1970’s Violent City, starring Charles Bronson.

1973’s Revolver was his second crime thriller and again the highly-political, antiauthoritarian filmmaker brings to it his signature allegorical style to great effect. Here it’s all about corruption at the highest level and how his two protagonists find themselves at its mercy.

It’s bleak, hard-hitting and radical, bolstered by a powerhouse performance from Reed (who brings great depth to his character), a charismatic turn from Testi, adrenaline-inducing action scenes on the streets of Paris, and a terrific score from Sollima’s long-time collaborator Ennio Morricone (which includes the maestro’s classic Un Amico theme tune).

Due to poor handling by its producers, the film flopped in Italy and was relegated to the exploitation circuit in the US – but now we can fully appreciate its true worth courtesy of this new 4k restoration. A must-see!

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration
  • English and Italian audio options (I preferred the English track as you get Oliver Reed dubbing his own voice, although his accent is rather odd)
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Audio commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman (who supply some great trivia like Daniel Berreta, who plays pop star Al Niko in the film, is the Italian voice dub for Arnold Schwarzenegger)
  • Film scholar Stephen Thrower on Revolver (and director Sollima’s career)
  • Tough Girl: interview with Paola Pitagora (the Italian actress looks back at her time on the film, with some interesting anecdotes about Oliver Reed)
  • Action Man: archival interview with actor Fabio Testi (Filmed in June 2006, the still very handsome former actor discusses his career from stunt man to leading man, including his work with directors Sollima, Lucio Fulci and Stelvio Massi)
  • English credits
  • Original theatrical and international trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Howard Hughes on the making of Revolver and on Ennio Morricone’s ‘Eurocrime’ soundtracks
  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [2000 copies]

Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/revolver/

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/

Johnny Guitar | Nicholas Ray’s ground-breaking 1954 Western gets a 4K restored Blu-ray release

Joan Crawford takes centre stage as Vienna, a saloon owner with a sordid past. Persecuted by the townspeople of an Arizona cattle town, Vienna must protect her life and her property when a lynch mob led by her sexually repressed rival, Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), attempts to frame her for a string of robberies she did not commit. Enter Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), a guitar-strumming ex-gunfighter who has a history with Vienna.

Misunderstood by US audiences upon release, this intensely stylised 1954 film from director Nicholas Ray was embraced by European cineastes and is now regarded as a Western masterpiece. Boasting some of the best examples of Trucolor photography in cinematic history, Johnny Guitar is a must-have in any home entertainment collection. It features knock-out performances from Crawford and McCambridge, solid support from Hayden, Scott Brady, Ernest Borgnine, Ward Bond and Ben Cooper, and a scenario that challenges Western tropes as it tetters into Douglas Sirk-styled Hollywood melodrama.

Johnny Guitar is now on Blu-ray in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series. If you missed out on last September’s Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase which is now discontinued, never fear as a Standard Edition is due out on 11 April 2022 (Pre-order here).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration of the original film elements, framed in the film’s originally intended aspect ratio of 1.66:1
  • New audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
  • New introduction by critic Geoff Andrew, author of The Films of Nicholas Ray: The Poet of Nightfall
  • New video piece by Tony Rayns
  • Never is a Long Time – A new video essay by David Cairns
  • New interview with Susan Ray
  • Archival introduction to Johnny Guitar by Martin Scorsese
  • Trailer
  • A 28-page collector’s booklet featuring an essay by author Howard Hughes, and an archival interview with director Nicholas Ray

The Indian Tomb | The ambitious 1921 German silent epic on Blu-ray

One of the grandest, most expensive films of the German silent era, The Indian Tomb – producer/director Joe May’s 1921 two-part adaptation of Thea von Harbou’s 1918 novel Das indische Grabmal – is an exotic mystical epic and an artistic wonder. It’s now out on Blu-ray in a 2k restoration print from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

A menacing Maharajah, marauding tigers and a mystical yogi all come to play in this captivating adventure. Conrad Veidt takes centre stage as Ayan, the dominating Maharajah of Bengal, who commissions architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fønss) to build a mausoleum for the great love of his life, the princess Savitri (Erna Morena).

