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Warner Home Video presents
Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection (Mark of the Vampire / The Mask of Fu Manchu / Doctor X / The Return of Doctor X / Mad Love / The Devil Doll) (1932-1939)

"You can't move. You can't sleep. You will be frantic with thirst. You will be unspeakably foul. But here you will lie, day after day, until you tell."
- Dr. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 09, 2006

Stars: Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Lionel Barrymore
Other Stars: Elizabeth Allan, Jean Hersholt, Donald Meek, Henry Wadsworth, Carroll Borland, Lewis Stone, Myrna Loy, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Dennis Morgan, John Litel, Huntz Hall, Mae Busch, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy, Keye Luke, Maureen O'Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Henry B. Walthall
Director: Tod Browning, Charles Brabin, Michael Curtiz, Vincent Sherman, Karl Freund

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, torture, sexual depravity, thematic material, cannibalism)
Run Time: 06h:52m:44s
Release Date: October 10, 2006
UPC: 012569792876
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+AC A-

DVD Review

During the horror booms of the 1930s, Universal Pictures was the clear leader in the genre. But that doesn't mean that other studios were content to let Carl Laemmele corner that profitable market. This three-disc set collects six minor gems from M-G-M and First National Pictures, including some nasty Pre-Code material as well as appearances by many notable stars (including Humphrey Bogart in his only horror role).

Mark of the Vampire (1935), a remake of the lost London After Midnight (1927), reunites Bela Lugosi and Tod Browning from their epochal picture, Dracula, with Lugosi back in the vampire cloak. The story centers on the murder of Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert), found dead with puncture wounds in his throat and drained of blood. His daughter, Irena (Elizabeth Allan) finds herself apparently the next victim of Count Mora (Lugosi) and his mysterious daughter Luna (Carroll Borland). In opposition are Lionel Barrymore as Professor Zellin, a rather wild-eyed Van Helsing substitute, and the hard-headed Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill). While there are some very entertaining performances here, the script is a complete mess, opting for a sudden naturalistic explanation for the supernatural goings-on, which doesn't begin to explain what has been presented onscreen in the previous 50 minutes. Nor is it ever made clear why Count Mora has a bleeding wound to his head. But seeing Lugosi back in the cape is certainly worthwhile, and the photography of James Wong Howe is frequently stunning, especially the marvelous shots of Mora and Luna through massive spiderwebs. Despite a lot of shortcomings, it's far better than its reputation would suggest.

Fresh off his success in Frankenstein and just before making The Mummy, Boris Karloff got into yet another outlandish makeup as he took on the Sax Rohmer's supervillain, the title character in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Dr. Fu Manchu is in pursuit of the tomb of Genghis Khan, the conquerer's mask and scimitar of gold being the key to having himself declared the leader of a new horde, thanks to a series of prophecies by his daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy). The key is held by archaeologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant), who knows the location of the tomb, and Fu Manchu arranges his kidnaping and torture. Sir Lionel's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) leads an expedition to recover the relics, but they do not count on the insidious doctor's infiltration of the locals. It is up to Sir Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) to save the day and thwart the Yellow Peril. Notorious for its crazed sadism and perverse sexuality, the film is full of ingenious methods of torture, all gleefully exercised by Karloff and Loy; while Karloff portrays Fu Manchu as cruel for the sake of being cruel, Fah Lo See is virtually orgasmic over the torments she enthusiastically enacts. While Sheila is a strong lead, Morley is histrionic throughout, overacting wildly and shrilly. Lewis Stone is solid and endlessly dignified as Smith. Karloff gets a bunch of great scenes, and he gets to play with some of Kenneth Strickfaden's electical gadgetry as seen in Frankenstein, complete with a death ray. It's striking, and much of the censorship that was inflicted upon the film over the decades has been reversed.

