Blu-ray Review: Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1


THE BLACK CAT (1934) is based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. The movie was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer from a screenplay by Peter Ruric and stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, David Manners, Julie Bishop, Egon Brecher and Harry Cording.

Thsi 1934 gothic creeper follows Peter (David Manners) and Joan (Julie Bishop), a newlywed couple that travels to Hungary for their honeymoon where they befriend Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) during the trip. An accident happens and the doctor takes them to his old friend Hjalmar Poelzig’s (Boris Karloff) castle after the young woman ends up injured. Their mysterious host is polite in the beginning but he has a sinister plan in store for them that turns into a fight for survival for the young couple.

Okay, I’m surprised that this version of The Black Cat wasn’t more controversial than it was back in the day. First of all, this is loosely based on Poe’s work and that’s it. Secondly, it deals with Satanism which is controversial to this very day so I can only imagine how it was received back in the 30’s. There’s definitely some uncomfortable content that might be disturbing to some viewers but we do get to watch Bela Lugosi square off against Boris Karoff.

Run Time: 66 Minutes

Rated: Not Rated

Blu-ray Video: 1080p High-Definition Fullframe (1.33:1) B&W

Blu-ray Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Special Features: The extras include two audio commentary tracks, a new Edgar Allan Poe spotlight, a new “Part 1” featurette, some vintage footage and a still gallery.

  • NEW Audio Commentary by author/film historian Gregory William Mank
  • NEW Audio Commentary by author/film historian Steve Haberman
  • NEW Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe – narrated by Doug Bradley (56:02)
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part One: The Black Cat (23:34)
  • Vintage footage – The Black Cat Contest (00:49)
  • Still Gallery 08:47)

THE RAVEN (1935) is based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. The movie was directed by Lew Landers from a screenplay by David Boehm and stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Irene Ware, Lester Matthews and Inez Courtney.

Dr. Richard Vollin (Lugosi) comes out of retirement to save Jean Thatcher’s (Irene Ware) life and ends up falling for the young woman. The doctor also has weird a collection of torture devices that were inspired by Poe’s works that will come into play. The people closest to Jean doesn’t approve of the doctor’s advances so they politely ask him to end his pursuit of her. Vollen uses Edmond Bateman (Boris Karloff), a murderer that’s indebted to the doctor, to help him do his dirty work. Bateman becomes Vollin’s disfigured henchman as he attempts to get even with those who didn’t want him to be with Jean. Vollin is able to get his revenge on some of the people but Bateman turns on him and this allows Jean and a few others to escape. In the end Vollin gets to experience one of his own torture devices.

The Raven is a fun mad scientist thriller that incorporates the works of Poe with the use of these terrifying torture devices. There’s a gothic and medieval vibe to this 1935 creeper that once again teams up Lugosi and Karloff who play off of each other like a pair of old pros at this point in their careers. The movie definitely has a stalker-like creepiness to it but it also has a little bit of a redemption element courtesy of one of the characters.

Run Time: 61 Minutes

Rated: Not Rated

Blu-ray Video: 1080p High-Definition Fullframe (1.33:1) B&W

Blu-ray Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Special Features: The extras include a new 2K scan of the film, two new audio commentary tracks, a new “Part 2” featurette, a classic audio recording and a still gallery.

  • NEW 2K scan of the original film elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary with author/film historian Gary D. Rhodes
  • NEW Audio Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Two: The Raven (17:25)
  • Audio Recording: Bela Lugosi reads “The Tell-Tale Heart” (13:22)
  • Still Gallery (08:18)

THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936) was directed by Lambert Hillyer from a screenplay by John Colton and stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton, Walter Kingsford and Beulah Bondi.

Boris Karloff takes the lead in this 1936 sci-fi thriller that follows Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff), an astromoner who creates a telescope that is able to capture light-waves from the Andromeda Galaxy. Dr. Rukh discovers that these light-waves have the power to let him see into the distant past. He ends up traveling to Africa to the sight where a meteorite crashed billions of years ago. Rukh breaks a piece off but he makes another startling discovery that the meteorite is composed of Radium X. He ends up getting infected by this unknown poisonous element that allows him to glow in the dark. This is when he enlists the help of Dr. Felix Benet (Bela Lugosi), a skeptical collegue who doesn’t like Rukh very much. Benet is able to neautralize the effects of Radium X but this mysterious poisoning slowly drives Rukh mad. Benet betrays Rukh and ends up helping sick people with Radium X while Rukh goes over-the-edge and ends up trying to kill everyone he knows. It all leads to a final confrontation between the two men, Rukh’s former love and even his mother but the Radium X has completely taken over the mad man who goes out in an eerie blaze of glory.

