Category Archives: Boris Karloff

Blu-Ray News #112: The Mummy Complete Legacy Collection.

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Universal’s next Complete Legacy Collection — each Blu-Ray set covers everything featuring a particular Universal monster — concerns The Mummy. Providing Universal can come up with the proper number of tana leaves, this edition will be available in May. It spreads six movies over four discs.

The Mummy (1932) is one of the most visually-splendid movies I can think of. Karl Freund packs one incredible shot after another in this thing — and Karloff is at his brilliant best.

The first sequel (or maybe it’s more of a remake), The Mummy’s Hand (1940), has Tom Tyler doing a great job filling in for Boris Karloff — and Wallace Ford is a welcome addition to anything.

Jack Pierce turns Lon Chaney Jr. into Kharis.

The next three Mummy movies — The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), and The Mummy’s Curse (1944) — with Lon Chaney, Jr. as a rather portly mummy making his way through Massachusetts and Louisiana, are a real hoot in that 1940s Universal Monsters kinda way. I love these things.

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Then there’s Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955), which throws in Marie Windsor, my all-time favorite actress, for good measure. It was A&C’s last picture for Universal, a studio they pretty much saved in the 40s. Eddie Parker, Chaney’s double on the three previous Mummy movies, plays Klaris throughout this one.

All six Mummy movies are black and white, with Meet The Mummy in 1.85 widescreen — and they’re all sure to look marvelous on Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1955, Abbott & Costello, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Pierce, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Marie Windsor, Universal (-International)

DVD Review: The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932).

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Directed by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor (uncredited)
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard
Based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Film Editor: Ben Lewis

Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See); Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod).

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If someone tells you they don’t see what the big deal is about pre-Code movies, show ’em The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932). If its script has been floating around just a couple years later, it wouldn’t have been made.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is a fever dream of an adventure story — or maybe a Chinese-food-stomach-ache adventure story, the kind of movie you get when writers and directors are fired, production is halted for a while, rewrites arrive minutes before scenes are shot, etc.

Boris Karloff: “It was a shambles, it really was — it was simply ridiculous.”

This chaos is evident on the screen. Characters come and go. There is little, if anything, in the way of character development. The plot simply doesn’t make sense. There’s no real flow from one scene to the next. And if you’re easily offended, well you’ll be easily offended.

But it’s absolutely fascinating from the MGM lion to the final fadeout. The evil Dr. Fu Manchu has kidnapped a noted archaeologist who claims to have found the tomb of Genghis Khan. Fu Manchu seeks the power contained in the Mongol emperor’s mask and sword. Torture, death and all sorts of mayhem ensue.

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Fu Manchu (Karloff): “This serum, distilled from dragon’s blood, my own blood, the organs of different reptiles, and mixed with the magic brew of the sacred seven herbs, will temporarily change you into the living instrument of my will. You will do as I command!”

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The entire cast is terrific, with Karloff and Myrna Loy (as Fu Manchu’s freaky daughter) giving it their all. Lewis Stone makes a great Nayland Smith, while Sheila Barton and Charles Starrett are fine as the damsel in distress and her rescuer. The set design is incredible, combining over-the-top Chinese influence with 30s art deco and a bit of Frankenstein’s lab (Kenneth Strickfaden, who made the equipment for Frankenstein, decked out Fu Manchu’s laboratory). It’s as lavish as it is crazy.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is one of six Pre-Code horror pictures in Warner Archive’s Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection. It’s a MOD re-issue of the 2006 collection, and it’s great to have it available again. The Mask Of Fu Manchu is my favorite of the bunch, and it looks great — and it’s completely uncut (it was softened a bit a few decades ago). The other films — Doctor X (1932), The Return of Doctor X (1939), Mark Of The Vampire (1935), Mad Love (AKA The Hands Of Orlac, 1935) and The Devil-Doll (1936) — look just as good. All the commentaries and trailers from the original release have been retained. For monsters nuts or fans of Pre-Code Hollywood, this is essential stuff — and a steal at $29.95.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, MGM, Pre-Code, Warner Archive

DVD News #72: Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection.

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If you like Weird, then you need to spend some time with the Horror films of the 1930s. And with this six-picture set, Warner Archive gives you a chance to jump right into the deep end.

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Doctor X (1932)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy

The Return of Doctor X (1939)
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Starring Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, Humphrey Bogart

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: The Return Of Doctor X is not a sequel to Doctor X. The first one was shot in the early two-color Technicolor process. The Return Of Doctor X is one of the films Bogart didn’t like to talk about.

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Tod Browning directs Caroll Borland and Bela Lugosi

Mark Of The Vampire (1935)
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill

Tod Browning directs a talkie remake of one the great lost Silents, his own London After Midnight (1927) starring Lon Chaney.

