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Old 10-18-2009, 06:45 PM
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Karloff & Lugosi: Horror Classics





Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 18, 2009

Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/6/2009
MSRP: $26.98
Region 1, NTSC
Progressive Scan [The Walking Dead, You'll Find Out, Frankenstein 1970]
Interlaced [Zombies on Broadway]
Full Frame 1.33:1 [The Walking Dead, You'll Find Out, Zombies on Broadway]
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes [Frankenstein 1970]
1936 [The Walking Dead], 1940 [You'll Find Out], 1945 [Zombies on Broadway], 1958 [Frankenstein 1970]



inline ImageNowadays, actors use horror films as a calling card, starring in one to kickoff their career and then never looking back. Rather than embrace the genre, successful stars that started out in horror, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Travolta and Kevin Bacon, try instead to ignore it. It wasnít always this way, though. God bless the greats, like the first two icons of fright, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, who did nothing but embrace their iconic horror presences throughout their careers. In the classical era of Hollywood, typecasting wasnít a boon Ė it meant a career! Celebrating these two men who celebrated the genre, Warner presents here four films with the two legends on a two disc set. Letís take a look at ďKarloff & Lugosi Horror ClassicsĒ and see just how classic these films really are.

The Story

inline ImageThe Walking Dead has Karloff as a reformed ex-con who is wrongfully framed for murder. He gets the chair moments before the silent witnesses finally speak up and surprisingly it's still not too late. A genius doctor (Edmund Gwenn, Santa from Miracle on 34th Street) is able to revive him, although he's not entirely the same. His step is slower, his speech delayed, but he's able to see aspects of his case he never could before. Plodding through the cemetery, he aims, one by one, for vengeance.

Although the film clearly plays on Karloff's undead Frankenstein persona, the film plays less like a horror film and more like a crime drama as religious parable. Much of the first half concerns itself with the case and the sentencing, while the conclusion introduces the idea of God being a jealous soul. Of course there certainly are horror elements in the film, with a decent body count (especially for the short runtime) and some expressionistic uses of shadow to suggest the death that hides behind life. Deaths are of the Final Destination variety, with the guilty parties getting into punishing accidents in the presence of Karloff. The film is brisk and on the nose for the swift 65 minute runtime, and while that doesn't leave a lot of room for depth, Karloff and Gwenn as make for compelling viewing. And hey, how many monsters do you know that can play the piano?


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inline ImageFrankenstein 1970 doesn't have to hint like The Walking Dead does to Karloff's association with Frankenstein. Understandably, this film embraces it. The film begins with as tense a Frankenstein scene that had ever been shot up to that point in 1958. Then the camera pulls back to reveal it was all just a movie. They're filming another Frankenstein at the actual home site of the Dr. Frankenstein family. Rather than the monster, Karloff instead plays the last surviving member of the Frankenstein family. Determined to keep the family legacy alive, he concocts he own monster machine. The specimens? Well, who likes actors or producers anyway?

The film within a film for Frankenstein 1970 is so good you never want it to end. It doss, though and quickly the film settles into a labyrinthine retread of the original. Even if it is set in 1970 the filmmakers fail to make it feel any different than the gothic original. Don't go expecting something with the same cultural relevance as Dracula AD 1972 or even Frankenstein 90 for that matter. It is interesting to see Karloff this time as the creator but the monster is far less inspired here - in sheath virtually the entire film like a low rent Mummy. There are a few inspired frights, though including a nice murder by editing where a victimís fearful eyes suddenly become those of the monster. The end offers a nice twist that takes the series full circle, but between the start and end is a patchwork of monster movie clichťs.


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inline ImageOnto the Lugosi disc, the first film is the star studded Youíll Find Out. Itís got a cast of three of the greatest classic madmen, Karloff, Lugosi and Peter Lorre and who gets top billing? Kay Kyser. I guess Kyser should, too, since he was the hottest thing on radio at the time, and he even plays himself. The plot is pretty simple: Kyser is hired after a glorious show to perform a lavish birthday party for a heiress, Janis Bellacrest (Helen Parrish, scenes deleted from The Bride of Frankenstein) at her old mansion. When he gets there, though, itís not all song and dance. Thereís a potentially phony medium, Prince Saliano (Lugosi) who has been drawing out of Janisís auntís coffers, and Kyser and the bunch suspect the worst. Judge Spencer Mainwaring (Karloff) certainly proves suspicious, too, always articulate and always with the perfect thing to say. Professor Karl Fenninger (Lorre) suspects foul play, so he teams up with Kyser to get some answers. The bridge to the castle has been blown out, itís a stormy night, and the dead seem to be coming back. If youíre wondering whatís going on, donít worry, Youíll Find Out.

