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The horror films of old differ greatly from those made today. These are more the classic gothic horror that goes more for themes and atmosphere than cheep scares. And most of these were B films. B-Films are a special thing. And nothing made a B film better than adding Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff. Whether they were playing mad scientists of Nazis or who knows what these two horror masters elevated almost any low budget film with their acting prowess and illuminating presence.
Being that these are B films it is understood that the production quality is low, the acting is not that good, the dialog is laughable at times and the plots can get pretty ridiculous. But all these elements are what make them so great. If you can appreciate these aspects then you can appreciate these films. However, if these elements make you turn up your nose and change the channel on a Sunday afternoon then there is no point in reading on. These films aren’t for you.
There are sixteen films in total. Four of them feature Boris Karloff and twelve of them feature Bela Lugosi.
White Zombie (1932 – 69 min.) Arguably the best film in the collection and one Lugosi’s most underrated films. Lugosi plays Legendre who runs his castle by using zombie slaves. When a man wants Legendre to hypnotize a woman to love him instead of her husband, Legendre uses the chance to make her one of his slaves and it’s up to the men to save her. While this is a B picture with a low budget it’s still a fantastic story and one of Lugosi’s more chilling performances. It’s a classic gothic tale and it’s also noteworthy as the first film ever to have the word Zombie in the title.
The Death Kiss (1932 – 71 min.) This is a fun little whodunit. While filming a movie scene the lead actor is actually shot and killed. The signs point to leading lady Marcia Lane but her boyfriend, a studio writer, knows she’s innocent and starts an investigation of his own to prove it. Lugosi plays a small role in this film as the studio manager. This was one of Lugosi’s few attempts to play a “normal” role. He does good job but not good enough to allow him to escape his stereotype.
The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934 – 63 min.) This is easily the most offensive film in the collection. Someone thought it would be a good idea for Lugosi to play a Chinese person. In the film Mr. Wong (Lugosi) is trying to track down the 12 coins of Confucius, which will grant him great power. The stereotypical dumb Irish cop is clueless so it’s up to the wise cracking reporter to unravel the truth and foil Mr. Wong’s evil plot.
The Gorilla (1939 – 66 min.) A serial killer Gorilla is on the loose and is next victim is going to be Walter Stevens, a very wealthy man. So he hires three bumbling detectives (The Ritz Brothers) to protect him and his family. Lugosi plays Peters, the creepy butler.
The Human Monster (aka Dark Eyes Of London) (1940 – 76 min.) Dr. Orloff has really got it worked out. He’s an insurance agent/physician who is a doctor-on-call at a home for the blind. He uses a disfigured resident of the home to kill men whom he has created policies for so he can collect the money. All is going well until he kills a man with a curious daughter who catches the eye of one of Scotland Yard’s finest.
The Devil Bat (1940 – 68 min.) This is cheesy fantastic gothic goodness. Dr. Caruthers (Lugosi) develops a perfume that when worn causes his giant bat to attack and kill in a wonderful revenge plot. Lugosi gives it his best in this silly entertaining film. And the giant rubber bat is thoroughly enjoyable.
The Invisible Ghost (1941 – 64 min.) In this film Lugosi plays his most sympathetic character, Charles Kessler. Kessler is a man grieving the loss of his wife. Little does he know that she is still alive. Unfortunately Kessler is under some sort of spell, every time he sees her he must kill someone… with his bathrobe! But afterwards he has no memory of the horrible act and he wants nothing more than to find out who the killer is. This film contains a truly fine performance by Lugosi.
The Corpse Vanishes (1942 – 64 min.) After a series of young brides disappearing a reporter begins to investigate and the results are more ghastly than can be imagined. Dr. Lorenz (Lugosi) has been kidnapping them, with the help of a dwarf and his mongoloid brother, to extract glad fluid to keep his elder wife alive and young looking.
Black Dragons (1943 – 64 min.) This movie is pretty sweet and overflowing with anti Japanese and Nazi propaganda. A group of American businessmen are systematically killed by a Monsieur Colomb (Lugosi). And the twist at the end is amazing and sadly cannot be repeated here as to ruin the film.
The Ape Man (1943 – 64 min.) This film is just sad to watch. Dr. Brewster (Lugosi) accidentally turns himself into an Ape Man. And for some reason only human spinal fluid can cure him. So he goes on a kill crazy rampage until he thinks he has enough to get the job done. The only thing standing between him and his cure is a nosy reporter.
