Thursday, October 27, 2005

THE BELA LUGOSI COLLECTION

Back in the Thirties and Forties, the reigning Hollywood horror star was Boris Karloff. Bela Lugosi was just as well known to audiences, but he tended to be badly treated by studios, and rarely received top billing in major studio releases. Well, times have changed. Universal's THE BELA LUGOSI COLLECTION includes five of Lugosi's films for that studio, four of which had him billed below co-star Karloff. But is Boris' name or likeness anywhere on the package? No. It's taken the better p[art of a century, but Bela's on top now, baby!

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932) was Bela's follow-up to 1931's DRACULA, and a consolation prize of sorts for being passed over for FRANKENSTEIN. Based on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, MURDERS is a somewhat disappointing melodrama, thick on Germanic atmosphere but poorly paced by director Robert Florey. The oldest of the films in this set, the transfer is surprisingly nice; the 73 year-old film shows some understandable age-related wear, but nothing too grievous. Full frame, original mono sound.

THE BLACK CAT (1934), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, is probably the best movie in this set. A twisted tale of sadism, necrophilia and Satan worship, this movie shocked audiences of the time and is still fairly disturbing today. Karloff and Lugosi are equally featured in this, the best of their collaborations, with Bela in the unfamiliar role of hero (more or less). Great sets, great performances, great direction…great movie. The transfer is a bit soft and shows some minor damage her and there, but considering the vintage, it's nothing to complain about. Full frame, with original mono soundtrack.

THE RAVEN (1935) is a sordid little B-movie with Bela in top form as a brilliant surgeon with a strange obsession for the works of Edgar Allan Poe… and a more understandable desire for an attractive young female patient. Karloff is the deformed murderer he keeps around for odd jobs, and there are lots of cool, Poe-inspired torture devices in this short, effective thriller. A very crisp transfer has been provided in the full frame "Academy" ratio. The sound is the original mono tracks.

THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) is a bizarre but enjoyable amalgam of science fiction, gothic horror, jungle adventure and revenge melodrama. Top-billed Karloff plays an eccentric scientist whose discovery of an extraterrestrial element ("Radium X") dooms him to a radioactive living death while rival scientist Lugosi exploits his colleague's discovery to cure virtually all disease. It's a great old school thriller-chiller with a memorable performance by Karloff and Lugosi scene stealing shamelessly in a supporting role. The full frame transfer is very nice; sharp and well defined, with only minimal print damage. The mono sound is clear and appears to have been cleaned up some. The second best flick in the set.

BLACK FRIDAY (1940) is really a Karloff vehicle not dissimilar to the actor's "Mad Doctor" series from Columbia at around the same time. Boris once again plays a visionary scientist whose experiments with brain transplants ends badly. (But really, do they ever end well?) Lugosi plays a supporting role, miscast as a big city mob boss. Being the newest of the films, FRIDAY looks the best, with a nearly flawless full frame transfer. The mono soundtrack is fine.

Five fun films with classic horror's two greatest stars for a very reasonable price. How can you go wrong? You can't. Recommended.

BUY: The Bela Lugosi Collection (Murders in the Rue Morgue / The Black Cat / The Raven / The Invisible Ray / Black Friday)