Blu-ray Review: Universal Horror Collection: Volume 4

Where are you Saturday at 8 p.m.? Are you adjusting your digital antenna so you can watch Svengoolie on MeTV? The formally local to Chicago movie host has become a national sensation on the digital substation. What set him immediately apart from other horror movie hosts is that instead of the usual public domain frights, Svengoolie has access to the classic Universal Horror films. A new generation have gotten deep into the black and white scares and after their fill of Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster, they want to see what else is on the shelf in the studio’s historic vault. Universal Horror Collection: Volume 4 contains another four films that features Boris Karloff, Bela Lugois, Lionel Atwill and even Rondo Hatten.

Night Key (1937 – 68 minutes) stars Boris Karloff isn’t a proper horror film. The movie is more of a science fiction flick with a nightmare at its core. Instead of being a mad scientist, Karloff is a rather sane inventor with a revolutionary device. Years before he had come up with a security system that’s an upgrade of a previous invention of his. He ends up making a deal with the same company that gave him a bum contract on the original since they’re willing to give him a massive royalty this time. Except his business partner is still doing a fine amount of business with the older and inferior system. He’s going to sit on the new system which means Karloff won’t see a dime anytime soon. This is a problem since Karloff is losing his sight and was counting on this payday for his retirement. The only thing he can do is expose the glitch in the older system at various businesses in order to get bad word of mouth circulating. His plan is to just override the system and mess up the business to let them know their security has been compromised. But very quickly this simple plan goes criminal. Can Karloff get control back? Night Key is a horror story if you’re an inventor. You think a company wants to maximize profits, but often they do buy inventions to put on the shelf and legally eliminate competition.

Night Monster (1942 – 73 minutes) has a poster that places Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill in top billing. So you imagine the duo would be dominating the screen with Bela as the culprit and Atwill as the mad scientist. Except they aren’t the stars of Night Monster. This almost doesn’t seem like it’s a horror film. There’s a murder mystery feel as people turn up dead at a remote mansion in a swampy world. Who could be doing it? The good news is that at the end, there’s supernatural element so it’s a bit of a horror film sense. There’s a chance that Bela is behind it all.

The Climax (1944 – 87 minutes) is a terrifying musical tale from the opera world. Boris Karloff plays the doctor who takes care of the folks performing at the Vienna Royal Theater. Turns he has a dark secret since he got jealous of a star soprano and killed her. Now he’s getting those some jealous vibes about singer Susanna Foster. Is she going to be silenced before her prime or will her fiancĂ© Turhan Bey (The Mummy’s Tomb) save her? Foster was the star of the previous year’s remake of The Phantom of the Opera so fans were ready to hear her sing again. Karloff is less a Phantom and more a stalker to her. The film gives you a chance to see Karloff in Technicolor.

House of Horrors (1946 – 66 minutes) finally gave Rondo Hatton the lead in a movie. The actor was mostly known for his distorted features that came from acromegaly. This made him perfect for small roles where he was an ominous figure including The Ox-Bow Incident and The Jungle Captive. Hatton played the Hoxton Creeper in the Sherlock Holmes movie The Pearl of Death. Universal was needing a new scare and thus we get House of Horrors with Hatton as The Creeper. Martin Kosleck is a sculptor who loses his will to live when an art critic (Batman‘s Alan Napier) trashes his work to a potential buyer. He wants to jump into the water when he sees The Creeper drowning near the dock. He rescues and befriends the stranger. He sculpts a bust of the Creeper which once more receives bad reviews. But instead of feeling bad, he sends the Creeper off to silence the critics the old fashioned way. Hatton wasn’t much of an actor and so he doesn’t do much in his performance here besides creep and destroy. There are people who think the studio exploited Hatton because of his lack of acting talent and his symptoms. But he was given a chance to star in two films at a major studio. We remember Rondo Hatton as more than a face in the crowd. If you want to see his second and last film, Brute Man is part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXII that Shout! Factory produced. Sadly Hatton would not live long enough to see either film released. Like James Dean, he based away before audience could appreciate his last two works. His legacy lives as the namesake of a horror award that Svengoolie has won.

Universal Horror Collection: Volume 4 upgrades four titles that could easily linger in the vault if not for fans of this classic era. While Night Key and Night Monster aren’t traditional horror films they have scares along with Lugosi, Karloff and Atwill which makes them perfect for fans of Creature Double Features. The upgrade to Blu-ray brings definition to the features of Rondo Hatton. You see that his face is not a Jack Pierce make up treatment as he creeps across the screen to kill for his friend. This is a fine set for people who want a few more vintage scares after 10 p.m. on Saturday.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The four films looks so much better than the previous DVD editions that were on early collections. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. The mixes are clean for the most part. The movies are subtitled in English.

Audio Commentaries are provided for each movie so you can get more details on the horrors from the vault. Night Monster has author Gary D. Rhodes give the background on Bela Lugosi. House of Horrors has historian Scott Gallinghouse give the inside tales of Rondo Hatton. He points out that that film was shot in two weeks. Night Key has Tom Weaver and Dr Robert J. Kills unlock the mysteries. The Climax gets a duet of Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. All the commentaries are very informative and add to the enjoyment of the films.

Theatrical Trailer (1:39) sells Night Key by pushing Karloff’s Frankenstein connection.

Production Art Gallery (3:59) are photos of various elements from the shoot. There’s also drawings of the sets from the production department on how to make Night Key look so snazzy.

Image Gallery (3:27) has a lot of Karloff with his bushy mustache and working the night key. They also have the publicity magazine, posters and lobby cards for the release.

Theatrical Trailer (2:08) pushes The Phantom of the Opera angle to the plot of The Climax. Karloff is sold as being tormented to the point of madness. While the film is in Technicolor, the trailer is black and white.

Image Gallery (4:25) has publicity photos, posters and a lobby card for The Climax.

Theatrical Trailer (1:09) gives us the funny business taking place in Night Monsters.

Image Gallery (3:59) includes stills, publicity photos, posters, lobby cards and advertising page of Night Monsters.

The Creeper: Rondo Hatton at Universal(22:24) gives a biography of a man most known for his face. Who was this mysterious man who played villains for a few years? He was a World War I veteran whose deformities came from a mustard gas attack. He was a working in Tampa as a reporter before he headed to Hollywood. They point out that Rondo wasn’t a trained actor. His best moments in The Ox-bow Incident and the Sherlock Holmes films gave him no lines and all intimidation. Eventually Hatton became the new Universal monster in both House of Horrors and The Brute Man. People point out that Hatton’s health was failing during the shoot. The biggest news to me was that Rondo had attended NC State, my alumni. Sadly the school didn’t have a sculpture dedicated to him.

Image Gallery (5:19) includes stills, publicity photos, behind the scenes snaps, posters and lobby cards from House of Horrors.

Scream Factory presents Universal Horror Collection: Volume 4. Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Rondo Hatton, Susanna Foster and Alan Napier. Rated: Unrated. Boxset Contents: 4 movies on 4 Blu-ray discs. Released: March 17, 2020.

Tags: , , ,