Blu-ray: Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection

Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection (Universal, Blu-ray)

Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy have traversed the trail from horror icon to camp figure and back again and sparked the imaginations of readers and moviegoers for decades. Yet call forth the images nestled in the public consciousness and you’ll find that the figures created by Universal Studios, the home of Hollywood nightmares during the great gothic horror cycle of the 1930s and 1940s, have becomes the definitive versions of the great horror movie monsters.


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Universal has been upgrading and repackaging its library of classic monster movies and the franchises they launched through the 1930s-1950s on disc for almost 20 years. This new collection is the ultimate compilation. Previously released on DVD, it offers 4K restorations of all 30 films for Blu-ray, some for the first time. That means not just the bona fide Gothic horror masterpieces and monster movie landmarks previously on Blu-ray individually or in the “Legacy Collection” sets—Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi, Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy(1932), and The Bride of Frankenstein(1935) with Boris Karloff, The Invisible Man (1933) with Claude Rains, The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney Jr., the Technicolor Phantom of the Opera(1943) with Claude Rains, and the post-Gothic, atomic-era Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) in standard and 3D versions, plus the Spanish language Dracula (1931)—but stand-out sequels such as Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), the pre-Wolf Man The Werewolf of London(1935), Vincent Price in The Invisible Man Returns (1940), the mad monster parties Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945), and the surprisingly creepy horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) among others, with all the commentary tracks, featurettes, and other supplements from earlier DVD and Blu-ray releases.

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Blu-ray: Four Hammer horrors debut on ‘Horror Classics: Volume One’

HorrorClassicsV1Horror Classics: 4 Chilling Movies from Hammer Films(Warner, Blu-ray) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of four films from Hammer Films, the British studio that revived the classic monster movies in gothic style and lurid color (to match the lurid atmosphere of sex and death).

The Mummy (1959) is the third of Hammer’s classic horror revivals and the fourth Hammer film to pair up its two marquee stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing stars as archeologist John Banning, whose dig for a lost tomb results in untold treasures but leaves his father a mumbling madman and marks the rest of the company for death. Lee is Kharis, a former high priest turned gauze-wrapped guardian of the tomb, a veritable Golem sent on a mission of vengeance by Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), a disciple of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. “I’ve spent the better part of my life among the dead, but I’ve never worked in a place with such an aura of menace. There’s something evil in there.”

The scenes at the archeological dig and the flashbacks to the ancient burial are stagebound and frankly cheap looking, but Terence Fisher—Hammer’s top director—is back in familiar territory when the action relocates to the misty swamps and Victorian mansions of rural England. The towering, 6’3” Lee makes the most terrifying mummy to date. He covers ground in giant strides, smashes his way into rooms with heavy Frankenstein-like swipes of his arm, and takes shotgun blasts with barely a twitch, yet melts from rage to calm at the sight of Banning’s wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), a dead ringer for his dead Queen. He’s haunted soul, rampaging juggernaut, and a hugely powerful monster all in one. In the classic Hammer tradition there’s a sadistic twist to the flashback when Lee’s transgressive priest has tongue removed. It’s not as gory as it sounds, but it still carries a shivering eeriness about it. Hammer’s Mummy sequels, like Universal’s before it, are a spotty lot but the original is quite good.

Terence Fisher also directs Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1970), the fifth entry in Hammer’s “Frankenstein” series, and Cushing delivers his most cold-blooded portrayal of the mad Baron yet. Abandoning his latest experiment after a drunk stumbles into his secret lab (upsetting a severed head) he hurriedly finds new lodgings with a sweet young thing (Hammer glamour babe Veronica Carlson) whose boyfriend (Simon Ward, in his film debut) works in the local sanitarium. Frankenstein blackmails the lovers into complicity with his latest experiment, resorts to kidnapping and murder for his subjects, turns accomplice Ward into a killer, and even rapes his Carlson in a coldly brutal scene. It continues Hammer’s evolution of Cushing’s Baron into a truly mad scientist, as in utterly insane and cruelly amoral, destroying the lives of all around him in his search for scientific knowledge out of sheer hubris.

The goriest film of the series kicks off with a flamboyant beheading with a scythe (seen only as a spray of blood across a window) and is full of bloody brain surgery, conveniently offscreen but vividly suggested in the slurping sound effects of surgical saws and drills and the gallons of blood left in their wake. Freddie Jones is heartbreaking as Frankenstein’s latest creature, a once insane scientist who awakens to find himself cured but trapped in a grotesque alien body. When he attempts to communicate with his wife, half hiding in a dark corner while she peers around and sees only a monster, Fisher offers the most affecting moment of pathos on the entire series. It helps make this one of the best films in the series and one of the unsung Hammer classics.

Frankenstein-must-be-destroyed-poster

Christopher Lee stars as the malevolent Count in both Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). The former, directed by Freddie Francis, picks up where Dracula: Prince Of Darkness left off, revived from an icy grave by the blood of a priest and pursued by a Monsignor (Rupert Davies). The latter, directed by Peter Sasdy, moves the location to Victorian London where the Count is resurrected by a depraved English Lord (Ralph Bates) and proceeds to revenge himself on the men who killed his servant by seducing their daughters and sending them to murder their own fathers.

All four films, previously available on DVD, have been newly remastered for Blu-ray. The colors are vivid, not to say appropriately lurid, and the images strong and sharp. They are distinctive upgrades from the previous DVD releases, which are well over a decade old. There are no supplements.

All four films also available in separate volumes.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

DVD of the Week – ‘The Mummy: Universal Legacy Series’ July 8, 2008

There are actually a bunch of Mummy special editions coming out from Universal, not so coincidentally in anticipation of the new “Mummy Goes East” sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” with Brendan Fraser taking on an ancient Jet Li (with the help of Michelle Yeoh). But I’m not referring to the “Raiders of the Lost Tomb” action-movie reboot of the classic monster movie but the 1932 original with Boris Karloff. While not the equal of the genre-defining Frankenstein and Dracula, it launched its own series of mummy-karloff.jpgsequels, none of which were nearly as evocative as the original.

The great cinematographer Karl Freund (whose resume includes Metropolis and Dracula) made his directorial debut here, creating a film that is all languid pacing, deep stares, and delicate, shadowy photography. While sedate and ageless on the big screen, it makes a less successful transition to the small screen, slowing to a crawl in its most leisurely moments. But it’s still a lushly photographed classic with a marvelous performances by the mesmerizing Karloff, as the former high priest embalmed alive for his forbidden love and awakened as a mummy 4,000 years later by a British expedition, and the haunted Zita Johan (in her only Universal horror turn) as the reincarnation of his ancient love.

The two-disc set includes two commentary tracks and a bunch of featurettes, but the essential supplements is Kevin Brownlow’s 1998 documentary Universal Horrors. Originally shown on Turner Classic Movies, this was the first production from film historian and silent-movie expert Brownlow since the death of his long-time filmmaking partner David Gill and it’s not as rich or magical as his earlier documentaries on cinema history (among them Unknown Chaplin, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow and the silent film history masterpiece Hollywood), but it’s still one of the smartest, most informed and most well-made film documentaries you’ll have the pleasure to see on DVD. And true to Brownlow’s expertise, it’s all well grounded in the great expressionist horror films if the twenties that influenced the gothic style of the Universal’s early thirties monster movie masterpieces.

Read my complete review here on my MSN DVD column. Continue reading “DVD of the Week – ‘The Mummy: Universal Legacy Series’ July 8, 2008”