Now that Shout Factory has re-formatted their Karloff/Lugosi Collection in to the Universal Horror Collection, this has given them carte blanche to release pretty much everything they can get their hands on from the catalogue. I appreciate that they haven’t begun releasing the obvious titles yet, as so far the volumes have been following a specific theme and or formula. The first volume was mainly Karloff and Lugosi team ups, while this second volume is mainly about mad scientist and evil doctor, all of which are played by Lionel Atwill. Buckle up, horror buffs.
1933’s “Murders in the Zoo” stars Lionel Atwill as Dr. Gorman, a rich adventurer roaming the world for the most dangerous game to hunt. As his unfaithful wife cheats on him, he uses his animals to murder her lovers. While at a fundraiser at the New York Zoo, Dr. Gorman uses the opportunity to kill Roger and anyone else that stands in his way. Lionel Atwill is very good as the film’s vengeance soaked villain who does anything and everything to satisfy his anger toward his wife. The movie is surprising in its stark violence even for a movie in 1933 as it follows a lot of slasher tropes. 1942’s “The Mad Doctor of Market Street” explores a mad doctor’s named Benson’s experiments in suspended animation which ends up in death.
When he flees to a luxury liner in Australia from San Francisco, he ends up shipwrecked on an island with a handful of survivors. There the natives aren’t welcome of the group until Dr. Benson revives a comatose woman. Now a god among the village, Dr. Benson becomes mad with power. “The Mad Doctor…” is a tonally confused and odd amalgam of genres with horror, comedy and other various elements like the crime thriller, and the drama. Lionel Atwill stars once again as the titular Mad Doctor Benson, and he’s very good here as always. Lionel Atwill is back (sharing the screen with “Crash” Corrigan, and Shemp Howard) in 1942’s “The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx,” in which Atwill plays vigilante Dr. Rx, who is murdering criminals and thieves that have escaped the law through legal loopholes. On his track is detective Jerry Church who is baffled by the unusual murders.
This go around is more of a mystery and noir thriller and doesn’t always fall in to the horror peg like previous films in this collection do. It’s a fun movie if you approach it with patience and loose expectations and can forgive the awkward attempts at comedy. Allegedly the movie was completed without a complete screenplay, prompting a ton of ad libbing and improvisation to finish the whole shebang, as well as a ton of plot holes. Finally there’s 1943’s “The Mad Ghoul,” a great twisted thriller centered on a mad doctor who experiments with a poison gas that can produce a zombie like state in its subjects. When he begins testing it on his assistant Ted, he begins to wreak havoc looking for fresh human hearts to feast on to reverse the decomposition that the gas produces. It’s a fine science fiction thriller with a plot based heavily around the mad scientist/zombie aesthetic and tops off a fine collection.
Volume 2 includes a short insert booklet with notes, marketing images, and posters for the respective films featured. Disc One includes an audio commentary for “Murders in the Zoo” with author/film historian Gregory William Mank, along with an image gallery. Disc two includes the original trailer for “The Mad Doctor of Market Street” as well as an HD image gallery. Disc three includes a “Lionel Atwill Featurette” clocking in at nineteen minutes. It features Gregory William Mank who discusses Lionel Atwill’s career in Hollywood, his personal history, and other films that aren’t included on the set. There’s also an image gallery. Disc four includes an audio commentary for “The Mad Ghoul” with filmmaker and film historian Thomas Reed. There’s also an image gallery, and a one minute press kit.