Bela Lugosi Classic ‘The Human Monster’ Among Titles on VCI October 2019 Disc Slate From MVD

The classic 1975 documentary Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, the Kung Fu film The Leg Fighters and the Bela Lugosi classic The Human Monster are on the eclectic October disc slate from VCI Entertainment and MVD Entertainment Group.

Brother Can You Spare A Dime?, available now on Blu-ray Disc, is writer-director Philippe Mora’s chronicle of the Great Depression, in both its bleak lows and its artistic highs. Featuring the grim reality that many Americans faced during the era, largely in the form of newsreel clips, the film also depicts how Hollywood dealt with this period of widespread poverty and unemployment. Much of the movie footage showcases glamour and extravagance, providing lively moments of escapism that contrast starkly with day-to-day life during the 1930s. The film features clips with Hollywood stars including John Wayne, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Clarke Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Katharine Hepburn and Fred Astaire. It was a 1976 Golden Globe Award nominee for Best Documentary Film.

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Also available now is The Leg Fighters on Blu-ray plus DVD combo pack. The Kung Fu film follows Phoenix, a rebellious young student in martial arts. When her father brings in a new Kung Fu instructor, she has to shape up quickly as a deadly master approaches looking for him to avenge his brother’s death. With action scenes from Sun Jung-Chi Sun and Kang Peng, the fights set new standards in kicking choreography under the knowledgeable action eye of Tso Nam Lee (The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious). The disc includes audio commentary by filmmaker, actor and Kung Fu film fan Michael Worth, who also visits with director Lee Tso Nam in the extras. The box includes an original illustration commissioned from popular genre artist Ian McEwan.

The 1939 classic The Human Monster: Collector’s Edition is due Oct. 29 on Blu-ray. Bela Lugosi gives one of his finest portraits of evil in this adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s terror-thriller-mystery The Dark Eyes of London. A series of drownings have Scotland Yard baffled. One common denominator; the dead men were heavily insured through a particular brokerage firm and all the policies were paid off. Larry Hold, a Scotland Yard detective, and a visiting American cop from Chicago get on the trail and, with the help of the daughter of one of the dead men, discover a horrifying cause to the so-called accidents/suicides. Behind it all is a human monster, a doctor who is using a home for blind men as a front for his nightmarish activities. His main tool is a gargoyle-like brute who eventually becomes the madman’s downfall. Filmed in England, The Human Monster features Lugosi as a fiend more diabolical than any criminal the encountered by Scotland Yard. Extras include a commentary track by noted film historian, author and Lugosi expert Gary Don Rhodes; a commentary track by film historian David del Valle and author, screenwriter and “monster kid” Phoef Sutton; liner notes written by film historian Patrick McCabe; the archival video “Intimate Interview with Bela Lugosi”; a poster and photo gallery; and the original U.S. re-issue theatrical trailer.

Scream Factory Releasing ‘Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1’ Blu-ray June 18

Scream Factory, the horror imprint of multi-platform distributor Shout! Factory, will release Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1 on Blu-ray June 18. Celebrating the legacy of horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, the collection includes their collaborations in the films The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936) and Black Friday (1940).

The Black Cat will include new commentaries from film historians Gregory William Mank and Steve Haberman, the documentary “Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe” narrated by Doug Bradley, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part One — The Black Cat,” and vintage footage of “The Black Cat Contest.”

The Raven comes with a new 2K scan of the original film elements, plus a commentary with Haberman, another commentary with Gary D. Rhodes, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Two — The Raven,” and an audio recording of Lugosi reading Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

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The Invisible Ray features a new 2K scan of the original film elements, a commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and Randall Larson, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Three — The Invisible Ray,” and a Re-Release theatrical trailer.

Black Friday comes with a new 2K scan of the original film elements, a commentary with film historian Constantine Nasr, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Four — Black Friday,” an “Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Show” performances of The Tell-Tale Heart starring Boris Karloff, and the theatrical trailer.

All films will also include still galleries.

The Body Snatcher

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Horror;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Russell Wade.

The Body Snatcher from 1945 finds the young Robert Wise in his career breakout (or something close), adapting a Robert Louis Stevenson story that does not have celestial seed pods nor Dana Wynter in a cocktail dress as standout components. The result is a 77-minute fan favorite that goes against certain expectations, though most would venture a good (and also correct) guess that Val Lewton produced it. Lewton’s onetime boss David O. Selznick may have had Dom Perignon budgets at his disposal, but Lewton had to do it the hard way. His touch remains as unmistakable here in terms of mood, atmospherics and tight storytelling — except that he had to produce quality on bankrolls, which, by comparison to the wallet marked DOS, conceivably might have floated a six-pack of Nehi’s.

The mild surprises I noted come in the casting. Here’s a Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi pairing filmed not at those horror titans’ standard homestead Universal but at RKO — though, yes, 1940’s You’ll Find Out had been at RKO as well. Of course, that one was primarily a Kay Kyser musical, which tends to take it out of this discussion — though I suppose one can make a case that Ish Kabibble (who was popular band leader Kyser’s house lunatic) was as scary as either. The other surprise here has to do with some misleading hype: against Lewton’s wishes, a second-billed Lugosi was added to the cast as an afterthought for some added box office clout — and yet it’s a surprisingly small role even if Lugosi does totally nail it in one his big scene here of note.

