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.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

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.

Classic TV Shows, Rare TV Pilots Among Titles Coming From VCI and MVD This Fall

A collection of rare and “lost” programs from the early days of television are being released this fall on disc by VCI Entertainment and MVD Entertainment Group.

Produced by Jeff Joseph (SabuCat Productions), film archivist, historian, author and producer, the shows have been restored in high definition from the best archival film elements available. Some of the programs have not been seen since they were originally broadcast.

Due Sept .11 is Television’s Lost Classics – Volume One – John Cassavetes on DVD and Blu-ray, which features two dramatic programs starring the actor. Episode one is “Crime in the Streets,” which is from The Elgin Hour (Elgin watches) and was broadcast live on ABC March 8, 1955. Written by Reginald Rose and directed by Sidney Lumet, it stars Robert Preston and a very young Cassavetes. Episode two is “No Right to Kill,” with Cassavetes, Terry Moore and Robert H. Harris. It was part of the Climax! series and was presented by the Chrysler Corp. Broadcast on CBS Aug. 9, 1956, it is based on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Original commercial messages are included in the episode, as well as a bonus blooper reel from the “Defenders” and “The Nurses” series.

Coming Oct. 9 is Television’s Lost Classics – Volume Two – Rare ‘Pilots’ with four episodes on DVD and Blu-ray. “Case of the Sure Thing” stars Reed Hadley, Louise Currie and Milburn Stone and introduced the series “Racket Squad,” which lasted for three seasons and was nominated for two Primetime Emmys. The program reportedly may have inspired parts of the Hollywood hit The Sting. First broadcast on CBS June 7, 1951, the pilot contains original network commercials as originally broadcast. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, “Cool and Lam” stars Billy Pearson, Benay Venuta, Alison Hayes and Sheila Bromley in a light-hearted, detective yarn featuring characters first created by Erle Stanley Gardner. Bertha Cool runs a detective agency and Donald Lam is her junior partner, hence “Cool and Lam.” “The Life of Riley” features Lon Chaney Jr., Rosemary DeCamp and John Brown. It stars Chaney as Chester Riley and was produced in 1948, but by the time the first season went into full production in 1949, Chaney had been replaced by Jackie Gleason. “Nero Wolfe” stars Kurt Kasznar, William Shatner and Alexander Scourby in another one-off production based on characters created by Rex Stout. Also included on the disc is a bonus CBS blooper reel hosted by James Arness.

Additional volumes are planned with the third in the series already in production for release in late 2018.

Also on tap Oct. 9 on DVD is I Married Joan: Classic TV Collection Vol. 4, with 10 episodes. The show, featuring physical humor in the vein of “I Love Lucy,” centers on Joan, a scatterbrained housewife, and her husband, Bradley Stevens, who was a staid and settled domestic court judge. Beverly Wills, Joan Davis’ real-life daughter, also co-starred on the show playing the part of her sister.

Streeting Sept. 11 is the “Boris Karloff Collection” on two DVDs, a compilation of four rare films featuring the horror legend. Films in the collection include Alien Terror, Cult of the Dead, Dance of Death and Torture Zone. In addition to Karloff, the films star Andres Garcia, Carlos East, Enrique Guzman and Christa Linder.

Finally, due Oct. 23 on Blu-ray and DVD is Blood and Black Lace, director Mario Bava’s film about an unscrupulous business operating under the guise of a top fashion house with exotic models running sexual favors, cocaine dealings and blackmail. Bonus features include 2018 commentary by Kat Ellinger, editor-in-chief and author, Diabolique Magazine; 2018 commentary by film historian David Del Valle and director/writer C. Courtney Joyner; a video Interview with Mary Dawne Arden; an archival video interview with star Cameron Mitchell, with Del Valle; an original American theatrical trailer, plus Italian, German and French trailers; bonus trailers of other Bava films; a photo gallery; alternate original Italian or original U.S. theatrical main titles; bonus music tracks by composer Carlo Rustichelli; video comparison of American and European cuts; and a two-sided cover wrap with alternate cover art.