But when Rowland accepts, he soon discovers the prince is a cruel tyrant whose real agenda is to entomb his wife over her affair with a British officer, Mac Allen (Paul Richter). Infected with leprosy and unable to escape the palace, Rowland’s only hope lies with his concerned fiancé Irene (Mia May), who sets out to save him – and the princess.

The Indian Tomb (Das indische Grabmal) should have been directed by Fritz Lang, who had co-written the screenplay with Harbou and had hoped to helm the project. Producer May, however, took charge citing Lang as inexperienced, which infuriated Lang and ended their working relationship. While this heady fusion of Weimar cinema and pulp serial was a success in Germany, it didn’t take off elsewhere and reviews were mixed. It’s only recently that May’s film has been reappraised.

Lang, however, did end up making his version, in 1959 (you can read about it here), and its success led to him returning to his most memorable cinematic creation (the master criminal Dr Mabuse) in what became his cinematic swansong (my review can be found here). May, meanwhile, emigrated to America in 1933 where he ended up specialising in mainly B-features for Universal (including 1940s The Invisible Man Returns and The House of the Seven Gables, both starring Vincent Price).

May’s take on Harbou’s tale is indeed impressive, mainly for its opulent sets (although the titular tomb isn’t as grand as you’d expect – it reminded me of a pimped-up Tardis) and some haunting imagery (especially the leper colony, the crypt of yogis buried alive, the tiger attack and Veidt decked out in an elaborate ritual costume worthy of Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World), but it loses points with the action sequences, where May’s camera remains static.

Regardless, it’s Veidt that we’ve all come to see. Resplendent in a turban, white suit and jodhpurs, he’s in fine, chilling form and he certainly acts up a storm in the second part when Savitri finally escapes the palace.

Giving Veidt a run in the sinister stakes, however, is Bernhard Goetzke, as the icy and impassive yogi Ramigani (Ayan’s Rasputin-styled advisor who seems to possess genuine supernatural powers). He’s so compelling. No wonder Lang cast him as Death in Der müde Tod the same year. Playing the unfortunate Mac Allan is Paul Richter. He would go on to play another legendary character, Siegfried, in Lang’s Die Nibelungen.

The two-parter may run around 3hours 40minutes in total, but it passes in no time thanks to the imagery and stylised performances. The ambient, avant-garde is quite good at first. But comprising of what seems to be just two thematic structures played on a loop it becomes rather repetitive. The video essay is very informative, especially about the creative talents involved in the production. But damn it, I now have to see Joe (and Mia) May’s eight-part 1919 serial, The Mistress of the World.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• Presented in 1080p HD, across two Blu-ray discs from 2K restorations undertaken by the Murnau foundation (FWMS)
• Musical score (2018) by Irena and Vojtěch Havel
• Optional English subtitles
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Philip Kemp

Prophecy | The 1979 creature feature bears its claws on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes the 1979 Paramount Pictures’ eco-horror Prophecy directed by John Frankenheimer on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range.

Government environmental advisor Dr Robert Verne (Falcon Crest‘s Robert Foxworth) and his pregnant wife Maggie (The Godfather‘s Talia Shire) travel to Maine to assess the environmental damage the lumber industry is having on a forest claimed by a local Native American tribe (dubbed the Opies).

When three lumberjacks are found mauled to death, the Opies blame a vengeful spirit called Katahdin – while the Vernes uncover evidence that the local paper mill’s use of mercury is causing birth defeats and making the wildlife grow to abnormal size.

After rescuing a mutated bear club trapped in a salmon fishing net, the Vernes and a couple of Opies (Armand Assante, Victoria Racimo and George Clutesi) find themselves under attack by the cub’s monstrous mutated mother.

I first saw Prophecy on its release on the big screen. It was one of the blockbuster summer releases of 1979 (alongside Alien) and this then 15-year-old monster kid was so excited to see it – mainly due to the poster featuring a mutant bear embryo, and that it was based on a novel by David Seltzer, who had penned one of my faves The Omen in 1976.

But I was pretty disappointed by what played before me. It all starts off great, with its interesting ecological storyline – but when the 15-ft momma bear appears with its melted pizza face, I just laughed – as did most audiences of the day.