Now this one came out of nowhere. I wasnít suspecting much, since Karloffís movies, and even Zombies on Broadway have received more lip service than this, but what a picture. Itís a self-described ďmusical mysteryĒ, and itís the kind of grand spectacle that they just donít make anymore in Hollywood. Since Kyser was known for his musical acts, the film jumps back and forth between story and performance, and all the musical numbers are lavishly performed. The final bit combines a little ingenuity from the script to deliver a crazy pre-synthesizer kind of tune with the voice modulator, the Sonovox (later used in Dumbo). Itís really cool. Of course, this is a horror website, and this is supposed to be a horror DVD set, so where are the goods? Donít worry, there are special effects galore to match the music, with plenty of creepy and tricky sťances with some optical, animation and set design artistry from one of the early effects legends, Vernon L. Walker (King Kong, Cat People). Look hard and youíll see a few King Kong props along the way, too. All three of the classic horror icons are in top form here, Karloff playing mannered, Lugosi riffing on his The Wolf Man gypsy and Lorre playing, well, Lorre, with those creepy eyes and off-kilter delivery. There is just so much manic fun and fright on screen itís tough not to compare the music and energy to what we have now, seventy years later, and think, hey, weíve got it all wrong. Itís a dream team of actors in a flurry of fun, and certainly the highlight of the set.


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inline ImageThe last is Zombies on Broadway, which again like The Walking Dead tries to play to both the gangster and horror crowd. Two press agents create a media blitz for their latest show, The Zombie Hut, promising a real life zombie. The undead is actually a very much living African American man, but for 20 a week heíll go white face and sell Voodooism to the affluent white public. Why not? Their boss isnít so convinced, though, and demands they head out and get a real zombie. Apparently the isle of St. Sebastian has some, so off go Jerry (Wally Brown) and Mike (Alan Carney) to find one. They run into mad scientist Dr. Paul Renault (Lugosi) instead, but one of his experiments might just give the boys what they are looking for. The only problem? They are the specimens!

You know how King Kong is all a big metaphor for slavery? Well, Zombies on Broadway canít be bothered with latent themes, so instead itís all face value about enslaving Africans and bringing them over to America for white enjoyment. Once Jerry and Mike make it to St. Sebastian, itís googly eyes everywhere as black zombies come out of the woodwork once the voodoo drums start to beat. For added political incorrectness, Mike even goes around black face before himself turning into a googly eyed automaton. The movie is never serious enough to be offensive, but itís certainly not responsible horror filmmaking, either. Still, the concept is kind of fun, even if Lugosi is underused as the mad doctor. There is a lot of switched identity slapstick, but the zombies are the main draw. The effects work is good for 1945, and at the very least you do see a lot of zombies and a lot of action. There is more walking with zombies in a single scene than all of I Walked with a Zombie, including the zombie from the Lewton picture, Darby Jones, again the zombie here. The scare factor is a zero, but itís fun horror hijinks in the Abbott & Costello sort of way.


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Image Quality

inline ImageThe Walking Dead, Youíll Find Out and Zombies on Broadway are all presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Frankenstein 1970 was a scope production, so itís nicely preserved in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. All the films are progressive scan, save Zombies on Broadway, which is sadly interlaced. Warner has always treated their back catalogue like royalty, and for the most part all these films get the gold treatment. Each print looks like it has been cleaned up considerably, with not much dust or debris present save for The Walking Dead, which looks to be sourced from a softer, rougher theatrical print. If you compare the transfers to the included trailers, itís night and day. The contrast of these four black and white movies also looks good, with shadows close to, if not quite, black. The only minor blunder is the interlacing on Zombies on Broadway. Thereís also a scene at the 19:00 mark where the image goes three stops darker for a five second stretch before cutting back to normal. Odd. The Walking Dead works from the roughest print, but other than some specs, optical degradation and an overall softness, it still looks good for 73 years. I was most surprised by the quality of Youíll Find Out, given all the optical effects work done on the picture it still looks very sharp. Franksntein 1970 is the best looking of the bunch, with sharper edges, less grain and finer detail. Still, on the whole, these four films look very good in their golden years.

