Blu-ray Review: Universal Horror Collection Volume 6

Along with serious things, the COVID-19 Pandemic has altered my intact of classic horror. Because they canceled the AAA baseball, the local MeTV station has been running old Durham Bulls baseball games. Turns out the owner of Bulls also owns the TV station. He wants people to remember that there is still a baseball team in the area and they’ll be back when people can once more hang out in large groups and breath freely. This would all be fine except the rerun games air in the timeslot where Svengoolie usually runs. This has left a pretty big hole in my Saturday nights without the black and white monster scares. But luckily Scream Factory fills the void for next few weekends with four more treats from the vault with Universal Horror Collection Volume 6.

The theme of this sixth boxset are movies from the 1950s along with a Hammer film the studio distributed in 1961. This was a time when Universal started to focus more on giant monsters and science fiction films such as The Deadly Mantis and This Island Earth. Their biggest monster offering was the Creature From the Black Lagoon. They were also making comedic scares with a few more Abbott and Costello flicks. But they hadn’t completely given up on the genre. Audience still wanted a few natural scares that didn’t involve the consequences of an atomic blast or aliens.

The Black Castle (1952 – 82 minutes) stars icons Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) and Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) yet both actors are in supporting roles. Sir Ronald Burton (The Blood of Fu Manchu‘s Richard Greene) opens the movie inside a coffin. His voiceover swears he’s not dead, but will anyone rescue him before he’s buried in the cold ground? How did he get in such a tricky spot? We flashback to him visited the Austrian castle of Count von Bruno (Black Gunn‘s Stephen McNally) in search of two old pals. The Count’s castle is full of torture devices and a ton of alligators in the dungeon. He also has a sweet wife in Countess Elga von Bruno (The Body Snatcher‘s Rita Corday). She has no idea how horrifying her husband really is or what happened to the first countess. Sir Ronald might end up like his two buddies during his poking around the castle. Boris Karloff plays the good guy as the Count’s doctor. Lon Chaney is the senseless goon whose tongue was torn out in Africa while working for the count. The Black Castle has quite few great performances as we worry if Sir Ronald is getting sealed in his coffin.

Cult of the Cobra (1955 – 82 minutes) is a movie that reminds us that even 65 years ago, there were annoying idiots at shows that had to use a flash camera at a live event. Although instead of being a concert, this event is a rather disturbing religious event. World War II has ended and a group of six U.S. servicemen are wrapping up their time in an Asian country and looking for kicks. They get an offer to be smuggling into a secret ceremony where people can be transformed into snakes. They are warned to wear identity hiding robes and keep a low profile during the performance. This is a locals only party. But during the ceremony when a woman becomes a cobra and slips inside a basket, one of the guys has to break out his Kodak camera and flash away because the people back home won’t believe what he saw. The head of the Cobra Cult (Get Smart‘s Edward Platt) and others go nuts. Adding to the ugliness is a serviceman grabs the basket where the woman went inside. Except after he escapes, he discovers there’s not a woman in the basket. He gets snake bit. Even though the rest of the servicemen ship back to America, the curse placed upon them by the Cult leaders begins to turn true as a mysterious woman arrives in their lives and bites appear on them. The service members include Richard Long (The Big Valley), Jack Kelly (Maverick) and David Janssen (The Fugitive). The Cult of the Cobra had previously been put out on DVD as part of a Universal’s The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, but it’s more horror flick since it’s not a mad scientist that turns the woman into cobras.

The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958 – 69 minutes) makes looking for water on a Western ranch a scary proposition. When Jessica Burns (Carolyn Kearney) goes dowsing on the land to find a fresh well spot, her psychic ability instead leads them to a buried box that could be a treasure chest. There’s sense that something is not right about the box, but greed overcomes one of the ranchers who busts it open. Turns out the treasure inside is the head of Gideon Drew (The Mole People‘s Robin Hughes). And it’s not just your normal head since Drew was beheaded as part of his punishment for being a witch 400 years ago. Turns out the head also isn’t dead and can control people telepathically. It wants to be reunited with his body to become a whole scorcher once more. Can Jessica stop this fate? After watching this film, you’ll never go looking for water again. The Thing That Couldn’t Die was originally released in a double bill with Hammer’s Horror of Dracula. As good as The Thing was, there was no way it impressed an audience when put against Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and vivid dripping red blood.