Fast forward four decades and seeing it in this new Blu-ray release – its just as ropey. Which is a shame considering its sterling cast and credentials (especially Frankenheimer who had helmed such classic fare as Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate in the 1960s).

The big fault lies in its execution – particularly with the climactic scene that opts for a soundstage (complete with fake plants and wind machines) rather than where most of the film was shot (Crofton, North Cowichan in British Columbia), and the hilarious bear creature, which was a combination of a man in a suit (Tom McLoughlin) and a fur-covered model on wheels.

That saying, it’s still a fun watch with a gang of mates around. No bear hugs allowed though! Also welcomed are the great special features that accompany the Eureka Blu-ray (especially Seltzer and McLoughlin’s reminiscences).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a High Definition transfer
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles
  • New feature length audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith
  • New feature length audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood
  • New interview with screenwriter David Seltzer
  • New interview with mime artist Tom McLoughlin
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann; and an archival interview

The Hands of Orlac | The thrilling 1924 silent classic shudders onto Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände), starring Conrad Veidt, on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Shocked to learn they have been replaced with the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur, Orlac obsesses over the idea that he too will turn violent.

When Orlac’s wealthy father is murdered and fingerprints match the dead man’s hands, Orlac fears seem manifest. However, Orlac’s nightmare reaches new heights of terror when a man claiming to be Vasseur threatens to blackmail him.

Blending grand Guignol shudders with German Expressionism visuals, this 1924 Austrian adaptation of Maurice Renard’s 1920 thriller novel, Les Mains d’Orlac, reunited the director and star of Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).

Featuring a wonderfully modernist set design, expressive performances and tightly executed scenes, this a silent cinema gem. And near-on a century from its release, many of the tropes conceived here continues to be used in many a film and TV thriller.

With his cadaverous looks and masterfully mannered characterisation, Veidt (who plays his playing his Orlac in a permanent state of fright) proves himself one of the true original Masters of Terror, while Wiene directs each scene like grand theatrical tableaux du dance.

There’s also excellent support from Alexandra Sorina (as Paul’s wife) who stilted movements reveal her character’s inner turmoil. While more mystery thriller with psychological overtones than straight-out horror, the film does boast a couple of very human monsters – most tellingly Paul’s horrid, unlovingly father, whose creepy house resembles a mausoleum.

Kudos to Johannes Kaltizke’s excellent avant-garde music score – which greatly reminded me of Les Baxter’s suite in the 1970 Vincent Price TV special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Among the excellent highlights is an alternate 110-minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
• LPCM 2.0 audio
• Original German-language intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (30min)
• FW Murnau Foundation alternate presentation [SD, 110 minutes]
• Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas

Karloff at Columbia | Six classic chillers from the Master of Terror

From Eureka Entertainment comes KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA, six films comprising the entirety of the Master of Terror’s filmic output for Columbia Pictures, as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 3 May 2021.

All six are making their worldwide debut on Blu-ray, and it’s the first time they’ve become available on home video in the UK. There’s also a wealth of bonus content over the two discs, including four Inner Sanctum radio broadcasts, and a collector’s booklet featuring articles by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann. 

DISC ONE

The Black Room (1935, dir. Roy William Neill)
Released in the same year as Universal’s The Bride of Frankenstein and The Raven, this excellent Gothic chiller sees Karloff taking on a dual role as the twin sons of a Czechoslovakian baron in early 1800s Europe. The eldest Gregor is a brutal sadist, who abdicates in favour of his gentle brother Anton when confronted by an angry mob after several village girls disappear. He then secretly murders Anton and impersonates him.

Karloff is in fine form here and plays each twin with much light and shade (and the double exposure camera trick really works a treat). The sets, lighting and cinematography are all wonderfully atmospheric – with Universal’s expressionist influence much evident. My standout scene is when Allen Seiger’s camera tracks servant Maska (Cecil B DeMille’s daughter Katherine) as she moves quietly through a local graveyard as the castle set looms menacingly in the background (it all looks like something out of a dark fairy tale book).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939, dir. Nick Grinde)
Having been hidden under mountains of make-up in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein and a couple of Charlie Chan films, Karloff scored a role that proved so successful that Columbia went on the produce four more films with similar themes. These became known as Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle, and follow in this box-set. Here he plays Dr Savaard a dedicated scientist who is hanged after his experiments with an artificial heart resulted in the death of a volunteer. Brought back to life by a loyal assistant, he lures the six jurors that condemned him to his mansion which has been rigged with traps and kills them one by one.

