Icons of Horror Collection: Boris Karloff – DVD Review

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The Movies:
The Black Room
Roy William Neill

Boris Karloff….Baron Gregor de Bergmann/Anton de Bergmann
Marian Marsh….Thea Hassel
Robert Allen…Lt. Albert Lussan
Thurston Hall….Col. Paul Hassel
Edward Van Sloan….Doctor
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Black Room. Screenplay by Henry Myers and Arthur Strawn. Running time: 68 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical Release: 1935. DVD release October 17, 2006

The Man They Could Not Hang
Nick Grinde
Boris Karloff….Dr. Henryk Savaard
Lorna Gray….Janet Savaard
Robert Wilcox….Scoop Foley
Roger Pryor…District Attorney Drake
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Man They Could Not Hang. Screenplay by Karl Brown. Running time: 64 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical Release: 1939. DVD release October 17, 2006

Before I Hang
Nick Grinde

Boris Karloff….Dr. John Garth
Evelyn Keyes….Martha Garth
Bruce Bennett….Dr. Paul Ames
Edward Van Sloan….Dr. Ralph Howard
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Before I Hang. Screenplay by Robert Hardy Andrews and Karl Brown. Running time: 62 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical Release: 1940. DVD release October 17, 2006

The Boogie Man Will Get You
Lew Landers
Boris Karloff….Prof. Nathaniel Billings
Peter Lorre….Dr. Lorencz
Maxie Rosenbloom….Maxi, The Powder Puff Salesman
Maude Eburne…Amelia Jones
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Boogie Man Will Get You. Screenplay by Edwin Blum. Running time: 66 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical Release: 1942. DVD release October 17, 2006

The reputation of Boris Karloff has taken a beating. Bela Lugosi didn’t have kind words for him in Ed Wood. Gods and Monsters didn’t lionize his work as Frankenstein’s Monster. What’s a ghoul got to do to scare up some respect? This Halloween, Karloff’s non-Frankenstein work is getting the deluxe treatment in various boxsets. Icons of Horror – Boris Karloff collects four creepy films that he made for Columbia during his glory days.

The Black Room has Karloff playing a set of royal twins, Gregor and Anton de Bergmann. A family prophecy states that their royal dynasty will end when the younger twin kills the older in their castle’s legendary Black Room. In order to prevent the fulfillment, their father seals the room. Since Gregor is older by minutes, he gets the Baron title and control of the land. Anton gets stuck with a bad arm. While you’d expect Anton to be bitter at being screwed over, he’s the nice twin. Gregor is a tyrant and the locals want to kill him. Gregor devises a plot to “reform” his image that involves giving his title to his brother plus an additional switcheroo. Karloff pulls off acting against himself. He really shines when being devious as Gregor. He nails the moment when one brother impersonates his twin. The man had acting skills. It’s his best performance that didn’t require him getting hidden beneath monster faces.

The Man They Couldn’t Hang has Boris as a mad scientist on the cusp of creating a device to revive the recently dead. In order to make it work, he plans on killing and resurrecting his faithful assistant. The experiment goes wrong when the cops show up and arrest him for murder. He swears he can bring the guy back to life, but the cops haul him away. A jury convicts him and he’s put to death. But the movie doesn’t end there. A fellow mad doctor claims Karloff’s body and proves the experiment works. The comeback Karloff decides that instead of seeking scientific glory, he must kill everyone that sentenced him to death. This is my favorite of his mad scientist films he did for Columbia.

Before I Hang isn’t a sequel. This time Karloff is a doctor who gets arrested after performing a mercy killing on a patient. While in prison, he perfects a serum that makes people younger. He gets pardoned for his scientific achievement. But the problem is that the serum was made with the blood of a mass murder. The kind doctor turns into a killing machine. Karloff’s face is a devious delight when he goes from kind scientist to evil incarnate. While not as good as his earlier hanging film, it’s won’t choke you with boredom.

The Boogie Man Will Get You has Karloff as less of a mad scientist and more absent minded professor. He’s creating a device that will turn the average guy into a Superman. The problem is that his guinea pigs are traveling salesmen that can’t survive the experiment. He’s running out of space in the basement to hide the bodies. Peter Lorre plays the sheriff who also holds down every other civil service position in the town. Instead of stopping Karloff, he decides to get help out so they can both profit when the device finally works. The film displays the morbid humor that would be explored two years later in Arsenic and Old Lace. The interaction between Lorre and Karloff is hilarious. Karloff sticks to playing the clueless scientist while Lorre keeps dropping comic asides as if he’s trying to get Karloff to break character.

While none of these four films will make you want to forget about Karloff’s work in Frankenstein, The Mummy or The Black Cat, they’re all enjoyable as semi-spooky affairs. They show that Karloff wasn’t merely an actor brought in when they merely needed a heavy to thud around the set. He could scare you with subtle moves and bubbling test tubes.

The DVD:

The Video:
All the films are 1.33:1 and black and white. The print transfers look good for nearly 70 year old films.

The Audio:
The soundtrack is in English Dolby Digital 1.0. The subtitles are in English.

Special Features:

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Icons of Horror – Boris Karloff
(OUT OF 10)