The Shadow of the Cat (1961 – 79 minutes) is Hammer film that is a bit of an anomaly. While Hammer was known at this point for their colorful nightmares after Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, they broke out the black and white film for this movie. The film was distributed in America by Universal yet wasn’t included in either of Universal’s Hammer collections on DVD or Blu-ray. But now it’s on Blu-ray. The film is about wealthy woman who is murdered by her husband and servants one night. There’s only one witness: her beloved cat Tabitha. And the cat doesn’t want her owner’s death to go unsolved. The newly widowed Walter (The Plague of the Zombies‘ André Morell) has to kill the cat and also discover a previous will that had him receiving nothing. He lured her niece (Dracula: Prince of Darkness‘ Barbara Shelley) to the manor for devious purposes. Tabitha the cat does a fine job as the feline who can screw up the perfect murder plot. The film was part of a hairy double feature with Hammer’s The Curse of the Wolfman.

Universal Horror Collection Volume 6 once more digs deep into the studio’s vault finding the scary films that didn’t feature their iconic classic monsters. All four film promise a fine night for those looking for the black and white chills. The Black Castle shows that even at Universal, Boris Karloff could play a bit of a good guy and not always stuck as the heavy or mad scientist. Cult of the Cobra is the perfect warning of why you need to put down your camera phone during shows. The Thing That Couldn’t Die makes digging for water look so dangerous. The Shadow of the Cat reminds us that no witnesses means anything with eyeballs. While Universal was making changes to go more with science fiction during this time, there were still a few people on the studio lot who knew how to shock an audience. There was also one person in the acquisitions department who grasped that the future of fright was England’s Hammer studio. I for one am grateful to Scream Factory that they have released a boxset that gives me something to enjoy when there’s only reruns of minor league baseball on TV instead of Svengoolie.

The video is 1.37:1 for Black Castle, The Shadow of the Cat is 1.66:1 anamorphic and the other two are 1.85:1 anamorphic. All transfers are 2K from Fine-Grain Film Element. They look so good on the HDTV. The audio for all four films is DTS-HD MA mono. The levels will let you hear alligator chomp, cats meow, cobras hiss and a severed head controlling your mind. All four movies are subtitled.

Audio Commentaries are on all four films. Tom Weaver goes into the dungeon of Black Castle. Cult of the Cobra has a cult of Tom Weaver, Steve Kronenberg, David Schecter and Dr. Robert J. Kiss discuss the film. Tom Weaver and C. Courtney Joyner examine The Thing That Couldn’t Die. Bruce G. Hallenbeck illuminates The Shadow of the Cat

Universal Horror Strikes Back (13:49) is a conversation between Kim Newman and Stephen Jones about the studio’s output in the 1940s. The big takeaway is how when the monster movies started, the filmmakers either dealt with the subject with elements of German Expressionism or with English directors. They speak of both the franchise horror characters and the lesser known films.

Image Gallery (2:27) with stills and posters for Black Castle.

Theatrical Trailer (2:15) promises the true tale of a woman who is half snake. It’s a thing of terror.

TV Spots (1:24) has Cult of the Cobra double billed with Revenge of the Creature. It’s twice the thrills and double the jolt!

Image Gallery (2:40) of Cult of the Cobra has the cast staring at the attacking snake. They also have posters and lobby cards.

Trailer (1:56) makes looking for water with divining rods look sinister. See how women can be turned into willing slaves and men transform into monsters.

In the Shadow of Shelley (24:29) interviews Barbara Shelley about her career. She had to go to Italy to act since Britain’s film industry wasn’t into fashion models as actresses. She returned to England and was cast in The Cat Girl. She misses her leopard co-star. She would have to cover the mirror in her dressing room because the big cat would freak out thinking another cat was in the room. She speaks of working with the smaller cats of The Shadow of the Cat. She also goes into making The Gorgon with Christopher Lee. She talks about how Hammer was so low budget that she had to pay her own fare to get to the studio. She speaks of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Rasputin – The Mad Monk and Quatermass and the Pit which are also out from Scream Factory. This is a great bonus feature for fans of both classic Universal Horror and Hammer Horror.

TV Spot (1:03) has The Shadow of the Cat double featured with Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf.

Image Gallery (3:41) has promo pictures, press kit shots, posters and lobby cards from The Shadow of the Cat

Scream Factory presents Universal Horror Collection. Starring: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr, Richard Long, Jack Kelly, David Janssen, Barbara Shelly and Robin Hughes. Rated: Unrated. Boxset Contents: 4 Movies on 4 Blu-ray discs. Released: August 25, 2020.

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