Sound

inline ImageAll four films are presented in mono. They are between 73 and 51 years old, and for that age itís nice enough that they are all still intact. The sound is generally thin, but itís never shrill, even when the orchestra in Youíll Find Out kicks in. Like with the video, the audio quality on The Walking Dead is worst of all, with some playback static and a less defined sound. There is a light hiss that runs on several of the films, with the common record syncing sound audible at times. Dialogue is soft but always remains clear, and for four budget movies on two discs, itís overall not bad.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageAlthough I preferred the two Lugosi films (or to put it better, the two films where Lugosi was a minor supporting player), all the love in this set has gone to Karloff. Disc one gets commentaries on both of Karloffís films, with The Walking Dead done by historian Greg Mank and Frankenstein 1970 by historians Bob Burns and Tom Weaver and actress Charlotte Austin. Mank is incredibly prepared for his piece, so calculated that he manages a grand introduction for Karloff that stops a split second before Karloff arrives on screen. Itís definitely not a casual commentary, but the preparedness makes it packed with information. The Frankenstein 1970 commentary is more of a gas, thanks to having the historian perspective balanced out by actual on set experience. Charlotte Austin is totally endearing, and at times laugh inducing, in recollecting her working on the picture. She certainly doesnít hold back her opinions on the filmís quality, but still has a lot of nice things to say about Karloff and the movies in general.

The only other extras are a couple of nice vintage trailers for Frankenstein 1970 and Youíll Find Out.


Final Thoughts

inline ImageThis is a trim but tickling collection of four films that appeal to vastly different sensibilities. The Walking Dead is effective sad and somber horror, while Karloffís other starring vehicle Frankenstein 1970 ups the camp but gives the man a chance to finally play the good doctor. Although itís this first disc of Karloff films that get the two solid historical commentaries, itís the second disc on Lugosi thatís the stand out. Zombies on Broadway is a goofy, wild and rampant zombie picture, featuring more living dead than any other film up to that point. The standout, though is Youíll Find Out, which not only has Lugosi, but also Karloff and Peter Lorre for a triptych of terror. Itís a consistently inspiring meld of horror, comedy and musical, and even combines the three for the show stopping finale. Iíd recommend this set for that film alone, but all four are enjoyable, and have all been given solid transfers by Warner, save for the interlacing on Zombies on Broadway. Not quite classics, but still a worthy collection from a time where being a horror icon was something to be proud of.

Rating

.
The Walking Dead
Movie - B-
Image Quality - C+
Sound - C+

Frankenstein 1970
Movie - C-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B

You'll Find Out
Movie - A
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B

Zombies on Broadway
Movie - B-
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B

Supplements -B-




Technical Info.
  • Black & White
  • Running time - 1 hour and 5 minutes [The Walking Dead]
  • Running time - 1 hour and 19 minutes [Frankenstein 1970]
  • Running time - 1 hour and 37 minutes [You'll Find Out]
  • Running time - 1 hour and 8 minutes [Zombies on Broadway]
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English mono
  • English subtitles

Supplements
  • Commentary on The Walking Dead by historian Greg Mank
  • Commentary on Frankenstein 1970 by historians Bob Burns and Tom Weaver and actress Charlotte Austin
  • Trailers for You'll Find Out and Frankenstein 1970


Other Pictures

 

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Old 10-18-2009, 07:00 PM
Maniac
sounds very good, i put on my wishlist at DVD Pacific

i love these old B&W horror movies!
 
 
Old 10-20-2009, 06:08 AM
Closet SCREAM fan
I need this set!
 
 
Old 10-20-2009, 09:40 PM
I ate my keys
Quote:
Zombies on Broadway is a goofy, wild and rampant zombie picture, featuring more living dead than any other film up to that point
Ah, White Zombie and Revolt of the Zombies have far more zombies, both done a decade earlier. King of the Zombies has about as many, done several years earlier. (Not that I ever did a head count)

I found the two Karloffs the better films, with Frankenstein 1970 standing out the best as Karloff's probably given more screen time than any other film, with many long takes. A good solid showcase for him. Walking Dead is an interesting almost spiritual twist, but Karloff plays it as The Monster w/o the rage so there not much new there.

The two Lugosi comedies are rather dreadful, being flat out unfunny. The rolls give him little to do, beyond matching wits with a monkey. Lorre steals the show in You'll Find Out, but all three seem to relish their time together. Its music numbers are hardly lavish, rather very stage bound.
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