The Boris Karloff Collection (2006, Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
Delving further into Universal’s horror movies I picked up this cool little Karloff set…
Night Key (1937)
Night Key is really more of a science fiction/crime thriller rather than horror. Karloff stars as an inventor who has created a new high tech burglar alarm system. He gets swindled out of the rights by an old rival but then runs into a gang led by a man called The Kid who force him to use his knowledge of the system so they commit robberies unnoticed. The part of an old kind-hearted legally blind inventor hardly counts as one of Karloff’s “most frightening roles” but this is still an entertaining crime film. It’s interesting to see Karloff in such a role a mere six years after Frankenstein as he usually did not (or was not allowed to) steer much from the horror genre.
Tower of London (1939)
A quite brutal film for its time (I would imagine) but not really a horror movie, Tower of London is based on the rise of the future king Richard III of England. A fictitious character, an executioner by the name of Mord (played by Karloff), was created to add a bit more menace & creepiness to the movie and, boy, is Mord a creep! Basil Rathbone does a great job as the sinister & cunning Richard III, plotting and planning for the elimination of anyone standing in his way of becoming king. Karloff is great in his role of Mord as well. This was 1939, so it was right before Karloff started to look a bit too lean and frail to play physically menacing roles but he does a great job here. The film even stars a young Vincent Price as George, Duke of Clarence. Good movie.
The Climax (1944)
Pretty cool to see Karloff in what appears to be an A-list film at this point in his career. It’s even cooler to see one of the original masters of horror in color (this is his first color appearance). The Climax is a classy big budget Technicolor feature that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction/Interior Design and I have to say that nomination was well-deserved. Some of the set pieces are breathtaking and the movie makes great use of being filmed in color. After Karloff spent a few years away from Universal doing films for other studios and having much success on Broadway with Arsenic and Old Lace, this big budget Technicolor affair was offered to Boris in an attempt to appease him and bring him back to the studio for a two picture deal (the 2nd movie being House of Frankenstein released the same year). This movie is really more in line with Phantom of the Opera, combining a few chills with the opera. Directed by George Waggner (The Wolf Man) and co-starring Turhan Bey (The Mummy’s Tomb) & Susanna Foster (Phantom of the Opera). Despite the great visuals, this movie is a bit bland and the least enjoyable of the bunch.
The Strange Door (1951)
The Strange Door is a strange film. Charles Laughton does a great job as the pompous, portly, effeminate and perverse Sire de Maletroit. Very easy character to dislike but doesn’t really seem too bright as his idea of revenge here was decades in the making. Then again, the man is just plain mad so I guess that throws all logic out of the window. Karloff doesn’t have too large of a role in the movie until the second half of the film but he does play a central part in the film.
The Black Castle (1952)
Such a dark, twisted movie only lightened at times by the protagonist’s charm & wit (Richard Greene as Sir Ronald Burton). I have seen a review stating The Black Castle feels more like something Universal would’ve done in the 1930s and I can’t disagree. Count von Bruno (Stephen McNally) is downright despicable, a man who loves to torture all creatures alike mentally as well as physically and he has the dungeon full of whips, cages and a room full of crocodiles to do just that. Again, Karloff takes a backseat during most of the movie but his character does play a pivotal role in how the film ends. As the castle’s live-in doctor he is decidedly creepy and seems to be written as not evil but not as someone with a sinless past either.
Definitely a very cool set to pick up for Karloff fans even if none of these movies really count as horror. Just a solid collection of thrillers here with Night Key, Tower of London and The Black Castle standing out as highlights.