Category Archives: Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #250: Abbott & Costello – The Complete Universal Pictures Collection (1940-1955).

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!

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Filed under Abbott & Costello, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Douglass Dumbrille, DVD/Blu-ray News, Frank Ferguson, Glenn Strange, Hillary Brooke, Jack Pierce, Lon Chaney Jr., Mari Blanchard, Marie Windsor, Shemp Howard, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International), Vincent Price

Blu-Ray Review: The Black Cat (1934).

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)

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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.

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edgar G. Ulmer, Pre-Code, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #247: Universal Horror Volumes 2 & 3.

Scream Factory has two more collections of Universal horror pictures on Blu-Ray on the way.

Actually, I think Volume 2 is already out. Just take a look at how many feature Lionel Atwill or were directed by George Waggner — true signs of quality.

Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2

Murders In The Zoo (1933)
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Starring Charlie Ruggles, Lionel Atwill, Gail Patrick, Randolph Scott

The Mad Ghoul (1943)
Directed by James Hogan
Starring Turhan Bey, Evelyn Ankers, David Bruce, George Zucco, Robert Armstrong, Milburn Stone

The Mad Doctor Of Market Street (1942)
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Starring Lionel Atwill, Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton

The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx (1942)
Directed by William Nigh
Starring Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Samuel S. Hinds

Universal Horror Volume 3

Tower Of London (1939)
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barabara O’Neil, Vincent Price

Man Made Monster (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Lionel Atwill, Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson

The Black Cat (1941)
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Starring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi, Alan Ladd

Horror Island (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Leo Carrillo, Eddie Parker, Fuzzy Knight

The first volume, which focused on Karloff and Lugosi, is terrific. It features one of the great horror films of the 30s, Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934), looking splendid!

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Filed under Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edgar G. Ulmer, George Waggner, George Zucco, Joseph H. Lewis, Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Randolph Scott, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Screenings: Jaws (1975).

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Based on the novel by Peter Benchley
Director of Photography: Bill Butler
Film Editor: Verna Fields
Music by John Williams

Cast: Roy Scheider (Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Vaughn)

I love the fact that Jaws (1975) turns up in theaters every summer. It’s here in the Raleigh area next week and I can’t wait. Watch for one in your area.

It’s usually not on film anymore, but the digital restoration from a few years ago was terrific. And, of course, on the big screen you can see “the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

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Filed under 1975, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, Screenings, Steven Spielberg, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #238: 4D Man (1959).

Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.
Starring Robert Lansing, Lee Meriwether, James Congdon, Robert Strauss, Edgar Stehli, Patty Duke

The people behind The Blob (1958), producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., put their Blob money into their next picture, 4D Man (1959). Yeaworth had a company that made 35mm religious films in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Those resources give this homegrown, independent picture a very distinctive, and somehow perfect, blend of grit and polish. The Blob was made the same way.

Robert Lansing has developed a way to pass through matter. The hitch is, every time he does it, he ages — a complication that has murderous results.

4D Man is a cool movie, plain and simple. I loved it as a kid. So I’m really stoked that Kino Lorber is bringing it to Blu-Ray this August. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #227 Update: This Island Earth (1955).

Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Starring Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Russell Johnson, Douglas Spencer, Richard Deacon

Scream Factory has pushed their release date for This Island Earth (1955) back a few weeks. Given some of the rumblings I’ve heard about what they’re doing to this thing, it’s gonna be well worth the extra wait.

The more I think about this, the more excited I get. While I’m a The Thing (1951) man through and through, This Island Earth may be the Gone With The Wind (1939) of 50s science fiction movies — apologies to all you Forbidden Planet (1956) nuts out there. And when I drug out my DVD of it a couple months ago, I was really disappointed by how it looked. We’ve come to expect a lot out of DVD/Blu-Ray transfers these days. I’m sure this Blu-Ray will be stunning.

Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason): I want to know what it is and what it does. Order the list of parts on these pages.

You don’t want to miss this one folks. After all, as the ads remind us, it was “2-1/2 years in the making!”