Okay, this was a fun sci-fi thriller more than a full blown horror movie but it does have elements of both genres in it. I’m a big fan of the mad scientist sub-genre and this ended up being a good one where we get to watch Boris Karloff take the lead and Bela Lugosi in a strong supporting role. There are some old school effects used in The Invisible Ray and unfortunately it all looks really dated but I bet it looked cool back in the day. It’s still a part of this movie’s charm because it’s over 80 years old now.

Run Time: 79 Minutes

Rated: Not Rated

Blu-ray Video: 1080p High-Definition Fullframe (1.33:1) B&W

Blu-ray Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Special Features: The extras include a new 2K scan of the film, new audio commentary, a new “Part 3” featurette, theatrical trailer and a still gallery.

  • NEW 2K scan of the original film elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary with authors/film historians Tom Weaver and Randall Larson
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Three: The Invisible Ray (16:36)
  • Re-Release Theatrical Trailer (01:44)
  • Still Gallery (07:00)

BLACK FRIDAY (1940) was directed by Arthur Lubin from a screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Eric Taylor and stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Stanley Ridges, Anne Nageland Anne Gwynne.

This 1940 sci-fi gangster thriller follows Dr. Ernest Sovac who tries to save his friend George Kingsley’s (Stanley Ridges) life by placing another man’s brain in him and it kind of works or maybe it backfires. Depends on how you look at it. The brain he uses is from a recently deceased gangster and this allows the patient’s behavior to randomly change at times. There’s also some missing mob money and of course greed sets in and gets the best and worst of those involved.

Okay, Black Friday was the least entertaining of this foursome but it was definitely an interesting watch. It’s another mad scientist sci-fi thriller but it’s also a gangster crime story at the same time. Placing a man’s brain in another man to save him backfires on the good doctor as well as his patient because the transfer has some disturbing side effects. There’s also some missing money involved and we all know how money can change and even corrupt people. Boris Karloff took the lead again for this one where Bela Lugosi really only had a small part in the movie.

Run Time: 71 Minutes

Rated: Not Rated

Blu-ray Video: 1080p High-Definition Fullframe (1.33:1) B&W

Blu-ray Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English

Special Features: The extras inlcude a new 2K scan of the film, new audio commentary, a “Part 4” featurette, a classic radio performance, theatrical trailer and still gallery.

  • NEW 2K scan of the original film elements
  • NEW Audio Commentary with filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr
  • NEW A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Four: Black Friday (17:04)
  • Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Show: “The Tell-Tale Heart” starring Boris Karloff (26:45)
  • Theatrical Trailer (01:55)
  • Still Gallery (06:37)

The packaging comes with a slipcase with a blue plastic keepcase inside. The front of the slipcase features the artwork you see up top and the back includes the list of special features and specs for each movie along with some classic artwork. The front of the plastic keepcase features matching artwork and the back includes the list of special features and specs for each movie along with some classic artwork. The reverse sleeve features the release title. All four Blu-ray discs are black and features each movie logos. There’s also a booklet that includes a lot of images and movie credits. Inserting each disc, the menu screens were simple and easy to navigate. Three of the movies were given a new 2K scan. The picture and sound quality for these high-definition upgrades were crisp and clear. I didn’t have any issues with the video and audio.

Bottom line is, I had a blast watching these four Universal horror movies from way back that are included in Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1 and they were all first time watches for me. Everybody out there is familiar with the Universal Monsters that had a strong run but Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff continued to make sci-fi and horror movies afterwards and they even co-starred in some of them together as seen here in this nice compilation. Scream Factory started out calling this set The Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection but quickly discovered there could be much more to this collection so the name change and artwork were tweaked and here we have Vol. 1 of the Universal Horror Collection. Each movie was entertaining in their own right but completely different from one another even though there’s a connection to the works of Edgar Allan Poe in a few of them. Scream Factory did a great job with these four lessor known horror movies from the 30’s that starred Lugosi and Karloff, and now many generations later, a new batch of horror fans will be able to experience them for the first time ever- just like I did. The Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1 will be available on a 4-disc Blu-ray set on June 18th.

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