Michael Scott

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Universal Horror Collection: Volume 3


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Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :3.5stars:
Audio: :3.5stars:
Extras: :3stars:

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

The Universal Horror Collections originally started off as a way to collect the works of famed horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in one collection, but has since morphed off into 4 film collections highlighting some of the more unique entries in 1930s and 1940s horror. Some of them contain Bela and Boris as stars (or co-stars), but most are just really unique and flavorful little horror entries that most of us would just skip over in favor of the bigger named ones from Universal studios. Some good, some weak, but all a fascinating look back in time to when horror wasn’t so obsessed with gross out gore and jump scares. Scream Factory has once more put together a nice set of 4 films in a little slipboard case, and have included the obligatory booklet containing art and film history about each of the movies we’re about to delve into.

Tower of London :3.5stars:
I’ve been amused that at least ONE film in each of the 3 collections Scream Factory has put out so far have not been a horror film at all. In this case the first and foremost film of the entire collection comes with the moniker of “history” lesson, or political thriller rather than the horror designation. This one focuses around Richard III (Basil Rathbone) on his rise to power over the already senile Henry VI. Back then he was simply the Duke of Gloucester, and this film chronicles his rise to power and the political machinations used to bring him into his infamous reign. Helped by his enforcer Mord (Boris Karloff), Richard slices and dices, and kills those in his way on the way up the ranks.

While it was probably meant to be a “scary” thriller back in the day, Tower of London is much more a political history lesson drama about the infamous Richard III. It sort of acts as a time place filler insomuch as it tells about the time BEFORE the time when all of the original stage plays about the infamous king are told. It’s interesting, a bit slow, but a fun watch and certainly showcases the aristocratic capabilities of Basil Rathbone (who was always so fantastic in his Medieval era films). Karloff is kind of a side character in this one, but he’s fun as the hulking enforcer to the Duke, and certainly adds his own scary charm to the film.

Man-Made Monster :3.5stars:
Much more in line with the horror genre, Man-Made Monster goes back to the classic story telling device of mad scientists, super human abilities, and horrible murderous rage. Sideshow performer Dan (Lon Chaney Jr.) is involved in a terrible accident wherein his bus slams into power line. Luckily due to his specialized performance act, Dan has built up decent amount of immunity to electrical current and is barely able to survive. However, He is brought in for study by one Dr. John (Samuel S. Hinds) due to his amazing ability to survive and absorb electricity. In true mad scientist fashion, Dr. John experiments on the poor man, accentuating and highlighting his immunity to electricity and soon creates a monster with murderous intent along the way.

Man-Made Monster is not what one would call a big budget film, even for almost 80 years ago’s time either. Director George Waggner does pull out all he can out of the meager budget though, ramping up the use of miniatures for the accident, as well as some crude glowing effects for when Dan is super powered thanks to Dr. John’s experiments. The film is scrappy and exciting though, with a fun bit of superhero/horror atmoshere, and builds up to a good climax. It’s one of the films that I remember studying in film class back in college, but promptly forgot about for the last 20+ years until I saw it in motion before me. It wasn’t one of the best 1940s horror films, but it is more than fun and exciting for those of you who love classics like these.

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The Black Cat :3.5stars:
Not to be confused with the 1934 film of the same name (which was also taken from the Edgar Allen Poe story and starred Bela Lugosi), this iteration of The Black Cat was a slightly modernized take on the old story. An old woman by the name of Henrietta (Cecilia Loftus) is a cantankerous old woman who just refuses to die. Near her deathbed, her greedy family comes out of the wood works to stay with her, including the nefarious Montague (Basil Rathbone) in hopes of getting her vast fortune. However, when the matriarch is murdered, the inheritance ends up going to her housekeeper Abigail (Gale Sondergaard), sending the rest of the family in a tizzy as they all try and figure out who killed Henrietta and cheated them out of their “rightful” inheritance.

The Black Cat 1941 is a film that actually ends up being better in the beginning than in the end. The opening act sets the mood and atmosphere quite nicely, building tension as everyone figures out who’s angling for what, and by the time Henrietta is murdered, we’re all ready for the ball to drop. The only thing is, the ball really doesn’t drop and the rest of the film, as too much humor and levity rob the movie of any evil thrilling that needs to happen to further the plot. We do get to figure out the murder, but the scares and thrills aren’t really there in comparison to what the first act of the movie promises.

Horror Island: :3.5stars:
1941’s Horror Island is one of those “borderline” cases for the horror genre. It’s got some spooky highlights to it, but is much more a comedic adventure movie with supernatural elements rather than a full on fright fest that The Black Cat and Man-Made Monster strive to be. The film centers around Bill (Dick Foran) and his possession of an island named Morgan’s Island. He owns the place, but really isn’t sure about how to capitalize on it. He and his buddy “Stuff” (Fuzzy Knight) end up saving a sailor by the name of Tobias (Leo Carillo) who just so happens to have half of a treasure map. Then the lightbulb turns on. Bill figures that he can make cash hand over fist if he sells the premise of Morgan’s Island as a place that has buried treasure to tourists quicker than a dog’s bark! Easy peasy and lots of money involved for the trio. Bill takes some tourists to the run down estate found on the island to “search for buried treasure”, only to run into a specter like individual who seems to want to disrupt any attempt at digging up buried treasure on the old island.

While it’s not a run of the mill horror film per se, Horror Island is still an entertaining film. It starts out as an adventure flick, morphs into a mystery film, and ends up with some horror/supernatural elements that actually end film with a slightly uneasy wrap up. All of this is kept tightly together with some light hearted comedy, as Director George Waggner weaves all three genres together. Not everything works, but most attempts are more hit than they are miss, which keeps the film from dive bombing to the ocean as it juggles the three separate genres together.




