Tuesday, February 2, 2010

KARLOFF & LUGOSI HORROR CLASSICS

As today is the forty-first anniversary of the passing of legendary horror film icon Boris Karloff, I thought it was only fitting that I finally get around to reviewing the KARLOFF & LUGOSI HORROR CLASSICS collection, a four film, two disc set of vintage horrors (and horror comedies), released last fall by Warner Brothers.

Disc one contains two Karloff features from opposite ends of his horror career - THE WALKING DEAD (1936) and FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958).

Produced by Warner Bros., a studio better known for its gangster flicks and crime melodramas than horror, THE WALKING DEAD plays like one of those aforementioned crime movies with a horror element deftly weaved in. Karloff plays a pianist who is played for a patsy by some mobsters and is convicted of a murder he didn't commit. He's executed, but a post-mortem scientific experiment brings him back to life. Sporting a new, striking white streak through his hair, the reanimated Karloff sets out to avenge himself upon his enemies.

This eerie feature is presented in its correct, full-frame Academy aspect ratio, with a surprisingly nice transfer sourced from a high quality print. Horror film historian Greg Mank provides a remarkably detailed and informative audio commentary - but then, Mank knows his stuff and always delivers excellent audio commentaries.

In FRANKENSTEIN 1970, Karloff plays a descendant of the notorious mad scientist, who is forced to rent out the family castle to a bunch of TV documentarians to raise money. Of course, what he needs that money for is to continue his ancestor's experiments in artificial life. A goofy, somewhat slapdash throwback to 30's potboilers, with an aging and ailing Karloff still impressive in the lead, FRANK '70 is a great deal of schlocky fun.

Presented in a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, FRANK '70 looks surprisingly good. There's an audio commentary on this one, too, featuring female lead Charlotte Austin, film historian Tom Weaver, and historian/uber-fan Bob Burns. The commentary track is lively - Austin's recall is pretty good, and Burns' enthusiasm is contagious. Unfortunately, Weaver - who's spent most of his life studying and writing about these sort of films and really knows this material well - is a bit of a downer, being surprisingly negative about the flick and occasionally snarky. Maybe Weaver's burnt out on B-movies? The original theatrical trailer is also included.

Disc two contains a pair of horror comedies, YOU'LL FIND OUT (1940) and ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (1945).

YOU'LL FIND OUT is an RKO musical mystery-comedy vehicle for then-popular bandleader and comic Kay Kyser. It's a pretty standard "weird goings on in a dark house filled with sinister characters" comedy with some good songs, some funny gags, and three "sinister characters" played to well-practiced perfection by Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre. There's a lot of entertainment packed into its 97 minute running time, and even a couple of genuine chills amid the hijinks.

YFO is presented in its original 1.33:1, full-frame aspect ratio, culled from a very decent print. The audio (on all of these films, actually) is a crisp, old school mono. The only supplement for this film is the original theatrical trailer.

The second flick on this disc is ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY, a rather uninspired vehicle for the now mostly-forgotten RKO comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney. Brown & Carny play PR men who have to provide a legitimate zombie for a gangster's (Sheldon Leonard) New York nightclub, or they'll be rubbed out. So, they head for the Caribbean, where they run into a mad scientist (Lugosi) and a pretty American singer (Anne Jeffreys from the same studios' DICK TRACY films).

I found ZOMBIES a bit tedious, but, as usual, Lugosi makes the best of his typecasting and provides the best few minutes of the movie in what amounts to an extended cameo. Again, Warners has pulled a fine print from the RKO library, and provided a remarkably solid full-frame transfer. There are no bonus features for this title.

The KARLOFF & LUGOSI HORROR CLASSICS collection features Karloff in three out of its four movies, and Lugosi in two. In terms of quality, the movies range from the excellent (WALKING DEAD) to the entertainingly awful (FRANK '70) to the practically forgettable (ZOMBIES). But if you're a fan of vintage horror - especially those films that showcase the talents of the titular titans of terror, then the set (packaged an compact, standard-sized case) is an essential purchase. Highly recommended.

BUY: Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics (The Walking Dead / Frankenstein 1970 / You'll Find Out / Zombies on Broadway)