DVD Review: Boris Karloff Collection

Peter Bogdanovich deeply wished Boris Karloff had retired from acting after starring in his Targets. The film was a fitting finale for the horror icon as he played a movie star showing up for a final tribute to his acting career only to cross paths with an insane hitman at a drive-in theater. While it would have been a perfect ending for the man forever remembered as Frankenstein’s monster. But Karloff needed cash. He wasn’t getting rich of Targets. Remember this was a time before Comic Cons so he could make garbage bags full of cash sitting in a chair and smiling with fans like Stan Lee. Luckily for Karloff, he did strike a money rich deal for what would turn out to be his final batch of films. All four movies have been collected in the Boris Karloff Collection.

In the late ’60s, Karloff received an offer from Mexican filmmaker Juan Ibáñez to make four films with a paycheck for each film being $100,000. That was big bucks for 1967. Karloff wasn’t happy with any of the scripts and got director Jack Hill (Coffy and Spider Baby) to rewrite the pages. Because of Karloff’s failing health, he made another deal that he didn’t travel down to Mexico to make the films. He would shoot his scenes on a soundstage in Los Angeles with Hill calling the shots. Hill set it up so they could shoot all four films consecutively so Karloff wouldn’t have to wait between movies. He was a cinematic version of Fred McMurray making My Three Sons in the same method. Although Karloff probably did it to ensure his failing health wouldn’t deny him any of the $100 thousand dollar paydays. He had to take care of his family.

Dance of Death (a.k.a. House of Evil) deals a bit with the star’s mortality. Matthias Morteval (Karloff) invites his next of kin over for an early preview of his will. But he passes away so it’s the real thing. What the relatives don’t realize is that Morteval’s possessions aren’t looking to be inherited. The Torture Zone (aka Fear Chamber) is a nightmarish geological find. Dr. Carl Mandel (Karloff) and his scientific crew discovers a living rock near a volcano. What does a living rock eat? Turns out these rocks need the screams of young girls. In the name of science Mandel has a torture chamber set up and send his assistants off to abduct local gals. The rocks are hungry.

Alien Terror (aka The Incredible Invasion) pits Karloff versus a UFO. Prof. John Mayer (Karloff) invents a ray gun that should revolutionize the world. But when he shoots the beam into the sky, it nearly hits an alien spacecraft. The ancient aliens see this as a sign of war and head down to Earth in order to put a stop to it. Cult of the Dead (Isle of the Snake People) revisits a bit of the turf once ruled by Bela Lugosi in White Zombie. Carl van Molder (Karloff) runs a plantation on a Caribbean island. Things are getting nasty in the area as a voodoo cult is turning young girls into zombies and attacking the investigating police. Carl’s niece wants to civilize the natives, but finds herself nabbed by the cult. She makes a horrific discovery as to who is turning women into zombies.

The four films didn’t do so well when theatrically released even with the passing of Karloff in 1969. Who wanted to see a Mexican horror film when Easy Rider was out? But luckily there was a place where Karloff’s name meant something: the late night movie on your local UHF channel. The idea of being able to run color Karloff horror films appealed to station programmers who wanted to do more than run black and white classics. The movies were snipped back from their 90 minute running times to around 71 minutes so they’d play in an hour and a half slot. The TV cuts are what are presented in this collection. Normally there’s an argument that you shouldn’t watch butchered versions of the film, but these films do better under shorter running times. Plus it appears not a frame of Karloff’s work has been snipped. Boris Karloff Collection is essential viewing for fans who want to see the icons final work.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer is from the TV release so the image looks a bit grainy. But seeing how they’re cheaply made Mexican productions, things look right. The audio Dolby Digital mono. The levels are perfect for hearing Karloff.

No bonus features.

VCI Entertainment presents Boris Karloff Collection. Directed by Juan Ibáñez and Jack Hill. Screenplay by: Juan Ibáñez and Jack Hill. Starring: Boris Karloff and Julissa. Rated: Unrated. Boxset Contents: 4 movies on 2 DVDs. Released: September 11, 2018.

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