Not Rated by the MPAA




Video: :3.5stars:
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Tower of London :4stars:
Tower of London is announced by Scream Factory has being struck from a fine grain print at 2K, and the new scan definitely looks like it’s had some work done to it. The film is still a little bit soft (not surprising considering the time period), but there’s more than enough fine details to go around, and the intimate nuances of Rathbone’s face, or the craggy stone walls of the London city are more than revealing. The black and white photography is well done with enough film grain to look organic, but not so much as to look like it’s swarming. A solid presentation all around.

Man-Made Monster :3stars:
There seems to be no new scan done by Scream Factory for this release of Man-Made Monster, and it definitely appears to be an older scan at the core of it all. The special effects “glow” tends to make things look a bit softer around Dan, and the general detail levels are “good”, but not great, if you know what I mean. Blacks are solid, contrast appears to be good, but the low low budget level of the film makes sure this one really isn’t going to be a standout presentation.

The Black Cat :3stars:
This scan of The Black Cat most definitely is from one of Universal’s older transfers, complete with the DNR and general filtering of the transfer that was common 10 years ago or so. There’s a very soft and grain free look here, with slightly waxy faces and the loss of detail that comes with this type of transfer. Now this is nowhere near The Jerk level of awfulness, as the filtering is fairly minimal in comparison, but it IS noticeable when you’re expecting a crisp and grain filled 1940s film. Fine detail is moderate, but never great, and the grain levels are way too smooth for my tastes. The rest of the film’s colors (or really black and white colors) and contrast are more than acceptable though, and help balance out the filtered look.

Horror Island :3.5stars:
The 1.37:1 framed transfer looks solid enough for the 1941 film, but also appears to be from an older master. This one doesn’t look to be filtered or tinkered with too heavily though, and is much more natural looking. Film grain appears to be intact, and general details are more than acceptable. There’s some softness around the old estate, and sometimes faces look a bit too smooth, but other than that I couldn’t find much to really complain about besides a slightly older master being used for this release.








Audio: :3.5stars:
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Tower of London :3.5stars:
The 2.0 Mono track in lossless DTS-HD MA is more than satisfactory for the film’s meager audio needs. The film centers around dialog exchanges as the meat and potatoes of the track, and vocals are generally clean and clear. There is some harshness on the high end with loud voices, but it’s mostly artifact free. The score is a bit loud and in your face, with powerful instrumentals, but overall is a very pleasing sound.

Man-Made Monster :3.5stars:
The 2.0 Mono track is capable and fairly clean, and does a good job with the film’s score. It’s not super crisp, but everything is intelligible, with only a moderate analog hiss in the background. Distortion isn’t a big issue, and even heated arguments with yelling voices don’t introduce any high end crackling or rasping. It’s a solid mix for the time, and does the job well.

The Black Cat :3.5stars:
The 2.0 Mono track (yup, they all have the same 2.0 Mono mixing) is very similar to the others mentioned in this review. Crisp, clean, vocals set with minimal sound stage expansion and a tendency to lean towards long stretches of dialog exchanges for the bulk of the time. The scoring is nice and clear, and outside of some basic underlying analog hiss, there’s not major artifacting to be head. It’s a simple track, but one that seems to have been preserved rather nicely.

Horror Island :3.5stars:
The 2.0 Mono track is pretty typical, with solid vocals and decent scoring for the movie. The only real issue that I could see in the whole experience is that there are more than a few crackles, hisses, and pops that go on in the background. It’s not super problematic as the artifacting doesn’t really get in the way of the track’s simplicity, but it is kind of annoying to hear the old analog problems still there in the mix.









Extras: :3stars:
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• 10 Page Booklet

Tower of London
• Commentary features film historian Steve Haberman.
• Image Gallery

Man- Made Monster
• Commentary features film historians Tom Weaver and Constantine Nasr.
• Image Gallery

The Black Cat
• Commentary features film historian Gary D. Rhodes.
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer

Horror Island
• Commentary features film historian Ted Newsom.
• Image Gallery (1:53) collects publicity shots, film stills, poster art, and lobby cards.
• Theatrical Trailer








Final Score: :3.5stars:


With the 3rd Universal Horror Collection (with a 4th on the way in a few months), I have to say that I’m really enjoying these sets. Not every film is going to be a 4.5/5 rated movie, but they’re all thoroughly enjoyable old movies that Scream Factory is bringing to us at a fairly reasonable price as well. They all easily surpass what the old DVDs had for us, and the extras and little booklet that Scream always includes is a welcome addition. As a sucker for these old 30s and 40s horror movies, I’m more than eager to recommend it as a fun watch (as long as you’re also a fan of that time period’s B horror movies) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


Technical Specifications:

Starring: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne, Bela Lugosi, Hugh Herbert, Leo Carillo, Peggy Moran
Directed by: Rowland V. Lee / George Wagner / Albert S. Rogell / George Waggner
Written by: Robert N. Lee / George Waggner / Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, Eric Taylor, Robert Neville / Maurice Tombragel, Victor McLeod
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 AVC (all 4 films)
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 (all 4 films)
Subtitles:
English SDH
Studio: Scream Factory
Rated: NR (All 4 films)
Runtime
: 93 Minutes / 60 Minutes / 70 Minutes / 61 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 17th, 2019

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Recommendation: Worth Getting


 
Last edited:

tripplej

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Thanks for the review. I do enjoy these very old black and white movies. I don't think I ever saw them before so will check them out. :)
 
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