Category Archives: Val Lewton

Blu-Ray News #360: The Ghost Ship (1943) And Bedlam (1946).

Warner Archive has announced a double feature Blu-Ray of two Val Lewton horror pictures, The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946), both directed by Mark Robson.

Happy Halloween, indeed!

The Ghost Ship (1943)
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Starring Richard Dix, Russell Wade, Edith Barrett, Ben Bard, Edmund Glover, Skelton Knaggs, Lawrence Tierney

Shot for $150,000 on ship sets left over from for Pacific Liner (1939), this spooky little picture, starring Richard Dix, was unseen for decades after a plagiarism suit filed against Lewton over the screenplay. To see this one, you had to pay too much for a horrible-looking bootleg VHS tape (I’m guilty as charged). Having it in high-definition is gonna be great.

Bedlam (1946)
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Starring Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Billy House, Richard Fraser

Bedlam was the last of Lewton’s films at RKO (and the producer’s last time working with Boris Karloff). Lewton would head off to do other things, ending with a terrific Western at Universal International, Apache Drums (1951). He died before that one made it to theaters.

There’s nothing supernatural going on in this one. The conditions are appalling at an insane asylum run by Boris Karloff, where ironically, Anna Lee is sent after she campaigns for better care for the mentally ill. Karloff is really creepy and the cinematography from Nicholas Musuraca is really effective — which is why this Blu-Ray release is gonna be a real treat.

Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Mark Robson, RKO, Val Lewton, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Isle Of The Dead (1945).

Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Written by Ardel Wray
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: Lyle Boyer
Music by Leigh Harline

Cast: Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Ellen Drew (Thea), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards, Sr. (Albrecht), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos), Sherry Hall (Col. Kobestes), Erick Hanson (Officer), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins)

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Producer Val Lewton made a number of artful horror movies at RKO, a string of creepy, wonderful classics that includes Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943).

One was so artful, in fact, it was actually inspired by a painting, Arnold Böcklin’s Isle Of The Dead. The painting is pretty much recreated early in the 1945 Lewton film of the same name.

It’s the story of a group of people quarantined on a small island during the Balkan Wars of 1912 — Gen. Pherides (Boris Karloff) and Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) rowing to the island is where art imitates art (above). The plot, which gets a little complicated at time, touches on the plague, grave robbing, premature burial, madness and the dreaded vorvolaka. Like most of the Lewton pictures, it’s relentlessly creepy — with more overt horror/scary stuff towards the end, and the screens seems to drip atmosphere onto the floor.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed  millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums (1951), which turned out to be his last film.

Mark Robson started out as an editor, assisting Robert Wise on Citizen Kane (1941). It’s hard to believe that the Mark Robson who directed The Seventh Victim (1943) and Isle Of The Dead, tight little movies brimming with atmosphere and suspense, is the same Mark Robson responsible for the big, bloated Earthquake (1974), which is almost totally devoid of atmosphere and suspense. In between this film and the wretched Earthquake, he made some good stuff: Champion (1949),  Roughshod (1949), The Harder They Fall (1956) and Von Ryan’s Express (1965), to name a few.

Boris Karloff is terrific in this. Production was interrupted by his back surgery, which might explain some of the plot confusion, but his performance is dead on. His curly hair gives him a really odd appearance, which along with the uniform, puts a new spin on the kind of tortured soul thing he does so well. The more time that goes by, and the more of his films I see again and again, just how great an actor Karloff was becomes more and more apparent. 

Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray of Isle Of The Dead is really incredible. Coming from a 4K scan of original nitrate camera negative, it’s flawless. I can’t imagine it looking any better when it opened in 1945, and it’s a real pleasure to see Jack MacKenzie’s beautiful black and white look like this. We’re also treated to some nice extras — a commentary and an original trailer (with Spanish subtitles). The Lewton horror films are essential viewing, and since so much of their power comes from atmosphere, a high-def presentation like this is a huge leap forward. Essential.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Mark Robson, RKO, Val Lewton, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #327: Karloff At Columbia (1935-42).

The six pictures Boris Karloff made for Columbia between 1935 and 1942, which include the films now called “The Mad Doctor Cycle,” are a hoot. Eureka has announced a two-disc Blu-Ray set of these movies films for April.

The Black Room (1935)
Directed by Roy William Neill
Starring Boris Karloff, Marion Marsh
Karloff plays twin brothers in 19th century Europe. One twin inherits the family castle and all hell breaks loose.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
Directed by Nick Grinde
Starring Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray
In the first entry in what became “The Mad Doctor Cycle,” Karloff has discovered a way to bring the dead back to life. His assistant volunteers to have it tested on him, and once he’s dead, his girlfriend gums up the works and prevents the volunteer from being revived.

The Man With Nine Lives (1940)
Directed by Nick Grinde
Starring Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers
Karloff developed “frozen therapy” and used it on himself. Ten years later, he’s awake and wants to whip a new batch of his formula.

Before I Hang (1940)
Directed by Nick Grinde
Starring Boris Karloff, Evelyn Keyes, Bruce Bennett
This time, Karloff has developed an anti-aging serum. Today, he’d have an infomercial, but it 1940 he’s to be hung instead.

The Devil Commands (1941)
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring Boris Karloff, Richard Fiske, Amanda Duff
Karloff is a doctor who shifts his research on brain waves into an effort to reach his dead wife.

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Max Rosenbloom
Spoofing the rest of these films, this one has Karloff as a professor trying to create a race of supermen, to help the war effort, in the basement of an old tavern.

These films are a load of fun, and it’ll be great to see them in high-definition. 

It’s also been announced that Warner Archive will be bringing Isle Of The Dead (1945) to Blu-Ray — from a 4K scan of the original nitrate negative.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Eureka Entertainment, Lew Landers, Peter Lorre, Val Lewton, Warner Archive