Scared To Death (1947 – 65 min.) This is a bad film even by the standards of this collection. However, the film is noteworthy as it’s Lugosi’s only color film. The film opens with a corpse in a mortuary. Then the corpse begins to tell her tale. A mysterious plot revolves around a couple scientists, a dumb cop, the girl who dies and the mysterious Prof. Leonide (Lugosi) and his midget sidekick. I real who done it, or rather, whose going to do it.
Boys From Brooklyn (aka Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla) (1952 – 74 min.) Possibly the worst film in the collection, this is the story of two Martin and Lewis wannabes who crash land on a jungle island where they meet a beautiful island princess and the mad scientist Dr. Zabor (Lugosi) who deals in reverse evolution. Again, Lugosi does his best but surrounded by such hacks his talents are once more wasted.
The Ape (1940 – 62 min.) Dr. Adrian (Karloff) is a mad scientist with good intentions. He wants to find a cure for paralysis and will stop at nothing to do so, even kill! And all while this is happening and escaped Ape from the local circus is running amuck.
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947 – 65 min.) In this action packed pulp-tastic crime drama Karloff plays the vicious, murdering Gruesome and goes head to head with one of the most iconic detectives there ever was. Gruesome teams up with fellow cons Melody and X-Ray and gets his hands on a chemical developed by Dr. A. Tomic. The chemical temporarily paralyzes any who smell it making it very easy for the gang to rob a bank. What they don’t count on is Tess Truehart witnessing the crime and avoiding the chemical so she can report back to Dick Tracy. Gruesome and Tracy go head to head in this cheese fun ride of a film with pretty darn good ending.
The Terror (1963 – 81 min.) Here you’ll find some of the biggest names in this collection. Not only do you get Karloff, but you also get director Roger Corman, co-star Jack Nicholson (26 years old) and associate producer (and uncredited director) Francis Ford Coppola. But don’t let the big names fool you. This film it’s good; it’s so bad it’s good. Nicholson plays Lt. Andre of the French army who gets lost and becomes obsessed with a mysterious girl. This leads him to the castle of Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Karloff) and a gothic mystery with enough twists to make Shyamalan happy. It’s great to see Nicholson in such a bad role at such an early age and to see how far he’s come.
The Snake People (aka La Muerte Viviente or The Living Death) (1971 – 90 min.) Our last film is also the longest one. On a small remote island a death cult, lead by a maniacal midget, has been practicing evil voodoo rites for years. Now Captain Labesch has arrived to bring order to the island. He enlists the help of scientist Carl Van Molder (Karloff) who warns to leave the natives alone. But when Van Molder’s neice is kidnapped and next in line to be a human sacrifice it’s up to Labesch and another officer to save her. This movie is totally cheesy and poorly dubbed, but very entertaining. I mean it’s got zombies, half naked cannibal women, an evil midget and Boris Karloff, what more could you want in a B horror movie?
The films are presented in fullscreen 1.35:1 and Mono sound. The quality of the audio and video varies from the film to film and ranges from okay to not so good. But considering that most these films will never get a proper remastering then this is most likely the best you’re going to find them. Some films are missing frames. Scared To Death, The Terror and The Snake People are in color, the rest in black and white.
The Phantom Creeps: Serials used to be a wonderful part of the theater going experience and was a good way to bring audiences back. Show them one story over several weeks with a new segment every week. Bela Lugosi stared in a few of these, one being The Phantom Creeps, where he played Dr. Alex Zorka, a mad scientist bent on destroying the world. He’s even got a giant robot and a belt that turns him invisible. And it’s up to a military intelligence officer and pretty young reporter to stop him. There are a few episodes scattered throughout this collection.
Frankly, The Phantom Creeps is more interesting than most of the films in this collection and it’s sad that not every episode is included.
Disc 2: Episodes: 5 and 6
Disc 3: Episodes: 9, 10, 11 and 12
Disc 5: Episode: 3 and 4
Trailer The Invisible Ghost trailer plays after the film.
This collection is for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person then you will love these movies, flaws and all. Most these films are only a little over an hour long so they won’t take up too much of your day. And considering you get 16 films for 15 bucks, at less then a dollar a film how can you go wrong?
Navarre Corporation presents Legends Of Hollywood: The Kings Of Horror. Starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Sixteen films on five double sided DVDs. Running time: 1040 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: April 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.