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Joseph M. Newman, Russell Johnson, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #235: The Leech Woman (1960).

Directed by Ed Dein
Starring Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Gloria Talbott, Phillip Terry

I’ve been digging Scream Factory’s Cadillac treatment of later-50s Universal horror pictures like The Mole People (1956) and The Deadly Mantis (1957) — and their Tarantula! (1955) is downright perfect. These are movies I love dearly, and revisiting them in this kind of shape has been wonderful. It’s odd, but while I’m looking a little frayed around the edges, these old movies from my childhood are looking better than ever. Which sort of leads us to their next release, The Leech Woman (1960).

leech-woman_3It’s the usual bathe-in-blood-to-stay-youthful thing, trading the pineal gland for blood. It was directed by Ed Dein, who gave us a couple gems, Shack Out On 101 (1955) and Curse Of The Undead (1959). And it originally played in a twin bill with Hammer’s Brides Of Dracula (1960).

Of course, The Leech Woman is never gonna knock Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) or something out of the Universal Horror Hall Of Fame, but it’s a real hoot. It’s coming in August, and I highly recommend it.

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Filed under 1960, Coleen Gray, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ed Dein, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: The Deadly Mantis (1957).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Chester W. Schaeffer

Cast: Craig Stevens (Col. Joe Parkman), William Hopper (Dr. Nedrick Jackson), Alix Talton (Marge Blaine), Donald Randolph (Maj. Gen. Mark Ford), Pat Conway (Sgt. Pete Allen) and Florenz Ames (Prof. Anton Gunther)

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The 50s Big Bug movies are all terrific. Some are better than others, of course, but there’s something about them I love. They’re just so damn entertaining! The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the later ones, and while it’s certainly no Them! (1954), it’s got plenty going for it.

A volcano eruption sets off a chain reaction — an iceberg melts, releasing a giant praying mantis that’s been frozen for eons. It attacks polar military outposts, an airplane and an eskimo village, all through the liberal use of stock footage (this film might have the most stock of any movie I’ve ever seen). It’s up to a scientist (William Hopper), an Air Force CO (Craig Stevens) and a reporter (Alix Talton) to sort it all out.

While it has the mandatory pseudo-science and military propaganda, what sets The Deadly Mantis apart are the monster scenes. There are the usual teases — a claw here, a shadow there, some buzzing from time to time — before the big reveal, and it’s all handled well. The bug models are pretty well done — especially in the final scenes in the Manhattan Tunnel. (They’re a bit like the final scene in Them! deep in LA’s drain system, but still very cool.)

Real bug, fake monument.

Then there’s the Washington Monument. They took a real praying mantis and let it do a slow, graceful, creepy crawl up a (very) miniature monument. It might be the best single shot in the movie.

The mantis stuck in traffic is effective, too. These are images forever seared into my brain as a kid — who cares how good the rest of the movie is? The strength of these images might be attributed to director Nathan Juran. Before trying his hand at directing, he was an art director — one of the geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, including several Audie Murphy movies, before The Deadly Mantis. This was his first horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie, and he’d go on to do stuff like 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). Those last two he did under the name Nathan Hertz. His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is really good. (Shout Factory has announced a Blu-Ray release of Juran’s Law And Order from 1953.)

Another Reynold Brown masterpiece.

Scream Factory has brought The Deadly Mantis to Blu-Ray in grand fashion. It looks terrific — the contrast is near-perfect and all the dust and scratches you see are from the original stock footage. The audio is quite strong and there are so nice extras — commentary, trailer and the episode of MST3000 that pokes fun at the picture. (They were wise to keep Reynold Brown’s original poster art for their packaging.)

I have a soft spot for this movie bigger than the deadly mantis itself, and I’m so stoked to see this type of thing get this level of TLC. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Nathan Juran, Reynold Brown, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Night Creatures (1962, AKA Captain Clegg).

Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Based on Russell Thorndike’s Dr. Syn character
Music by Don Banks
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins

Cast: Peter Cushing (Parson Blyss/Captain Clegg), Yvonne Romain (Imogene), Patrick Allen (Captain Collier), Oliver Reed (Harry), Michael Ripper (Mipps), David Lodge (Bosun), Derek Francis (Squire), Jack MacGowran

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What if Heaven was a place where you’ve got a stack of old movies starring, or made by, all your favorites — that you’ve never seen? Like maybe another couple Scott-Boetticher Westerns, a second George Lazenby Bond movie — or a Peter Cushing Hammer picture you somehow missed while here on Earth. Well, that last little slice of Heaven materialized here in Raleigh, North Carolina, over the weekend. I finally got around to checking out Night Creatures (1962, UK title Captain Clegg).

There’s an interesting bit of history to this one. Hammer Films planned to remake Dr. Syn (1937), which starred George Arliss as the mysterious smuggler Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn — based on the novels by Russell Thorndike.

But it turned out that Disney also had their eye on Dr. Syn, for their Wonderful World Of Disney TV show, and had acquired the rights to the novels themselves — versus Hammer’s remake rights to the old movie. Disney’s eventual three-part TV program starred Patrick McGoohan and William Sylvester. (In the mid-70s, it was re-cut and played US theaters as Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.)

Anyway, back to Hammer. To avoid any legal hassle from the Disney people, Hammer changed the character’s name to Captain Clegg and made a few other modifications. There’s still a scarecrow, there’s still plenty of brandy to be smuggled and taxes to be avoided. But we now get the creepy Marsh Phantoms. Stills of the Phantoms that turned up in my monster movie books and magazines had me wanting to see this movie to a ridiculous degree.

Somehow, it took me more than 40 years to catch up with Night Creatures. But it was worth the wait.

Turns out, it’s not really a horror movie at all, it’s a dark, moody pirate/adventure story. Hammer was pretty good at pirate movies. Their The Pirates Of Blood River, from the same year as Night Creatures and with some of the same cast, is a hoot — and they’d follow it with The Devil-Ship Pirates in 1964. Both star Christopher Lee.

I’m not gonna spoil things by giving you a synopsis. It’s too good a movie for me to screw it up for you.

Night Creatures is Peter Cushing’s movie all the way, in spite of some strong work from Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper (who’s got a bigger part than usual) and the lovely Yvonne Romain. Cushing gets to do plenty of action stuff, which he’s always very good at. It’s shame he’s known these days primarily for standing around and being mean in Star Wars (1977). Cushing is so versatile, and he really gets to show his range in this one, going back and forth from ruthless pirate to compassionate preacher numerous times over the course of the picture’s 82 minutes. Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a real love of Cushing. He’s a joy to watch.

Patrick Allen is appropriately hateful as the government man sent to track down the band of smugglers and clashing with the Marsh Phantoms along the way. The Phantoms’ scenes deliver the goods I’d be waiting decades for — though I’d love to have seen what Jack Asher, Hammer’s other DP, would’ve done with those scenes on the moors. His stylized color effects always knock me out. There isn’t a thing in this movie that isn’t cool.

Peter Graham Scott directs Yvonne Romain.

I finally came across Night Creatures in the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection Blu-Ray set from Universal. It looks great, as do all the other pictures. I saw Hammer’s Phantom Of The Opera (1962) on film repeatedly as a kid, and the spot-on transfer looks exactly as I remember it. Night Creatures gets my highest recommendation. It’s become a new favorite around my house.

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Filed under 1962, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #227: This Island Earth (1955).

Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Starring Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Russell Johnson, Douglas Spencer, Richard Deacon

Here’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. This Island Earth (1955) on Blu-Ray. And since it’s coming from Scream Factory, we can rest assured it’ll look great and be a thorough, well-stacked package. Coming in June.

Also on the way are two minor, but still terrific, Universal-International pictures — The Monolith Monsters (1957) and Jack Arnold’s Monster On The Campus (1958). They’ll also come around in June.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Jack Arnold, Russell Johnson, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)