In truth, all three principals nail what primarily turns out to be a heavyweight acting duel between Karloff and Henry Daniell, as the former finesses a characterization fully equatable with his career meal-ticket Frankenstein — while Daniell carries a huge chunk of the story’s dramatic load playing a med-school proprietor and potentially brilliant surgeon who’s also become a borderline dissipated sot. The latter’s fall from grace is due to the Daniell character’s sanctioning of grave-robbing from a nearby cemetery in 1831 Edinburgh to make it possible for his students to have hands-on experience, which is probably not the way to get invited to all the best parties. Karloff is the actual robber who graduates to the deal-breaking practice of murder, and their unholy alliance extends way back into their younger days — leading to a kind of blackmail situation that pretty well guaranteed that Karloff would become a lifelong leech.

A master at projecting constipated villainy often accompanied by a mean streak, Daniell had been unforgettable not long before his turn as boarding school proprietor Reverend Brocklehurst in the 20th Century-Fox version of Jane Eyre — the one whose sadistic severity leads to little Elizabeth Taylor’s death from pneumonia. In Body Snatchers, his character is rigid as well, yet with a sympathetic streak that suggests a potentially good man, at least at the beginning, who never had a chance to relax. It takes nearly a movie’s length of prodding even to get him to consider operating on a little girl (RKO’s resident femme child Sharyn Moffett) whose paralysis he might cure.

As the editor of Citizen Kane, the young Wise had wanted to direct, and he got his chance for at least a shared on-screen credit when initially hired Gunther V. Fritsch fell behind schedule on Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People and had to be replaced mid-production. Wise’s work pleased the studio, and his work was seamless with Fritsch’s — something you can easily see in People’s earlier Scream Factory Blu-ray release. That one was more visually stunning (particularly in the Simone Simon apparition scenes) than this heavily nocturnal Stevenson yarn, but this Body Snatchers Blu-ray is a big leap over the old DVD. Beyond that, it rarely lets up in the character dynamics, and even the comparably bland Russell Wade as a med school student/assistant projects the naive sincerity his role demands.

Lewton produced 11 low-budget movies at RKO from 1942 to 1946 (two of them unsuccessful non-horror entries) after his Cat People debut became one of the biggest box office sleepers of the war years. Body Snatchers came late in the horror cycle (seventh of the nine) after a multi-picture contract with Karloff pushed the series into a slightly higher production bracket. Though their choice of material couldn’t have been more different, Lewton’s success was eerily reminiscent of Preston Sturges’; both filmmakers were like comets who had an amazing but brief run of movies that are as good now as when they were made. Oddly, Lewton’s slide began when he left RKO for Paramount after a contract skirmish, while Sturges lost his touch after leaving Paramount for — talk about a fool’s errand — a typically pipe dream deal with mercurial Howard Hughes.

Beyond 4K scanning, the Blu-ray is a nice mix between the recycled and new, starting with a shared commentary between Wise (who died in 2005) and Steve Haberman, whose credits include the screenplay for Mel Brooks’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, whose stake-through-the-heart scene got the single hardest guffaws I ever heard at a New York press screening. Both voiceovers are self-contained, with Haberman taking over after Wise’s personal reminisces (i.e. they’re not scene-specific) about what was for him a pleasant experience. There’s also the 2005 doc Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy, plus a new featurette (You’ll Never Get Rid of Me: Resurrecting The Body Snatcher) that in part tries making the quite defensible case that this was the best horror film of the ‘40s.

When all was said and done, Wise also rated Body Snatchers as a personal career favorite, along with The Set-Up, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Sand Pebbles, to name three for which he had significant fondness. I’m assuming he had considerable affection for West Side Story and The Sound of Music as well, both Oscar winners that were a long way from the Lewton pictures, Wise had his share of clunkers to go along the films of his that are still beloved, but there weren’t too many directors whose careers had as many dimensions.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Body Snatcher’ and ‘Road to Utopia’

‘Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection’ Coming on Blu-ray Aug. 28

From Dracula to Frankenstein to The Mummy, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release 30 classic monster films on Blu-ray Aug. 28 in the “Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection.”

The collection includes all of Universal Pictures’ legendary monsters from the 1930s to late-1950s: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Werewolf of London (1935), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Wolf Man (1941), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1942), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), Invisible Agent (1942), Phantom of the Opera (1943), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), The Mummy’s Curse (1944), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), House of Dracula (1945), She-Wolf of London (1946), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, and includes a 3D version), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Revenge of the Creature (1955 and includes a 3D version) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).

The films star such legendary actors as Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains and Elsa Lanchester in the roles that they made famous.

The collection includes a 48-page collectible book, with behind-the-scenes stories and rare production photographs, and numerous bonus features, including:

  • behind-the-scenes documentaries;
  • 3D versions of Creature From the Black Lagoonand Revenge of the Creature;
  • the 1931 Spanish Version of Dracula;
  • featurettes on Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and Jack Pierce;
  • 13 expert feature commentaries;
  • archival footage;
  • production photographs;
  • and theatrical trailers.