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The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932)
Directed by Charles Brabin
Starring Boris Karloff, Myrna Loy, Lewis Stone

Karloff is the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, wearing what appear to be his Frankenstein boots. Myrna Loy is his equally-evil daughter. This thing has to be seen to be believed.

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Basil Gogos’ painting of Peter Lorre for Famous Monsters #63

Mad Love (AKA The Hands Of Orlac, 1935)
Directed by Karl Freund
Starring Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive

The great cinematographer Karl Freund’s last film as director — he also directed The Mummy (1932). And of course, he was the director of photography for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and I Love Lucy (he developed the flat-light system, and perfected the three-camera setup, that are still used in TV today).

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Tod Browning and Lionel Barrymore

The Devil-Doll (1936)
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan

For this creepy crime picture, Tod Browning revisits some of the ideas of his The Unholy Three (1930), Lon Chaney’s only sound film — which they’d already made as a Silent in 1925.

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, MGM, Pre-Code, Tod Browning, Warner Archive

Blu-ray News #64: Frankenstein & The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collections.

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The world may be falling apart, but there’s never been a better time to be a fan of classic monster movies. Hi-def sets of Hammer Horror and now the Universal Monsters are on the way. The Frankenstein and The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collections give you every classic Universal monster movie in which they appear. Buy them both, and you’ll certainly have some overlap since the monsters overlap in the “Monster Rally” pictures — and even in the mighty Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), but who cares? They’ll come creeping to your mailbox in September.

Maybe Presley and I started out summer monster series a bit too soon?

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Filed under Abbott & Costello, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Universal (-International)

So Much Horror Under One Roof!

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Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to watch the great Universal monster movies in order. One of the problems was having all the movies. DVD and Blu-ray takes care of that. Then there’s which ones and in what order? All those monster-geek newsgroups and stuff offer up some proposed lists, and I found one I like.

Dracula (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Son Of Frankenstein (1939)
The Wolf Man (1940)
Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942)
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
Son Of Dracula (1943)
House Of Frankenstein (1944)
House Of Dracula (1945)
Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

My daughter and I are about to kick the whole thing off. (School may be out, but her education keeps going!) When we’re finished with these, we’ll take on The Invisible Man and Mummy movies (I love the first two Mummy things). And we can’t forget those two Karloff-Lugosi Poe films: The Raven (1935) and The Black Cat (1934). Has anyone else tackled these? If so, how’d you go about it?

The image up top is Karloff and makeup genius Jack Pierce in a color test for Son Of Frankenstein, my favorite of the Frankenstein films. It has some of the most incredible set designs I’ve ever seen. The subject line comes from the ads for House Of Dracula.

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Filed under Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Universal (-International)

DVD Review: Frankenstein 1970 (1958).

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Directed by Howard W. Koch
Produced by Aubrey Schenck
Screenplay by Richard Landau and George Worthing Yates
Story by Charles A. Moses and Aubrey Schenck
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Music: Paul A. Dunlap
Film Editor: John A. Bushelman

Cast: Boris Karloff (Baron Victor Von Frankenstein), Tom Duggan (Mike Shaw), Jana Lund (Carolyn Hayes), Donald Barry (Douglas Row), Charlotte Austin (Judy Stevens), Irwin Berke (Inspector Raab), Rudolph Anders (Wilhelm Gottfried), Norbert Schiller (Shuter), John Dennis (Morgan Haley), Mike Lane (Hans Himmler/The Monster)

The last member of the Frankenstein family has fallen on hard times. To keep things afloat, namely his experiments, Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has rented his castle out for a horror movie shoot. He’s eager for them to wrap and get out, then he realizes the cast and crew offer up a sizable supply of body parts.

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Director Howard W. Koch on the set with Boris Karloff.

Frankenstein 1970 (1958) takes this terrific film-within-a-film premise — an American film crew making a Frankenstein movie in the real Frankenstein castle, while the real monster reposes in the lab below — and puts almost none of its potential on the screen. Another thought-provoking idea, that Frankenstein was tortured by the Nazis — in other words, he got a bit of his own medicine, is brought up and dropped. And what could’ve been made of Karloff’s “real” monster meeting its cheesy movie namesake?

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I’d been wanting to see Frankenstein 1970 since I was a kid, thanks to some lurid stills — and the fact that it was in black-and-white CinemaScope. And for an eight-day Allied Artists monster picture, it has its moments. The opening’s well done, with a young woman chased through a foggy swamp by a deformed monster, only to have it revealed as part of the movie. And a scene where Karloff, convinced to appear in the film project, goes off script as he tells the story of his ancestors’ work — is a hoot. Both demonstrate the plot-line gold that was waiting to be mined. Cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie does a terrific job, as always, and I’ve always liked long takes in CinemaScope movies (I’m sure they were used more for efficiency than aesthetics on this one). If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching cheap movies of the late 50s, there were some real pros doing excellent work on these crummy things.

