Michael Scott

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Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2



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Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :3.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:

Final Score: :3.5stars:


WARNING: THE SCORES ABOVE ARE A COMBINED SCORE FROM ALL 4 FILMS, THE INDIVIDUAL SCORES ARE CONTAINED BELOW IN THE INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF THE REVIEW


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Movie

Last month Scream Factory put out the fantastic Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1, which was actually meant to be titled the Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff collection before being retitled. This time we have another collection of 4 films, but devoid of either Karloff OR Lugosi. While Universal Studios has a vast quantity of old black and white horror films from the 30s, 40s and 50s, this set kind of feels like them trolling the bottom of the barrel in this collection. The films are solid and decent movies in and of themselves, but they lack the star power and the pizazz of the previous Universal boxset by Scream. The same can be said for the video transfers as none of them seem to have been rescanned or remastered, but are using some rather dated masters provided by Universal. The collection itself is definitely fun, with it is fault stemming from not being cream of the crop from Universal’s back catalog.

The Strange Case of Dr. Rx :3stars:
The Strange Case of Dr. Rx is probably the strangest addition to this collection as it is the LEAST horror related of the 4 films. While a couple of these are only thrillers and not actual horror films, The Strange Case of Dr. Rx is a straight of whodunit detective story, and even though it has elements of a thriller in it’s structure, the film quickly moves to a high class detective story rather rapidly. There’s a general lightness and airy tone to the film that keeps one from taking it too seriously, and even the darker elements can be played for laughs more often than not. Lionel Atwill does his best , but he’s given a fairly limited roll to stretch his crazy wings and the leads are more dashing and debonair to really make it work as a horror flick.

The film opens up with a man being discovered dead with a calling card from a serial killer who calls himself “Dr. Rx”. This killer has been going around New York City killing off the scumbags who are slipping through the judicial cracks, and super sleuth Jerry Church (Patric Knowles) has been tasked with finding out the killer is before he strikes again. The 66 minute film tends to run out of steam rather early on in the production, and when the thrills run out the writers fall back to creating strange antics to keep the action going. There’s a crazy scene with a big gorilla, a Mantan Moreland playing heavily dated racial stereotypes for laughs, and rather large scale finale for Dr. Rx.

The Strange Case of Dr. Rx is a rather strange film, but it’s bizarrely entertaining at the same time. The debonair detective of Jerry Church is charming, and the whodunit type of atmosphere is a lot of fun. I still have no idea why the movie was ever put in a horror collection like this, but it’s a fun little flick form Universal’s back catalog, for better or for worse.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street :3stars:
The Mad Doctor of Market Street is probably the oddest of the entire batch, as it shifts tone and location quite a few times throughout the film’s 60 minute run time. The 1942 film opens up with a first act surrounding a crazed chemist posing as a doctor (played by Lionel Atwill once more) who is obsessed with utilizing suspended animation in an effort to eradicate diseases. The problem is, he can’t seem to master the process and ends up killing his experiments in the process. After he accidentally murders a family man with his practices, the doctor slips away from the local police and jumps on a cruise ship headed for Australia. Altering his appearance (e.g, shaving his beard and adopting a new name), the doctor attempts to slide under the radar.

Unfortunately for him and everyone else on the ship, a fire breaks out in the boiler room and everyone abandons ship in a hurry, leaving him and a few other passengers on a seemingly deserted island. To make matters worse, the island turns out to NOT be uninhabited, but instead inhabited by a Maori like tribe of indigenous people. Imprisoned for their bad omen of arrival, the group of survivors are preparing for the worst when the doctor uses his medical skills to heal a sick woman of the tribe. Suddenly he’s put on a pedestal for doing so, but as he uses his limited skills he begins to get more and more in over his head, ultimately sealing his own fate when his “magic” skills of healing inevitably fail him.

Lionel Atwill’s performance is probably the best part of The Mad Doctor of Market Street, despite the film being really low on suspense, and really high on romance and interpersonal relationships. In fact, hes’ the one scary character in the entire thing, as he builds up a persona of malevolence and mischieviousness throughout the film, only for the film itself to let him down with a straight forward drama ending that has a HINT of “horror” to it. The film’s has lofty goals, but it so ADHD with it’s locations and use of humor and romance that it loses most of that 1st act horror that was promised. It’s a decent enough film, but an odd one for sure.