Karloff pulls off a delicate balancing act here with aplomb, one that requires him to be kindly but also seething with vengeance, and to elicit sympathy even while he’s frying his victims with bolts of electricity or dosing them on poison. These set-pieces still hold up today, and I’m sure influenced films like 1973’s Theatre of Blood and the Saw franchise. Following this, Karloff was back in full-on horror mode with Universal’s Tower of London.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man With Nine Lives (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
In his second good-scientist-turn-bad role, Karloff plays the rather frosty Dr Kravaal, whose experiments in cryogenics could be a cure for cancer. But while testing the formula, Kravaal’s underground laboratory is invaded, and everyone ends up unconscious after the formula is dropped. A decade later, Kravaal is revived by medical researcher Dr Mason and his nurse Judith, but when his formula is destroyed by another revived patient, Kravaal plans to keep everyone prisoner and use them as guinea pigs until he can recreate the drug. Reviews at the time called this a ‘first-class shocker’ and like They Man They Could Not Hang drew on some controversial science – mainly American biologist Robert Cornish (who was a real-life Herbert West) and his ‘Lazarus’ experiments.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
The Corridor of Doom (12 October 1945) & The Wailing Wall (6 Novemeber 1945)

DISC TWO

Before I Hang (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
After creating an artificial heart and finding a cure for cancer, seeking an elixir to restore youth and prolong life came next in Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. Sentenced to hang after a mercy killing, brilliant scientist Dr Garth continues his experiments behind bars. Using the blood of a killer, he injects himself and becomes younger. When his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, he kills the prison doctor (Edward Van Sloan), but another convict is blamed. Pardoned, he returns home to resume his practice, but with his mind and body contaminated – his lust for murder continues.

Originally titled Wizard of Death, this third entry is a much more ghoulish affair than The Man With Nine Lives, and its bolstered by Karloff’s winning turn (which he described as ‘a cross between a ghoul, a zombie and a vampire’. It also features Evelyn Keys (The Face Behind the Mask) and Bruce Bennett (The Alligator People).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Devil Commands (1941, dir. Edward Dmytryk)
Karloff was somewhat tired of the crazed-scientist format by the time he filmed this last ‘serious’ entry. Here he plays Dr Julian Blair, who constructs a machine to communicate with his late wife, whom he believes has been trying to send out an electrical signal to him from beyond the grave. Working in secrecy in an old house in New England, he starts robbing graves for subjects in his experiments, which he carries out with the help of a medium (Anne Revere). After the death of a nosey housekeeper, however, the townsfolk rise up against him and just as he is about to achieve success (using his daughter as a conduit), his machine explodes.

While one reviewer called it ‘a hodge-podge of scientific claptrap’, The Devil Commands is one of the most inventive and thoroughly engrossing among Columbia’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. While based on sci-fi/fantasy author William Sloane’s 1939 novel The Edge of Running Water, there’s a strong HP Lovecraft vibe in the offing. It greatly reminded me of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. I particularly like the lab scenes with all its gadgetry and those weird robot-like suits, and the final scene with the column of energy being sucked into the atmosphere is really ahead of its time. Karloff followed this with a hugely successful return to the stage – in Arsenic and Old Lace.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)


The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942, dir. Lew Landers)
Filmed on the back of Karloff’s success in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, Columbia’s homicidal screwball comedy cast Hollywood’s foremost ‘boogie man’ as Professor Nathaniel Billings, a scientist intent on creating a race of superman for the war effort in the basement of a historic 18th-century inn. But things getting messy when he sells the place to the enterprising Winnie, while also continuing his experiments with the aid of Dr Lorentz (Peter Lorre), the local sheriff and doctor. Mix in a powder-puff salesman, a fascist planning to blow up a munitions factory, and Winnie’s concerned husband, and all manner of craziness ensues.

This was Karloff last film under his contract with Columbia, and it scored mixed reviews. It is great to see both Karloff and Lorre share quality screen time, but watching this only underlines the questions: just how good would they have been if Karloff had been given a chance to reprise his Arsenic and Old Lace stage role in Frank Capra’s 1944 film adaptation.

