The Black Cat - 1934
A dark and depressing piece (gee, surprise surprise), this is about love and revenge and the dark arts - and engineering. A happy young couple in love and on their honeymoon are traveling to Lower Eastern Bulgargurkia or someplace, when the bus they’re on after a train journey goes a whoopsies and crashes. A gent they met on the train leads them to the house of an old engineer friend, someone who was responsible for his imprisonment in a war camp. Out for revenge against this bastard, he discovers that the engineer has designs on the injured woman, and so the fun and festivities begin.
Economical in its telling, and fairly typical in its depiction of bitter and evil men, Lugosi and Karloff once again team up and compete in a contest of stares. Karloff stares at the woman, Lugosi stares at the door, Karloff stares at the man, Lugosi stares at Karloff, Karloff stares at Lugosi, the man stares at the woman, the woman stares at a tree.
There’s a cat. Lugosi flings a knife at it for a three point killshot. That’s the Poe reference taken care of. If anything, this movie is just more fodder to prove that the two stars were deadset nuts. It didn’t make a lick of difference what the lines were, they look so damn menacing most of the time, they could have been reciting their addresses and it would have sounded evil.
Nasty, nasty stuff. Good, but.
The Raven. - 1935
Running a quick paced 59 minutes, the action gets underway within moments of starting.
Some silly lass has driven her car off the road and at the hospital her father pleads for the doctors to do something to help her. Due to some vague problem with the root nerve at the base of her brain being impinged upon, or some such bullshit, they can't do anything.
|"Vollin! Dr. Vollin! Can we get Dr. Vollin?"|
"Get Dr. Vollin here!"
As you can figure, Dr. Vollin is the only person they can think of to help her. The problem is that Dr. Vollin is a sick f*cko and a morbid bastard. In fact, he's just plain evil. He really likes to stare menacingly, but it's a weird stare, like he's thinking of his grocery list and at the same time thinking about how he's going to skin the checkout girl alive. And if that isn't enough, he also has one of those evil sounding organs that mad people play in these old films. Anyway, he operates and saves her life, and promptly falls in love with her. But she loves someone else, and has plans to marry. Her father warns him off her, he cracks the shits and plots a revenge you can be sure involves a fair whack of torture, creeping around, maniacal laughing and a convenient dark and stormy night.
First up, this isn't the version as stated on the DVD coverslick. This is the 1935 version, and has a very different story which only utilises Poe's The Raven as a creepy minor narrative device at most, or as it says during the credits "Suggested by Edgar Allan Poe's immortal classic." It could well have not mentioned Poe at all and you'd never have known differently.
Nevermind though. With all due respect to Karloff, the unequalled highlight of this is without doubt Bela Lugosi's performance as Dr. Vollin. He gives a performance straight out of the Creepy Bastard School of Acting with his stares and his pauses and his Count Dracula voice. And the stares... oh how he stares! The looks he gives people. Hell, the looks he gives the walls, the doors, anything which falls in site of his gaze was the unwilling recipient of his Lugosi Brand "Stare of Ultimate Doom".
All up, a good quick bit of sicko-doc fun to be had.
The Mummy - 1932
Someone puts a box in front of you and tells you that if you open it you will suffer for all eternity the most horrible fate. What would you do? Personally, I'd gather my belongings and buy a ticket on the next plane out of the country. Someone should tell archaeologists to do that when confronted with these problems. Instead, if Hollywood has taught us anything, they tend to ignore warnings and open the box whenever they have they opportunity. Naturally when the crap hits the fan and they get ripped limb from limb by marauding mummies or eaten alive by ravenous scarab beetles, they only have themselves to blame.
Here then we have the classic which started this worrying trend of irresponsible artefact hunting. This is the film that was remade a few years back with Brendan Frasier into a kiddie friendly holiday blockbuster. If anything, it's notable for highlighting the way movies have changed over the years, and not necessarily for the better. Back then, Boris Karloff (the biggest name in this film) played the part of the mummy, nowadays, the big actors play the good guys and the bad guys are either CGI or Arnold Vosloo.
In this version, an archaeological dig ignores the thousands of years old warnings not to open a casket and so they awaken the mummy of Imhotep. The mummy then takes on the form of a normal Egyptian (albeit a slightly odd and creepy looking one – then again, that’s what all Egyptians look like) in an effort to release his long-gone love, Amon-es-or-something-or-other, who has come back reincarnated as a woman who is visiting Egypt.
It’s a good bit of creepiness, with Karloff doing what he does best. The story is stylish, spooky, and not without a few dark and nasty moments. When you feel like modern moviemaking is letting you down in the “Don’t open that! Shit! Too late!” stakes, put this on and get a feel for the old times again.
Naturally, all these films are quite old, so full frame formatting is the norm for this DVD. The first two films, The Black Cat and The Raven look very similar in quality, both sharing a distinct lack of detail, and coming up very soft indeed. The Raven looks slightly better compressed, with The Black Cat sometimes showing up the results of the squeeze in the gradients of the shadows in the first part of the film.
The Mummy looks the best of the lot, with lots more definition and detail, yet still not as good as any of the Classic Monster DVD releases from recent times. All the prints are fairly liberally peppered with your usual scratches and dust etc etc, but they’re forgettable in light of enjoying the actual films. Not great stuff, but for three films on a DVD, all of which are quite old, you’ll bite your tongue when you realise this DVD can be had for less than a tenner.
Audiowise, expecting anything more than a single-channel mono mix at 96kbps would be a bit silly, so shame on you for thinking it. It is satisfactorily free of background noise etc, but suffers from a seriously restricted range, with everything never really moving beyond sounding thin and weak. If this is a result of trying to clean up the audio, I can live with it, as it kind of lends some charms to the films in a sense and goes some way to aiding the clarity of what can be difficult to understand through the thick accent of Lugosi.
A 25-page text biography of Karloff is included as the only bonus on disc, of which about four pages are bio and the rest filmography, but how can you really complain when this DVD has three films, not one?
I’ve seen this DVD in some places for well under ten bucks. Sure, the transfer isn’t too wow-inducing, but it’s okay, as is the audio, which is at least reasonably clear and hiss-less. But if you’re a fan of Karloff, or the horrors of late in general, you have to admit that a DVD with THREE of his films on it for around the same cost as a three-piece feed from KFC represents pretty bloody decent value.