I'm a huge fan of the classic horror thrillers of the 1930's and 1940's, especially those starring genre legends Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Well, Universal Home Video just issued a nice set of Lugosi/Karloff collaborations (to be reviewed here soon), and – perhaps in response – Columbia has dug into their own vaults to finally release on home video for the first time, the Karloff "chiller," THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES (1940).
Karloff made a handful of "mad doctor" films for Columbia, and they were all pretty similar. In most of them, Karloff played a scientist obsessed with cheating death through some extreme treatment or invention. His peers in the scientific community reject his theories (even though he's always right) and someone dies when his experiments are interrupted. Then he goes on a murderous rampage, killing everyone responsible for screwing up his life. In THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES, his experiments deal with a primitive form of cryogenics, which he believes, will cure cancer, but otherwise, it follows the formula to the letter.
That's not to say it's not fun, though. Karloff excelled in these kind of roles, always making you sympathize with these misunderstood geniuses and side with them when they start avenging themselves. NINE LIVES isn't a visually impressive film – most of it takes place in just a few dark underground rooms, but the acting – by a solid cast of Columbia stock players – is decent, and the short 73 minute film races along at a decent clip.
Columbia's new DVD presents the 55-year-old film in a sharp, full-frame, black and white transfer. The source print is in good shape, with only a few, non-distracting specks and lines scattered throughout the running time. The disc includes the original mono soundtrack and English, French & Japanese subtitles. There are also trailers for a few other Columbia/Tri-Star horror releases, all recent.
It's not a great movie, but fans of classic horror and Boris Karloff (and I'm both) will want to buy it. Columbia's disc is an affordable quality presentation of a movie never before available on home video in any format, and I hope they release their other Karloff titles (THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, BEFORE I HANG, AND THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU) soon.
BUY: The Man with Nine Lives