Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive (2007, Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
Run time: 326 minutes
– Theatrical Trailers
Despite the somewhat cheap-looking cover art, this is actually a pretty solid collection of some of Universal Studios’ lesser-known B-grade horror movies from the early 1940s (I only wish there were some short write-ups about these films). Originally a Best Buy exclusive, this box set retails for $15-20 but I picked up a used copy on Amazon.com for around $10.
Let’s face it, Universal was the king of horror from the 1920s into the early 1950s and I’ve been wanting to go beyond the usual Universal Monster fare for quite sometime so this is a great DVD set to add to my collection. None of these movies are going to make anyone’s Top 10 list but they are all enjoyable in their own right. For classic horror movie buffs, I think this is an easy buy.
Now, a few thoughts on the movies…
The Black Cat (1941)
The second film (loosely) based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” to feature Bela Lugosi. I spoke about Universal’s first take on The Black Cat two years ago and while that movie had virtually nothing to do with the Poe story, it was an atmospheric chiller. Not a remake, this 1941 version has slightly more in common with the story but is really its own movie and is a horror-comedy. The comedy actually works pretty well with Hugh Herbert’s wacky Mr. Penny character getting most of the laughs while Brod Crawford’s fast-talking Hubert Smith supplies some good one-liners as well. The comedy is well-balanced in this “whodunit” murder mystery that features a good horrific climax.
Man-Made Monster (1941)
A 1950s sci-fi thriller about 9 years too early, even down to the poster. Obviously, someone agreed because this movie was re-released in 1953 under the title of The Atomic Monster. Man-Made Monster was Lon Chaney Jr.’s horror movie debut. Junior’s most famous role in The Wolf Man would come months later and it’s worth noting that he was directed by George Waggner in both films. While science-fiction isn’t really my cup of tea, the horror element grows strong in the movie’s final scenes and the entire film is carried by likable and sympathetic characters.
Horror Island (1941)
Horror Island is a mystery/comedy that centers around a treasure hunt at a castle on a deserted island. Meanwhile, there is a killer loose on the island (referred to as “The Phantom”) who tries to scare people off the island and/or just flat-out kill them in order to have the treasure to himself.
The comedy is done pretty well and there are some nice red herrings tossed in but the last 10 minutes or so get pretty silly and there are some plot-holes. Luckily the film is only 61 minutes so despite the flimsy ending Horror Island does not wear out its welcome and does not take itself seriously so I enjoyed it for what it was.
Night Monster (1942)
A misleading title, I was expecting some type of rampaging creature but that’s not what this movie is about at all (it’s really a murder mystery at its core not dissimilar to The Black Cat or Horror Island). Disappointingly, despite how the credits are positioned, Lugosi & Atwill are just part of the ensemble and aren’t the stars at all.
Captive Wild Woman (1943)
Well, we’ve all heard of the Wolf Man, here we have the Ape Woman. I’m not really into any movie featuring apes so I wasn’t expecting much from this movie but I actually ended up liking it quite a bit (despite being sick & falling asleep for about 10 minutes of it). John Carradine does well as the slimy mad scientist and it’s always a pleasure to stare at Evelyn Ankers. The film did well enough to have two sequels. Not sure this film would get approved by the ASPCA though were it filmed today.