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Guthrie’s craft is well-presented in the Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics DVD set. It also includes The Walking Dead (1936), You’ll Find Out (1940) and Zombies On Broadway (1945). The films themselves aren’t always stellar, but they sure look good. Recommended.

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Filed under 1958, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howard Koch, Monogram/Allied Artists

Bikini Beach (1964)

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Directed by William Asher
Produced byJames H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff
Co-Producer: Anthony Carras
Screenplay by William Asher, Leo Townsend and Robert Dillon
Photography by Floyd Crosby, ASC
Film Editors: Fred Feitshans and Eve Newman
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music Score by Les Baxter
Music Coordinator: Al Simms

Cast: Frankie Avalon (Frankie & Potato Bug), Annette Funicello (Dee Dee), Martha Hyer (Vivian Clements), Don Rickles (Big Drag), Harvey Lembeck (Eric Von Zipper), John Ashley (Johnny), Jody McCrea (Deadhead), Candy Johnson (Candy), Danielle Aubry (Lady Bug), Meredith MacRae (Animal), Delores Wells (Sniffles), Donna Loren, Little Stevie Wonder, The Pyramids, The Exciters Band, Janos Prohaska (Clyde), Timothy Carey (South Dakota Slim), Val Warren (The Teenage Werewolf Monster), Keenan Wynn (Harvey Huntington Honeywagon), Mickey Dora, Gary Ushes, Roger Christian, Mary Hughes, Salli Sachse, Patti Chandler, Boris Karloff (The Art Dealer)

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The green metal-flake Volkswagen made its way through the drive-in lot toward the concession stand, its redline tires crunching in the gravel as it prowled in search of the best vantage point. Passing by the Beatnik Bandit, the Deora and the Silhouette, it found its spot, parked and waited for the feature to begin.

$(KGrHqZHJDgFG8V7eTe6BR5EKcPutg~~60_35The concession stand was a shoebox. The screen tower was my parents’ console TV. And the patrons were my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. That’s how I saw my first Beach Party flick, Bikini Beach (1964).  It made quite an impression on an eight-year-old kid from South Georgia: I thought life on the California beaches was really like that. I was hooked, and Bikini Beach remains one of my favorite films to this day.

At the time of its release, the critics’ nightmares were coming true: the AIP Beach Party films were becoming a series. And with this third one, they’d truly hit their stride. It’s got surfers, chicks in bikinis, rail dragsters, Beatle satire, Gary Usher songs, Boris Karloff, Don Rickles, Timothy Carey, Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck), Deadhead (Jody McCrea) and Candy Johnson.

All that, plus a fake monkey who surfs and drags. A masterpiece of Dumb.

bikinilobby1Frankie Avalon plays two roles this time. He’s Frankie the happy-go-lucky surfer, of course, and he’s The Potato Bug, an obnoxious British pop star. He handles the part surprisingly well, turning in a Terry Thomas-ish performance (aided by hysterical fake teeth). He does one satirically Beatlesque tune (complete with the prerequisite “yeah-yeah-yeahs”), playing a cool double-neck Danelectro guitar. Of course, the two Frankies end up competing for Annette’s affection. Annette loves Frankie, as we all know, but if he’d only settle down! (I have to stop here to mention that for some people, such as my wife, the Potato Bug subplot is the cinematic equivalent of Chinese water torture.)

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Meredith MacRae and Annette Funicello.

Annette: “I’d always hated the beach. The sea air made my hair frizzy, and as for surfing-forget it. In almost every picture, the director would call for a shot of me running down the beach, board tucked under my arm, then leaping gracefully into the surf and paddling out. But back then boards were over six feet long and weighed upward of twenty-five pounds. I tried several times, but the most they ever got out of it was a totally winded Annette gasping in the sand, my board lying several feet behind me.”

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Millionaire Harvey Huntington Honeywagon (Keenan Wynn) is out to get the kids this time, using a chimp named Clyde (actually Janos Prohaska in a monkey outfit) to show up the gang (and teenagers in general) by outdoing them at surfing, drag-racing, etc. Plot-wise, that’s pretty much it. But we’re not here for the plot, are we? Just know there’s a fiery dragster crash, Timothy Carey as a pool hustler named South Dakota Slim, a Boris Karloff cameo, and it somehow ends with a chase that has Eric Von Zipper zipping around in a twin-engine go-kart like a bat out of hell.