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
Birdsong for a Murderer (22 June 1952) & Death for Sale (13 July 1952)

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990) | Two visually-arresting Nikolai Gogol Euro horrors on Blu-ray

The macabre and grotesque fiction of Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) has long been a source for some classic (and not-so-classic) cinematic adaptations – and two of the best are now available in a two-disc Blu-ray edition from Eureka, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series: Aleksandr Ptushko’s Viy (1967), the first Soviet-era horror film, and Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s 1990 Yugoslavian adaptation Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place).

Based on Gogol’s influential 1835 horror novella, Viy follows a seminary student in 19th-century Russia who, while on a break from his studies, is asked by a wealthy merchant to pray over the body of his deceased daughter. Rising from her coffin each night, she evokes vampires, werewolves and even the dreaded Viy in a bid to stop him from completing his ritual.

Featuring striking visuals from Aleksandr Ptushko, this is a masterpiece of Soviet and fantasy cinema that requires multiple viewings to understand just how influential it has become on generations of film-makers – including Mario Bava (the I Wurdalak segment in Black Sabbath), Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth) and even Michael Winner (The Sentinel).

Eureka’s 1080p transfer (from an HD restoration of the original film elements) is simply stunning and the extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a video essay on Gogol, an archival documentary on the film, and three Russian silent film fragments – The Portrait [1915, 8 mins], The Queen of Spades [1916, 16 mins], and Satan Exultant [1917, 20 mins].

The second disc features Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place) as a bonus extra – and what bonus it is. I had never heard of Djordje Kadijevic before, and having watched his perversely erotic take on Gogol’s classic tale, I need to see more of his fantasy films which he made for Serbian TV in the 1970s.

Again, it involves a student priest tormented by a young witch (called Catherine here) – but he also expands on the story with three flashback stories that reveal her to be the embodiment of the femme fatale.

Artfully shot, with evocative lighting, it has a 1970s Euro-horror and a rather catchy synth theme tune. Eureka’s set also includes a booklet containing a fascinating essay about Kadijevic by Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic, and one on Ptushko by Tim Lucas.

Pulse | ‘It traps you in your house…then pulls the plug’ – the 1980s sci-fi shocker on Blu-ray

Now, what would you do if you discovered a serial killer intelligence was moving from house to house in your neighbourhood via the electrical grid? Well, that’s the premise of this 1988 American sci-fi. And, you what, it’s not a bad little shocker.

Chid star/singer and future reality TV/game show celeb Joey Lawrence plays David, a Colorado kid forced to spend quality time in the Californian burbs with his divorced dad Bill (Cliff De Young) and step-mum (Roxanne Hart). Arriving the day after a neighbour seeming went into murder/suicide mode after wrecking his house, David becomes convinced that something in the wires was the real cause. He’s soon in ‘why don’t you believe me’ territory with his dad, who blames scary-eyed builder Holger (Charles Tyner) for filling his kid’s head with such nonsense. Of course, it takes a couple of bizarre accidents involving David and Ellen before Bill finally realises he must find a way to pull the plug before its too late.

I never caught this on its original release, but it holds up rather well after all these years. Sitting firmly in the kid-in-peril genre, it boasts a winning turn from Joey Lawrence (making his second feature). Excepting those scenes he shares with his real-life kid brother Matthew (whose little Stevie delights in describing the recent murder in gruesome detail), Joey Lawrence dominates the proceedings as the young boy pining for some fatherly affection. And his domestic drama plays out quite nicely alongside the sinister goings-on which starts out with the family’s lawn dying off and ends in a blaze of pyrotechnics as father and son join forces to take the pulse down (along with the family home).

The special effects of the pulse are quite effective, there are some great set pieces and the music is composed by Jay Ferguson (who went on to composed the theme song for the US version of The Office). But my favourite scene is the ending, which I suspect is a subtle dig at suburban American ideals.

Pulse is now out on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Entertainment.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
• LPCM 2.0 audio and optional English SDH
• Audio commentary by author and film historian Amanda Reyes
Tuning in to Tech Horror: video essay by writer and film historian Lee Gambin
• Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by author Craig Ian Mann

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