Coming hot on the heels of their release of Universal Horror Collection, Vol. 1 (which I reviewed right here), Scream Factory brings us four more terror tales in the appropriately named Universal Horror Collection, Vol. 2! Let’s dig into this shit like a grave, shall we?
First up comes:
Murders in the Zoo (1933): Man o’ action Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwill) heads back stateside from parts unknown where he was collecting animals for the local zoo with his his wife Evelyn (the gorgeous Kathleen Burke). Speaking of ol’ Evelyn; Eric straight up murdered a man for kissing her on that very trip.
Because Evelyn apparently is constructed of pure sex pheromones, a dude by the handle of Roger Hewitt (John Lodge) falls in horny with her on the boat ride home…imagine Eric’s feelings about that one. Speaking of which, since Eric is always a level-headed fellow he puts the kibosh on Hewitt using a black mamba (clearly a python standing in for it’s more venomous brethren) then gets it in his head to use various and sundry other beasts to help commit devilish deeds!
Murders in the Zoo is a solid if uneven lil’ thriller. The central conceit of a man, consumed by jealousy, who utilizes exotic animals to execute his crimes of passion is a strong one, and Atwill makes for a suitably tempestuous lead. The supporting cast (with one exception listed below) and zoo location also add much to the production…as does it’s batshit climax, but I’m not spoiling that here boils n’ ghouls!
The notable odd-man-out is Charles Ruggles as drunkard press agent Peter Yates. While the film itself is a studied narrative fraught with classy performances and moments of effective tension, Ruggles decides to play his character like a mugging buffoon straight out of a poverty row farce; seriously this flick keeps it chill at like a 6 or a 7, while ol’ Charlie goes for like a 85 on the ham-scale. Also of note is the use of stock footage to pad the film…a film that only runs sixty-two minutes…seriously, how many pennies were they pinching on this thing?
As for extras on this Blu, things are on the light side with an image gallery and an audio commentary courtesy of author and film historian Greg Mank who provides his usual info packed and engaging conversation.
Next we get:
The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942): Dr. Ralph Benson (Atwill) has a shit-hot idea that he can resurrect the recently dead through science. Spoilers: He can’t…but what he can do is immediately become a murderer, which the police come a-callin’ to discuss.
Ol’ Benson hightails it and ends up on a boat headed to east ass-hair…and of course he keeps up the deviltry on the open sea as well. Eventually the boat falls to shit and Benson (under his disguise of “Graham”) and a handful of survivors wash up on a tropical island. Benson soon takes control of the sitch, and the native populace, and continues those damn experiments anew. Will our gang of goofs manage to escape the island before they become test subjects for the mad doctor?
The Mad Doctor of Market Street definitely plays things more for laughs than scares; it’s ensemble cast is comprised of folks who do more scene chewing than you’d believe possible in a film that runs barely over an hour…but they are entertaining nonetheless. Atwill makes for a suitably arrogant and sophisticated villain, and it’s great fun to watch him lose his shit as things continue to be complicated in his plans for dominance.
All in all, it’s a lightweight entry in Universal’s horror oeuvre, but it’s enjoyable for what it is; a breezy if forgettable B picture.
As for extras, only the film’s trailer and an image gallery are included.
Following that comes:
The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942): Five dudes are let off the hook for sketchy shit, but are murdered by the serial killer Dr. Rx. Enter: private investigator Jerry Church (Patric Knowles) who joins the hunt for Rx after chatting with shit-hot lawyer Dudley Crispin (Samuel S. Hinds) who had defended three of the five stiffs in court.
Speaking of Crispin, he gains an acquittal for his latest client, Zarini (Matty Fain), but Z-dawg falls dead as a door-nail in the courtroom. The race is now on to capture Rx before he kills again, but Jerry may find that hard to do when he becomes strapped to the operating table of that demonic doctor!
The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is fantastic lil’ murder mystery comprised of snappy dialog, a nice dash of suspense, and some great acting from leads Knowles, Anne Gwynne (as Jerry’s wife), and Edmund MacDonald (as the detective assigned to the case). Adding to the fun is great comedic turns from Shemp Howard (yup, the one and only) and Mantan Moreland (their scene together is a real comedic delight)…and there’s a gorilla involved in the proceedings, so bonus! Surprisingly given the nature of this set, Atwill only appears in what amounts to a cameo. Also it should be said that this film is a product of it’s time, so expect a couple of unfortunate comments here and there where Moreland’s character is concerned.
As for extras on this disc we get a featurette covering Atwill’s career and an image gallery…and that’s all she wrote for this one.
Finally we get:
The Mad Ghoul (1943): Dr. Alfred Morris (George Zucco) has gas…to be more specific Mayan zombie gas…with which he is experimenting with the assistance of medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce). That sounds prosaic enough, except for one thing: Morris has the hornies for Allison’s girlfriend Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers).
Naturally ol’ Doc uses the gas on Teddy who becomes a ghoul that must rely on the fluid of human hearts to survive…hearts obtained from the newly dead…obtained by the duo’s grave-robbing spree. Now you would think that would free up some time for Morris to put the moves on Izzy; but lo and behold, she is pursuing a romance with another man; her musical partner Eric Iverson (Turhan Bey). Naturally Morris has a putrid plan to win Izzy’s heart, and he better hope his dick game is strong as fuck after this amount of trouble…
Full of tons of atmosphere (those graveyard scenes are top-shelf), solid ghoul make-up, and some great performances (Ankers and Zucco are the standouts); The Mad Ghoul is hands down my favorite film in this set. It’s impressive the amount of suspense and plot the filmmakers were able to cram into sixty-five minutes, but things never seem rushed or confused…a small miracle time restraints considered.
On the bonus features front, we get an image gallery, press kit (a cool extra that I’d love to see more of on future releases), and an audio commentary from film historian Thomas Reeder that covers the film’s production in engaging and scholarly detail.
All in all this is another solid collection from the lower tier of the Universal horror archives and is well worth owning for fans of classic chillers!