The last three Universal Horror Collections brought to us courtesy of those devious n’ delightful devils over at Scream Factory have been a creepy cornucopia of fright flick fun (Don’t believe me? Head here and here and here to read my thoughts for your own sinister self!)! Let’s see if Volume 4 lives up to it’s predecessors!
Starting things off we have 1937’s Night Key:
David Mallory (Boris Karloff) is the old-as-balls inventor of a real peach of a new burglar alarm… in fact it’s so great that a real asshole of a businessman ends up taking our nearly blind hero for a ride and steals the profits from the device.
Well Dave isn’t going to sit still for that prime cut of being poor bullshit, and before long and he falls in with some gangsters who want to utilize our protagonist’s smarts to help them come into some easy (read: fuckin’ stolen) money!
A rather lightweight caper with a slight dash of sci-fi tech and some shtick tossed in, Night Key is a breezy watch that manages to entertain, mostly due to another great Karloff performance. That’s not to say the supporting players are slouches by any means, as Jean Rogers plays a fantastic no-nonsense dame (Dave’s daughter in-fact), and Hobart Cavanaugh makes for fine comic relief as low-level criminal Petty Louie.
As for extras, we get the film’s theatrical trailer, image galleries for production art and stills, and an audio commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and Dr. Robert J. Kiss, that displays both Weaver’s extensive knowledge of the film as well as his sarcastic wit.
Next comes Night Monster from 1942:
Curt Ingston (Ralph Morgan) is a sick-as-balls old recluse who has ended up paralyzed even with the attention of three doctors focused solely on him.
Speaking of those docs, Ingston invites them all to his house and soon they start falling victim to that good ol’ murder biz! But just who could be responsible for those grizzly goings-on?
A tight little thriller, Night Monster features a fantastic ensemble cast, plenty of arcane atmosphere (Does the fog ever stop rollin’ in during this picture?), and a story line full of murder, mystics, and materializing skeletons.
It’s a heady horror biz concoction for sure, and is one of the more off-kilter entries in the “old dark house” sub-genre with it’s inclusion of actual supernatural occurrences rather than the more human terrors one encounters in such pictures of the era.
As for bonus features, second verse much like the first: trailer, image gallery and an audio commentary (this one an engaging and very scholarly look at the film’s production from author Gary D. Rhodes) comprise the eerie extras!
Following that we get 1944’s The Climax:
Dr. Hohner (Boris Karloff) the physician at the Vienna Royal Theatre, puts the ol’ murder biz upon his opera singer fiance in a heady mix of jealous rage and obsession.
Fast forward a decade, and that diabolical doctor fills his eerie earholes with the talented warblin’ of yet another prima donna… a prima donna who reminds him of the fact he’s a lady killer… and he sets his sinister sights on making her sing only for him… like an “angel of music” one might say… even if it means quieting that voice for all eternity!
No joke, this shit is the most Phantom of the Opera you can get without actually being called The Phantom of the Opera; minus the mask and plus the hypnotism. This is no mere rip-off however as The Climax was made using the sets of 1943’s Phantom of the Opera remake… which was filmed partially on the opera house set for the original 1925 film adaptation of the story… and was originally intended to be a sequel to the 1943 film.
Sequel or not, Karloff makes a more than fitting ‘Phantom’ surrogate, and the production looks fantastic with it’s vivid color photography and astounding sets and costuming. It’s also great seeing The Mummy’s Tomb‘s Turhan Bey in another fright flick role.
On the negative side, this film’s overly long opera sequences come off as padding, no matter how solid they are from a production standpoint… and believe me, there are a number of said sequences packing this sinister cinematic sausage a tad too fat for the refined palette of yours cruelly…
As for extras; “Well, if it ain’t broke… ” so trailer, image gallery and an audio commentary (this time featuring film historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones in a spirited and info packed conversation) it is!
Finally comes House of Horrors from 1946:
Marcel De Lange (Martin Kosleck, in a performance as subtle as a jackhammer to the crotch) is a sculptor who’s rapidly losing his cool thanks to some bad reviews from critics (what do those dumb shits know anyway, amirite? Hey, wait a minute… ). As an over-the-top failed artist trope is so wont to do; our hero decides to end it all one night by drowning himself… except a strange discovery stops that action right quick.
You see ol’ Marky finds the nearly dead body of the king of killers, The Creeper (the legendary Rondo Hatton reprising his role from 1944’s Sherlock Holmes opus The Pearl of Death), and he takes him home to nurse the brute back to health… and then to use him as an instrument of death pointed straight at the critics what done him ever so wrong!
Soon art critic girlfriend Joan Medford (Virginia Grey) is on the case, as she tries to defend her artist boyfriend that has been blamed for The Creeper’s nocturnal activities!
House of Horrors is a fantastic poverty row set shocker that doubtless had to influence Roger Corman when he co-created 1959’s A Bucket of Blood and 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors… this is a world of dirty streets, deep shadows, and plenty of the murder biz
Populating that atmospheric world are some real creepy cats portrayed by a memorable cast, including Kosleck’s high-strung turn as De Lange, and Hatton doin’ what he does best, being the ultimate fright flick heavy, no make-up required!
As for bonus features, we get a retrospective on Hatton’s career, an image gallery and an audio commentary with film historian Scott Gallinghouse that gives a detailed overview of the film’s production as well as Hatton’s life.
This is yet another solid collection from the Universal horror archives and, and is well worth owning for fans of classic chillers!