When “The Universal Horror Collection” was originally announced, it was titled the “Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Collection” by Shout Factory. One can only assume that they’ve managed to retain the rights to many Universal movies obscure and classic, thus changing their new series to “The Universal Horror Collection.” With that broad a title, the sky is apparently the limit for Shout Factory and what they can do with these volumes. Since this was originally a Karloff/Lugosi four movie set, the whole of the films included star the pair of horror icons. With Volume 1 of “The Universal Horror Collection,” fans will be elated to see that they’re starting us off on the right foot.
“The Black Cat” from 1934 stars Karloff and Lugosi in what was the biggest hit of the year for Universal studios at the time and is Pre-Code. The film centers on a young couple honeymooning in Hungary who end up victims of a Mad Doctor who plans to sacrifice them. “The Black Cat” is a wonderful thriller with a brilliant atmosphere. Lugosi and Karloff, who team up a second time, are as good as ever, and really shine. “The Raven” from 1935 is another equally creepy and morbid thriller where Lugosi stars as a brilliant surgeon who seeks revenge when turned down by a beautiful dancer. With the help of his hideously scarred assistant (Karloff), he uses various torture devices influenced by his obsession Edgar Allen Poe for a campaign of violence and vengeance.
“The Invisible Ray” from 1936 finds Lugosi as a scientist who becomes murderous after discovering and being exposed to a powerful radioactive element known as Radium X. He seeks out the antidote from a colleague (Karloff) who is also poisoned by Radium and has what’s known as the Death Touch. Finally there’s “Black Friday” from 1940 which qualifies much more as a Karloff film than anything. The Arthur Lubin film leans more in to the gangster picture realm, with Karloff as Dr. Ernest Sovac, a man who recalls his life of crime on the way to the electric chair. After placing brain matter from a violent gangster in to a dying teacher named Kinglsey, the man takes on characteristics of the dead man. Anxious to find his stash of money, Lovac manipulates Kingsley and people start dying. This is a solid meta-crime picture with a good performance from Karloff. Lugosi only appears once during the whole film, but it’s a good capper to the foursome of films.
The Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1 presents each film on its own disc. This set also includes a short insert booklet that features some notes and marketing images/posters for the films. The Black Cat disc comes with a pair of audio commentaries. There’s one by author/film historian Gregory William Mank, and one by author/film historian Steve Haberman “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part One: The Black Cat” is a twenty three minute short doc looking back at the film with noted Lugosi & Karloff authors Gary D. Rhodes and Gregory William Mank. This builds the sort of lead in to what would be the famous actor team up and focuses on their experience for “The Black Cat.” The hour long “Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe” takes a bit of a film by film retrospective look at Poe adaptations in cinema as a visual essay with plenty of examples of previous cinematic adaptations with clips and still images.
There’s Vintage Footage of “The Black Cat Contest” with no audio, but it features rare footage of the horror masters with kids and some black cats., and a still gallery. “The Raven” comes with an audio commentary by author/film historian Gary D. Rhodes, and author/film historian Steve Haberman. “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Two-Part 2” is the second part to the epic documentary about Karloff, Lugosi and making the film. “The Raven” is a seventeen minute segment that continues from the last segment. Rhodes and Mank dig into the work on “The Raven,” which Mank humorously discusses that Karloff did this as a sort of a favor and didn’t think a whole lot of it at the time. There’s the thirteen minute audio recording of “The Tell Tale Heart” as read by Bela Lugosi, and a still gallery. The disc for “The Invisible Ray” includes an audio commentary with authors/film historians Tom Weaver and Randall Larson.
There’s part three of “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal” exploring “The Invisible Ray”; the duo of Mank and Rhodes come to the production on The Invisible Ray with where both actors’ careers and the studio were at the time as they branched to a narrative more based around science fiction than horror. There’s also the theatrical trailer and a still gallery. The “Black Friday” disc features an audio commentary with filmmaker and film historian Constantine Nasr, as well as the fourth part of “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal.” This time Mank and Rhodes close off the series with a discussion on Black Friday and how things had changed for the performers in the time since both broke out into stardom in the early 1930s with their respective classic horror films. This is a neat series with some great insight in to Karloff and Lugosi. There’s the “Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Show: “The Tell-Tale Heart” this time starring Boris Karloff, and finally a Theatrical Trailer, and a Still Gallery.