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The Mad Ghoul :3.5stars:
The Mad Ghoul is probably the most “horror” like film out of the entire 4 disc set. The movie revolves around a mad scientist, unrequited love, murder, zombies, and grave robbery. Dr. Alfred Morris (George Zucco) and his young assistant Ted (David Bruce) make a scientific breakthrough when the two realize that they can reanimate corpses after they have been rendered into a “death like state” (much like a zombie if you look at the makeup and actions of the subjects) due to an Ancient Mayan poison gas. Jealous of Ted’s love for his musician girlfriend Isabel (Evelyn Ankers), the “good” Dr. turns his experiment on his young assistant in hopes of manipulating the man.

While Ted is under the influence of the Mayan gas he’s extremely suggestible, following the orders of the Dr. with zombie like precision. Thinking that he’s warned Ted off from Isabel enough, the Dr. “cures” Ted with the same techniques they used in the lab, only to find out that the result is temporary, and that Ted requires a constant cycle of the antidote (which includes fresh human heart tissue). However, things get even more complicated when the Dr.’s jealousy is raised once more when he finds out that Isabel IS planning to leave Ted like he had hoped, but not for him. Instead she’s in love with one of her musician friends named Eric (Turhan Bey), and the Dr. is forced to use his subservient slave Ted in order to get his selfish way.

The Mad Ghoul is easily the most horror like of the series, as it has all of the classic machinations. Mad scientists, corpse desecration, zombies before zombies were popular, and lots and lots of murder. It’s a twisted little tale and rivals Murders in the Zoo for best film of the boxset. There’s plenty of visual horror with the fog, the zombie like state of Ted, and even the unrequited romantic triangle works in terms of motivations.

Murders in the Zoo :3.5stars:
The first of our quadrilogy of terror is a rather benign thriller that is extremely light on the scares OR the thrills. Millionaire hunter/philanthropist Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwell, who shows up in 3 of the 4 films) is a bit of an egomaniac. He gets his thrills through big game hunting out in Africa, then coming home and selling his captures to the local Zoo. His bored and beautiful wife (Kathleen Burke) entertains herself by flirting with other young men her own age much to the chagrin of Gorman himself. In return, Gorman uses his animals to kill his wife’s love interests, sparking a feud between the two of them that brings the entire zoo populace under scrutiny for the deaths.

Murders in the Zoo doesn’t have much “horror” panache to it really. The film’s darker moments are glossed over rather quickly with only a moment or of true chills before the film gets slightly bogged down with comedic timings and dramatic elements. The inclusion of bumbling and timid publicity agent Peter Yates (Charles Ruggles) keeps the humor high with sight gags about his timidity over wild animals, and Kathleen Burke simmers on screen with her beauty. The downside is that these elements overshadow the scarier aspects of the film, making it less a horror film, or even a thriller, but rather a dramatic “who dunit” as the zoo inspectors try to find out why all of these men are getting munched on by animals.

Ironically Murders in the Zoo was considered a rather graphic film at the time. The first few minutes shows Gorman sewing up another man’s mouth for kissing his wife (you get to see the twisted mouth shown up right on screen), and he is a complete psychopath as he kills his wife’s dalliances one by one. At the time mostly monsters and creatures killed like Gorman did, but they did a great job of making him a completely loathsome character. It’s one of the big advantages the film has, as you’re literally cheering for him to get his comeuppance the entire film.




Rated R by the MPAA (All 3)




Video: :3.5stars:
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The Strange Case of Dr. Rx :3.5stars:
The 1.37:1 AVC encode is quite admirable, and generally really pleasing most of the time. The details are strong and clean, you can see intimate clothing details on suits, and the mansion of our “benefactor” is quite nuanced. The black levels are strong and deep, and contrast is even. There is some moderate print damage present, with flickering light levels, stray hairs and scratches on the print, and some weird artifacts that can only be described as flickering “bubbles” that are present throughout much of the film.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street :4stars:
The 1.37:1 AVC encode is rather clean and well done for the most part, with only a few vintage shots of airplanes flying around that really rough around the edges. The film has a nice light layer of grain to it, with plenty of presentable details on faces and evening wear. The island is rife with vegetation and other plant life, making for a rather nuanced looking image as well. Contrast is nice, black levels are deep, and overall this is a very impressive looking filmic presentation with only mild print damage and debris to mar it.

