Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt)
(23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969)
Here’s a perfect way to celebrate the great Boris Karloff — stay up all night watching a slew of his movies.
The Abbott & Costello movies offer up some of the great joys to be had in this world. Their “Who’s On First?” routine (found in The Naughty Nineties) is timeless — and runs constantly in the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Me, I simply cannot be down if Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is on.
Shout Factory has announced The Complete Universal Pictures Collection, that puts their 28 Universal pictures (they say they saved the studio from bankruptcy) on 15 Blu-ray Discs, packed with hours of extras and a collectible book. It’s coming in November. What a great big box of Wonderful this will be!
Directed by Edgar Ulmer
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay by Peter Ruric
Suggested by the story by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography: John Mescall
Production Design: Edgar G. Ulmer
Music Supervisor: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff (Hjalmar Poelzig), Bela Lugosi (Vitus Verdegast), DavidManners (Peter Alison), Jacqueline Wells (Joan Alison), Harry Cording(Thamal)
When it comes to the creepy weirdness of 30s Horror, it’s hard to beat Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934). It makes almost no sense, piling depravity upon depravity (Karloff marries his step-daughter and has a basement full of dead women in glass cases; Lugosi skins Karloff alive) into some sort of Impressionist fever dream of a haunted house movie that’s absolutely original in every way. The posters screamed “STRANGER THINGS THAN YOU HAVE EVER SEEN… or even dreamed of!” — and, for once, they’re weren’t kidding.
It opens like about 157 movies you’ve already seen, however. A group of travelers wind up in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere after their bus crashes during a storm. Anything but original, right? But from then on, things get plenty weird, fast.
Lugosi is there to settle a score with Karloff, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of men during the war — and made off with Lugosi’s wife and daughter while he was a prisoner of war. If that isn’t enough, Karloff chose to build his Art Deco home on top of the ruins of the fort he commanded — the scene of all those deaths.
Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff): The phone is dead. Do you hear that, Vitus? Even the phone is dead.
Before its crazed 65 minutes are over, ailurophobia (the fear of cats), a satanic sacrifice, drugs, the basement full of dead women in glass cases and Karloff being skinned are added to the mix. Something for everyone!
Edgar G. Ulmer was a master at making something out of nothing, and today he’s known for his quickie noir masterpiece Detour (1945). But here, Universal gave him two of their biggest stars, Frankenstein and Dracula themselves, and he created Universal’s biggest hit of the year. He also worked on the screenplay and designed the sets.) After a scandal (an affair with a producer’s wife), Ulmer was blackballed by the major studios, and he spent the rest of his career working largely on Poverty Row.
Only once did a movie creep me out so bad that I checked out. That was Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), which I have no intention of revisiting. But as a kid, The Black Cat really got to me, and I bring that creeped-out memory to it every time I see it. It’s a very weird movie, dealing with some very heavy stuff — a sense of doom and evil is burned into every frame.
The Black Cat is the first of four Karloff-Lugosi films in the Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Classics Vol. 1. The Others are The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936) and Black Friday (1940). Are all given the real Cadillac treatment and all look wonderful — with a healthy batch of extras. With Gary Don Rhodes, Gregory William Mank and Tom Weaver involved in commentaries and documentaries, you know you’re in good hands.
I first saw The Black Cat on the late show. The station ran a pretty battered 16mm print with murky contrast, a few scratches and some changeover cues where previous stations had marked where they wanted their commercials to go. To see it on high-definition is a revelation. I rarely freeze movies as I watch them, but I stopped this one several time to study Ulmer’s sets and just take in the striking quality of the transfer.
This thing is an absolute must.
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, Donald Barry, Charlotte Austin
Thanks to Warner Archive, in about a month, we’ll be able to recreate this terrific twin bill in high definition in our own living rooms, as they add Frankenstein 1970 (1958) to their list of terrific Allied Artists ‘Scope monster movies on Blu-Ray.
Black & white CinemaScope is such a cool thing on Blu-Ray, I can’t wait for this!
Scream Factory has really done it this time. Their upcoming The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection brings some of the weirdest, sickest and best-est horror films of the 30s to Blu-Ray. All four were Universal pictures.
The Black Cat (1934)
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Lucille Lund, John Carradine
Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) might be the granddaddy of all Pre-Code Horror films. It spends so much time hinting around at all kinds of awful stuff, it hardly makes any sense. But it’s so creepy, so twisted, so wonderful, who cares?
The Raven (1935)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware
How could you ever approach the supreme weirdness of The Black Cat? With The Raven (1935), Karloff, Lugosi and Lew Landers gave it the old college try.
The Invisible Ray (1936)
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake
Lambert Hillyer turns Boris and Bela loose on leftover Flash Gordon sets. The results are every bit as cool as you’re imagining right now. This one will be a real treat in high definition.
Black Friday (1940)
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Anne Nagle, Paul Fix
Lugosi’s role is pretty small in this one, and he and Karloff don’t have any scenes together. Curt Siodmak’s script plays around with ideas he’d use again in Donovan’s Brain — his 1943 novel and 1953 film.
This is essential stuff, folks. And it’s coming in April.
Saw the other day that Frankenstein is 200 years old, with Marry Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus first published in 1818.
So here’s to Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, the monster’s bride, and anybody who ever helped bring the many Frankenstein movies to the screen — particularly the Universal and Hammer films.
It was a very shrewd move for Hammer to focus their series on the doctor and his misadventures rather than inviting strict comparisons to the Universal classics, which would be very hard to top. And, of course, casting Peter Cushing in the role was simply inspired.
So happy 200th, Frankie. You’re holding up pretty well.
If in its glory days, Universal made a movie about Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man or The Creature From The Black Lagoon, it’s in this box — in high definition. What more do I have to tell you?
Here’s what you get: Dracula / Drácula (Spanish version) / Frankenstein / The Mummy / The Invisible Man / Werewolf Of London / Bride Of Frankenstein / Dracula’s Daughter / Son Of Frankenstein / The Invisible Man Returns / The Mummy’s Hand / The Invisible Woman / The Wolf Man / The Mummy’s Tomb / Ghost Of Frankenstein / Invisible Agent / Son Of Dracula / Phantom Of The Opera / Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man / The Mummy’s Ghost / House Of Frankenstein / The Mummy’s Curse / The Invisible Man’s Revenge / House Of Dracula / She-Wolf Of London / Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein / Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man / Creature From The Black Lagoon / Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy / Revenge Of The Creature / The Creature Walks Among Us
Thirty movies in all, and only one in color (Phantom Of The Opera). The Creature movies and Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy are 1.85.
Just wondering: where’s Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1953)? Guess Jekyll/Hyde’s outside their normal monster cycle.
This is a great thing, and it’s coming next week.