Boris Karloff: Icons of Horror Collection (2006, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
In my mind, Karloff will forever be tied to Universal Studios and their monster movies. However, despite making his largest impact with Universal, even as early as the mid-30s (right after & during the success of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein) it does not appear has was under exclusive contract with them. During this time, he was featured in movies for 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., MGM, RKO and a few smaller studios. He also found time to sign a six-picture deal with Columbia Pictures and thanks to Sony (who owns Columbia) we’re getting to see a few of those movies on DVD for the first time…
The Black Room (1935)
This is a nice little movie that shows Karloff at the peak of his abilities and just four years removed from the huge success of Frankenstein. I find it out that after such success with Universal that Karloff would go on to have a stint with Columbia Pictures. Anyway, Karloff plays twins in this one: one evil, one good. The Black Room really showcases just how great of an actor Karloff was as he plays the murderous, evil & manipulative Gregor while just as easily playing Gregor’s charming, considerate & gentlemanly brother Anton. Not an essential horror film (in fact, I’ve read one review calling it a “dark, Gothic melodrama” instead and I agree) but I highly recommend it for anyone that is fan of Karloff’s.
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
Between 1939 and 1941, Karloff did four movies for Columbia Pictures known as the “Mad Science” series. Whether this was what it was being referring to then or if it is a more modern term, I do not know. The films weren’t connected, didn’t have the same characters (though like the Universal monster movies, they used a lot of the same actors), it was just Karloff playing a mad scientist in each film. The Man They Could Not Hang was the first in the series and is tragic in that it features a good man (though a bit misguided) who society crucifies and thus he becomes the evil they already thought him to be. It’s a good revenge flick with Karloff yet again showing he is great at playing good and evil.
Before I Hang (1940)
A lot of similarities to The Man They Could Not Hang (well-meaning yet misguided scientists who try to overcome death become driven to madness) but instead of revenge, Karloff’s murderous rampages are due to having a killer’s blood now flowing through his body. Nothing special, I liked it better when it was called The Man They Could Not Hang.
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
Following in the tradition of Arsenic and Old Lace (the stage version Karloff enjoyed much success with), this one is a dark comedy farce of errors, misunderstandings and murder. Karloff does well in his role as the absent minded scientist trying to create a superman but Lorre does even better as the absent minded mayor/sheriff/doctor/salesman. It was nice to see Karloff & Lorre spending time on screen together but overall this one fell flat with me.
Disc 1 is definitely worth watching. Both The Black Room and The Man They Could Not Hang feature Karloff at the height of his powers and are good thrillers. Disc 2 features two rather bland and forgettable movies. Still, I’m happy to have finally seen them. The collection is still worth picking up though just for the first two features.