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Bikini Beach seems like a Panavision time capsule of teenage life in Southern California in the early 60s — fed through AIP’s powerful exploitation machine. You’ve got the surf culture, complete with the instrumental surf music that would soon be laid waste by the British Invasion (which itself is represented by The Potato Bug); the drag-racing and custom car sequences featuring a number of real cars and drivers; even go-karting is represented. And some of SoCal’s finest were on hand as technical advisors (sometimes with credit): “TV” Tommy Ivo, a 50s TV star who turned to drag-racing in the 60s; legendary surfer Mickey Dora, surf-hot rod songwriters Roger Christian and Gary Usher; and Von Deming, “West Coast Go-kart Champion.”

Bikini Beach Big Drag

Don Rickles does a lot for this film, returning as Jack Fanny (from 1964’s Muscle Beach Party) — who’s now changed his name to Big Drag, ditching the bodybuilding scene for the drags and the arts. “…I got out of the Fanny business. That’s all behind me now.” (Smart move, Jack.) His club, Big Drag’s Pit Stop, is where the kids all hang out.

Don Rickles: “They’d shoot the entire picture in a couple of weeks. Fourteen days from start to finish… One problem: I was working clubs up in Hollywood at the same time. I’d get home at 4, grab an hour’s sleep and head out at 5 for a 6AM call at the Malibu Pier. When the camera started rolling, my eyes started rolling back. I was out of it.”

Timothy Carey is hilarious and a little creepy as South Dakota Slim, a creepy nut-job pool hustler. He’d have a bigger part in the next Beach movie, Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). To see him share a scenes with Harvey Lemback (as Eric Von Zipper) is terrific.

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Some great cars get screen time here. First, check out Clyde’s dragster. It’s The Showboat, a four-engine Buick-powered dragster owned by “TV” Tommy Ivo. The Showboat has four slicks and when it hops off the line at Big Drag’s Dragstrip, it smokes up the entire track. How did anybody see to steer the thing? (A model of the car was available from Revell.) However, it turned out that four engines were not necessarily an advantage: due to the extra weight, it was slower than Ivo’s twin-engine machine.

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Frankie and Annette check out Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray in Pamona.

Dean Jeffries’ showcar, the Mantaray, also appears. The Potato Bug cruises up to the dragstrip in it. That’s actually Jeffries, in the Bug’s duds, behind the wheel. Jeffries is also the creator of the Black Beauty from TV’s The Green Hornet. All the racing scenes were shot at Pamona Raceway, using footage from the ’64 Winternationals (including a run from “Big Daddy” Don Garlits).

S111-300The music’s always great in these things, but a real highlight here is an appearance by The Pyramids, the crazed bald surf band from Long Beach known for their hit “Penetration.” They do two songs, “Record Run” and the boss instrumental “Bikini Drag.” (Both tunes finally appeared on a Pyramids compilation CD from the good people at Sundazed.) Donna Loren sings “Love’s A Secret Weapon,” backed by The Exciters Band as Candy Johnson does her incredible gyrations. The Exciters Band, who backed Candy for her nightclub act, serves as the house band whenever The Pyramids aren’t around. “Little” Stevie Wonder also appears, singing over the end credits.

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Donna Loren sings, as Candy Johnson does her Candy Johnson thing.

The story goes that The Beatles were contacted about appearing in Bikini Beach, but by the time production got underway, the Fab Four had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and were now demanding far more than AIP’s $600,000 budget would allow. So The Beatles became The Potato Bug.

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AIP’s Jim Nicholson, contest winner Val Warren and Famous Monsters’ Forrest J. Ackerman.

Around this time, Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine held a monster makeup contest with the winner getting the chance to appear in an AIP film — and AIP getting their movie plugged in FM. The winner was Val Warren, which explains why there’s a werewolf drinking milk at the pool hall with South Dakota Slim and Eric Von Zipper. Given the tone of the film, he’s right at home.

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The great Floyd Crosby was Bikini Beach‘s director of photography — and he keeps things bright and colorful throughout. Around the same time, he was shooting AIP’s Corman/Poe series, which gave him a chance to really experiment. (Floyd is also former Byrd David Crosby’s dad.)

I watch Bikini Beach about once a year. There’s something about it that just makes me happy. It’s dumb, it’s funny, the music’s great, the cars are cool, it’s got Timothy Carey in it. It’s available on a great-looking DVD from MGM (and as part of a set of all the Beach Party movies). I long for the day when it’s available on Blu-ray. Then, all will be right with the world.

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Patti Chandler captured in Panavision and Pathécolor.

beach-party-frankie-annetteThis post is comin’ in off the curl as part of the Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, June 8-12, 2015. Be sure to check out the other posts offered up by bloggers and gremmies from all across the web. And do the wise thing: apply plenty of sunscreen.

SOURCES: A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes by Annette Funicello, and Rickles’ Book: A Memoir by Don Rickles

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Filed under 1964, AIP, Annette Funicello, Boris Karloff, Don Rickles, Frankie Avalon, Timothy Carey, William Asher