The Mad Ghoul :4stars:
The Mad Ghoul is one of the better looking films in the set, and even though I see no notification of a remaster or rescan of the original elements, the master used for this set is definitely in good shape. The shadows and fog make for a good setting for grave robbing, and the use of light and shadow bring forth plenty of good details. There’s some mild black crush due to being out at night all the time, the details are strong, and the visual clarity sumptuous. There’s a healthy amount of grain, but it’s never too obtrusive or noisy as was the case with Murders in the Zoo. A few speckles and vertical lines come into play once in a while, but overall this is a very nice looking encode.

Murders in the Zoo :3stars:
The 1.37:1 framed Blu-ray encode of Murders in the Zoo is a bit dated in it’s master, but a perfectly serviceable one at that. Grain is abundant (sometimes a bit TOO abundant), and details are generally solid enough, but there are definitely portions of the film that suffer from print damage and speckles on the reel. A few vertical lines pop up now and then, but otherwise the print is in rather good shape. Fine details are impressive and the black and white photography shows off some very deep black levels. The general clarity is well done, with basic elements such as clothing details and the animals attacking are well detailed and very impressive. It’s not a stunning new 4K or 2K remaster, but Murders in the Zoo is a good effort from a dated master.




Audio: :4stars:
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The Strange Case of Dr. Rx :4stars:
Like the rest, The DTS-HD MA Mono track is solid, with good dialog replication and a decent ambiance. The analog hiss that is present in films of this era is very minimal, and the clarity of the trakc is really rather sharp. The score is rich and full, with some mild low end backed into the mono track. Vocals are crisp and well defined and I didn’t have to adjust the volume level once it was set initially.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street :4stars:
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono track is right on par with the video score. It has a strong score with a reasonable sound presence to it, and the vocals are clean and clear. Although, I did notice that the volume level for dialog was a bit low, and you were forced to raise and lower the volume sometimes to hear what was being said. Not a whole lot, but if cranked to where the dialog level was comfortable some of the score was a bit loud.

The Mad Ghoul :4stars:
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono track is typical of the time frame, with good vocal replication, solid ambiance and a mild analog hiss that belies it’s time period. The creepy score and orchestral “dun dun duns!” have a solid amount of weight to them, and the low end actually creeps into the track with some surprising presence as well. It’s not a legendary mix, but this is a one of the better tracks in the set with a very clean sound that is better than I was expecting.

Murders in the Zoo :3.5stars:
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono track is again, serviceable, but not exemplary. The old track is in good shape, with no appreciable analog hiss or crackling, with standard vocal replication and mild ambiance from the score. There’s not a whole lot of activity outside of the dialog in this film, and the result is a decent track that isn’t really going to stretch the lossless landscape very much. There’s a mild sharpness to the higher pitched vocals and screams (pretty common with older recorded mixes), and the general analog hiss in the background that you have to really listen for to catch. Again, simple, effective, and generally pleasing.






Extras: :2stars:
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The Strange Case of Dr. Rx
• Lionel Atwill Featurette
• Image Gallery

The Mad Doctor of Market Street
• Trailer
• Image Gallery

The Mad Ghoul
• Audio Commentary With Filmmaker/Film Historian Thomas Reeder
• Press Kit
• Image Gallery

Murders in the Zoo
• Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Gregory William Mank
• Image Gallery









Final Score: :3.5stars:


The Universal Horror Collection: Vol 2 isn’t as prolific and intriguing as Vol 1 was (nor is it as horror oriented as that set was as well), but it’s a fun little set with some nifty old 40s (and one 30s) films contained within. This one is more mad doctor oriented than anything, with the exception of The Strange Case of Dr. Rx which is it’s own strange bird in and of itself. The Audio and Video sections are pretty good considering there was no remastering done for this release, and Shout’s packaging is bar none. Sadly this one is very limited on extras, but the set itself is still well worth checking out.



Technical Specifications:

Starring: Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton, George Zucco, David Bruce, Gail Patrick, Charles Ruggles
Directed by William Nigh / Joseph H. Lewis / James P. Hogan / A. Edward Sutherland
Written by: Clarence Upson Young / Al Martin / Brenda Weisberg, Paul Gangelin) / Philip Wylie, Seton I. Miller
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 AVC (all 4 films)
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (all 4 films)
Subtitles:
English SDH
Studio: Scream Factory
Rated: NR (all 4)
Runtime
: 66 Minutes / 60 Minutes / 65 Minutes / 62 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 23rd, 2019

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Recommendation: Fun Watch


 

tripplej

AV Aficionado
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Thanks for the review. I do like the older movies so will look for this. I don't think I have ever seen any of them in the past.
 
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