Blu-ray Review: Universal Horror Collection: Volume 6 (1952 – 1961)

August 6, 2020

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, director, producer, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

The last five Universal Horror Collections brought to us courtesy of those delightful devils over at Scream Factory have been creepy cornucopias containing a beastly bevy of fiendishly fun fright flicks (Don’t believe me? Head here, here, here, here and lastly here, to read my thoughts for your own sinister self)!

Let’s see if Volume 6 lives up to it’s preternatural predecessors!

Starting things off we have The Black Castle from 1952:

Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) is playin’ sleuth and diving into the disappearance of a few of his pals… pals that payed a visit to the ornate Austrian estate of  Count von Bruno (Stephen McNally).

You see, ol’ Bruno is pissed as all get-out at the leaders of a British military force that got the native population of colonial occupied Africa to hand Big B his ass. So that explains where those friends of Burton’s got off to… but Burton was part of that action, and soon finds himself pitted against the burning sadistic revenge of the Count!

What you get with The Black Castle is a bit of a take on The Most Dangerous Game but man is it a well-made take! You get the ancient abode, filled with it’s dangerous denizens (human and beast) and deep, dark shadows, fog enshrouded environments, elaborate costumes… all set the tone perfectly for the Count and his deadly plots.

Adding to the success of this flick are some great performances with Greene making for a suitably stalwart hero, and McNally his twisted opposite number, and some choice cameos by legends Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr., and the script courtesy of Jerry Sackheim and directing by Nathan Juran keep things moving at a brisk pace.

As for special features on The Black Castle we get an audio commentary courtesy of film historian Tom Weaver that provides his normal blend of scholarly facts and smart-assing that never fails to entertain, as well as a great lil’ featurette (a love letter really) about the latter films in Universal’s horror stable, and an image gallery.

 

 

Next comes 1955’s Cult of the Cobra!

While stationed in East Asia (it’s never specified just where in the hell these cats are actually), a gaggle of American G.I.’s types get the shit-hot idea to eavesdrop on an ancient religious cult as they perform a dread rite (think Fosse instead of Thugee)… and get caught right quick by the High Priest, who promises that their Cobra Goddess will get their asses but good!

They return home, and wouldn’t ya know it, they begin dropping one by one… and a shadow of a cobra appears each and every time… and a beautiful stranger (Faith Domergue) enters their lives… probably not related in anyway!

Anyway, that snake lady is soon second-guessing that murder biz when she gets a case of the hornies for one of the soldier boys… but will that be enough to end the curse?

Cult of the Cobra is a true winner of a (sort of) creature feature! The screenplay (provided by Jerry Davis, Cecil Maiden, and Richard Collins), while a bit of a re-working of the 1942 Val Lewton classic Cat People, is none-the-less filled with arcane ceremonies, killer snakes, shape-shifting, lovey-dovey shit, and even some mystery yarn elements that all gel into a briskly paced suspense thriller with a liberal sprinkling of the supernatural… not to mention that raven-haired beauty Domergue gives our pseudo-antagonist a fantastic air of mystery while being completely sympathetic as well.

Returning for the audio commentary that accompanies Cult of the Cobra is Weaver, joined this time by authors Steve Kronenberg, David Schecter, and Dr. Robert J. Kiss who cover the film’s production in detail (along with a few zingers tossed in here and there). Additionally, the film’s theatrical trailer, TV spots, and an image gallery are included as well.

 

 

Following that we get The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958):

Jessica Burns (Carolyn Kearney), a psychic with the ability to find water veins, discovers a strange box located on her aunt’s sprawling ranch. And what is in that box? Why the head of Gideon Drew (Robin Hughes), a Satanic mother fucker executed back in the 16th century… and that head lives on!

Soon that decapitated demon gains control of a simpleton of a handyman and begins a journey that will find Drew mentally controlling those on the ranch in a bid to be re-united with his body and then to partake in all manner of deviltry!

As you can see, the premise of The Thing That Couldn’t Die is so deliriously ridiculous that it’s irresistible to lovers of psychotronic cinema… and who’s influence can be seen in later film’s such as Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of H.P. Lovercraft’s Re-Animator with it’s own decapitated antagonist, Dr. Hill, able to control re-animated corpses.

Along with the outrageously enjoyable premise, The Thing That Couldn’t Die has some solid performances as well, with Kearney making for a fine innocent, yet gifted, heroine and Hughes eating the scenery even when acting with only his eyes… a broad performance absolutely essential to making the film as enjoyable as it is!

Once again we get another informative, entertaining audio commentary from Weaver (joined by screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner), joined by the film’s trailer, as this disc’s bonus features.

 

 

Finally comes 1961’s The Shadow of the Cat:

Rich ol’ bat Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) is offed by her butler (Andrew Crawford), and her body is buried on the grounds of her lavish estate with the help of Ella’s husband, Walter (André Morell), and Clara the maid (Freda Jackson)… and all of this horror biz is due to a will created under duress that will award Walt a ton of dough. Sounds like that’s all taken care of, right?

Well there was a witness to that dreaded deed; Tabitha, Ella’s tabby cat… and this pussy susses out that a crime was committed. The murderers realize this and set about trying to kill the feline… but that cat may turn the tables and spell their doom as Ella’s niece Elizabeth (Barbara Shelley) tries to piece together just what happened to her aunt!

The Shadow of the Cat answers the age-old question asked by nobody: “What if Edgar Allan Poe got lazy A.F. and wrote The Black Cat and The Telltale Heart as one story.” Turns out the end result is pretty damn entertaining, if this fright flick is any indication!

We get a large cast of reprobates who are hoisted by their own petard and get what’s comin’ to them… with just a sprinkle of the supernatural on top set among a grande manse, foggy bogs, and chilly nights… it’s all rather Gothic; more akin to what you’d see in a production from England’s legendary house of horrors, Hammer films… speaking of that…

No matter how they may have denied it at the time, The Shadow of the Cat was indeed a production of Hammer, right down to it’s director (John Gilling who would go on to direct The Mummy’s Shroud in 1967 for Hammer), it’s star Barbara Shelley (who would go on to star in Hammer’s Dracula Prince of Darkness and The Gorgon among others), and it’s filming location (Bray Studios… studio used by Hammer continuously). the only thing that doesn’t scream “A Hammer Films Production” is the lack of lush, sumptuous color that the studio would become known for, as this flick is a black & white affair.

This go around, the audio commentary is provided by Bruce G. Hallenbeck who gives plenty of details regarding the film’s production in a lively fashion.  Additional features included are: an interview with Shelley, the film’s television ad, and an image gallery.

 

 

As of now, this is by far the strongest entry in Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection series; the film’s selected are all excellent, with not a clunker in the bunch… and the subject matter covered is a ton of fun (Poe pastiches, living severed heads, snake woman… heady horror biz indeed cats n’ creeps)! Highly Recommended!

 

 

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