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
Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales | What’s Inside the Collector’s Booklet?
If you want a further reason to add Arrow’s Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales limited edition Blu-ray box-set to your collection, then here’s a look inside the collector’s booklet…
The House is the Monster
Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, who also supplies the commentary on The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), looks back at why Roger Corman chose to adapt Edgar Allan Poe’s tale of ‘corrupted lives and imminent doom’ for the big screen. This essay was originally published in Arrow’s booklet accompanying their stand-alone Blu-ray release (read my review here).
The Waiting Pit of Hell
Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby waxes lyrical over The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Corman’s second Poe adaptation, paying particular attention to star Vincent Price’s barnstorming performance. This essay also appeared in Arrow’s booklet that went out with the stand-alone Blu-ray release (reviewed here).
Three Down, Five to Go
A Natural History of Ghosts author Roger Clarke traces the history of Tales of Terror (1962), the third Corman/Poe film in which star Vincent Price gives a trio of ‘lip-smacking turns’: as a Byronic necrophiliac (Morella); an adulterous wine connoisseur (The Black Cat); and a man suspended in a mesmeric trance (in The Case of Mr Valdemar).
• The title of this article includes Corman’s The Premature Burial, which starred Ray Milland instead of Price, in the series. As such, it should have been called Four Down, Five to Go, as that film went out three months before Tales of Terror. 1964’s Masque of the Red Death is not included in this release as it’s owned by StudioCanal (but that’s another story).
• Best bit of trivia: Voice-over artist Lennie Weinrib, who plays a policeman in the Black Cat segment, was the original voice of Scrappy-Doo in 1979 (still hate that character), and also voiced HR Pufnstuf (one of my favourites).
Comedy and Karloff
BFI National Archive curator Vic Pratt reveals how Roger Corman’s ‘Mad Magazine parody of a Corman horror’, The Raven (1963) was a showcase for veteran star Boris Karloff’s skill and versatility as an actor, and introduced the old-timer to a new generation, the college crowd.
Strange Echoes and Fevered Reptitions
Birbeck College professor Roger Luckhurst traces the history of Corman’s fifth Poe adaptation, the underrated The Haunted Palace (1963), which was actually based on the 1927 HP Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
The Last of the Corman-Poes: Excavating The Tomb of Ligeia
Julian Upton provides a witty and incisive essay on the making of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Corman’s lush final Poe entry, that gave the director the best reviews of his entire career and remains the finest interpretation of a Poe tale on the big screen.
Vincent Price: His Movies, His Plays, His Life
An excerpt from the 1978 biography that was ghost written for the legendary actor. This made me want to dig my copy out again.
Better to be On the Set than in the Office
Film historian David Del Valle interviews Roger Corman about his Poe screen adaptations. This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in Films & Filming in November 1984. For those not familiar with Corman’s cycle, this is an informative inclusion.
The Black Cat/The Trick
Director Rob Green (The Bunker) discusses the making of his two 1990s shorts. Having never heard of the director before, I would have preferred the inclusion of Curtis Harrington’s first and final shorts (both adaptations of Poe’s Usher story) as that ‘cult’ director had a direct connection to Corman.
The Dell Comic Tie-Ins
Included are full reproductions of the Dell Comic adaptations of Tales of Terror (originally published in February 1963), The Raven (1963) and Tomb of Ligeia (1965). This is real treat (and something I will be elaborating on in an article for a book to be published in 2015).
Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales | Arrow unwrap their Blu-ray box-set
Christmas has come early for Vincent Price fans (like myself) and aficionados of Roger Corman’s 1960s-lensed films inspired by the feverish imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, as Arrow Films unwrap their Six Gothic Tales Blu-ray box-set (due out on 8 December).
Included in the box-set is 1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher and 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum (both released separately earlier this year); 1962’s Tales of Terror (which adapts Poe’s Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar); 1963’s The Raven (a comic take on Poe’s poem co-starring Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre); 1964’s The Haunted Palace (the first screen adaptation of a HP Lovecraft story); and the necromantic masterpiece The Tomb of Ligeia, which ended the Poe/Price/Corman cycle in 1965.
This limited edition run of just 2000 copies features all six features in high definition Blu-ray (based on the MGM HD masters, with additional restoration overseen by Arrow), with original uncompressed mono PCM audio and optional English subtitles. The special features are pretty impressive (click here for the full list) and there’s a hardback collector’s book which features full repros of three comic tie-ins as well as some insightful essays on the films.
While there are no plans for any Steelbook releases for these titles, unlike The House of Usher and The Pit & the Pendulum, Arrow will be releasing The Haunted Palace and The Tomb of Ligeia as standalone Blu-ray releases on 23 February 2015, featuring some wicked cover designs; while Jacques Tourneur’s 1963 spoof The Comedy of Terrors (one of my favourites) will be out on 16 February. The Raven will also be released in 2015, but no date has been set, and the same goes for Tales of the Terror.
And if you are wondering why Masque of the Red Death isn’t included in this box-set – ask StudioCanal. They own the print and denied Arrow’s request to sublicence it for this release. Silly them! Don’t they know there are some serious completists out there (me included).
I’ll be posting reviews of the box-set and its contents shortly, so watch this space!
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