Lionel Atwill takes center stage in Doctor X 1932, a murder mystery that involves a full-moon killer with tendencies toward cannibalism. The clues in half a dozen murders tend to point towards the Academy for Medical Research run by Dr. Xavier (Atwill), and numerous doctors seem to be suspects: several have an interest in cannibalism, and another has a fascination with the moon. Also involved is a mouthy comic relief reporter, Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy), who conducts his own investigation. Xavier's daughter Joanne (everyone's favorite damsel in distress, Fay Wray) finds herself in deep trouble when the moon comes out as well. Seen here in a rare two-strip Technicolor print, the horror elements are truly grotesque, with a highly deformed monstrosity lurking about. The Pre-Code status is unmistakable: there is a scene set in a brothel, the theme of cannibalism is rampant, and Wray is highly sexual in her bathing suit and gauzy clothing. If it weren't for the truly odious and constant comic relief newsmen and maids, it would be a much better movie. Notable director Michael Curtiz is at the helm, and the visuals are frequently striking. Particularly memorable are the extreme close-ups of the doctor suspects at the moment of truth, all askew at different angles. The performances of Atwill and Wray ring true throughout, and the makeup effects in the finale are ghastly indeed. Suspense is a little artificial, but when the climax comes it's pretty powerful nevertheless.

The sequel-only-in-name, The Return of Doctor X (1939), features none of the original cast or characters, but does feature a pre-superstardom Bogey in the title role. One common thread is the wisecracking newspaperman, Walt 'Wichita' Garrett (Wayne Morris), who is in hot water with his editor for reporting the murder of Broadway actress Angela Merrova (Lya Lys) after she turns up quite alive. Garrett turns to his friend Dr. Michael Rhodes (Dennis Morgan), who suspects something is wrong after a blood donor turns up dead, drained of blood. Bogart appears as undead doctor Maurice Xavier, consuming the blood from his victims to stay alive, having been executed for murder some years earlier. The comic relief is a bit more broad, but actually more tolerable in execution than in the original. The story moves along at a reasonably good clip, though it's fairly workmanlike in style. Suspense is at a decent level, though the earlier film outdoes it substantially in that respect. Bogart's portrayal is extremely peculiar, with an effeminate affection for a little white bunny, and a white lightning streak in his hair. But he makes a suitably cadaverous threat, and had he not made his name in tough-guy roles, he clearly could have done fine work in the horror genre.

Peter Lorre had been an accomplished star in Europe in the early 1930s, but like so many Jewish actors he came to America to escape the Nazi menace. His first American picture was Mad Love (1935), a remake of The Hands of Orlac (1924) from Maurice Renard's novel. One of the most effective and twisted pictures on the set, it focuses on the obsessive love of Dr. Gogol (Lorre) for actress Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) in the Theatre of Horrors in Paris. When her husband, concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive, the original Dr. Frankenstein) is badly injured in a train wreck, she turns to Gogol for help. Eager to please, he arranges for a transplant of the hands of executed knife-throwing murderer Rollo (Edward Brophy). But the hands seem to have a will of their own, unwilling to play the piano but happy to throw knives and kill. Gogol senses an opportunity, and encourages Orlac's descent into madness with the expectation that this will make Yvonne available to him. The presentation, directed by great cinematographer Karl Freund, and shot by Gregg Toland, is visually arresting and highly quirky. Gogol is so obsessed he buys a wax figure of Yvonne to keep in his home; Lorre's intensity and delirium is palpable. Clive is an inspired choice for Orlac, since his hands don't look like they belong to his body in the first place. Drake offers a desperate performance that is convincing in its devotion. There's yet another comic newspaperman, Reagan, but it makes a huge difference here that there's an actual comedian in the role: Ted Healy, the originator of the Three Stooges. Freund provides some memorable montages and dream sequences that raise the visuals far above the standard-issue B-movie horrors.

The final picture in the set, The Devil Doll (1936) again features Lionel Barrymore, but in a very different role indeed. After 17 years on Devil's Island, Paul Lavond (Barrymore) and Marcel (silent star Henry B. Walthall) escape, each with a dream: Lavond to secure vengeance on the three men who framed him and stole his bank, and Marcel to perfect his process of miniaturization: the creatures shrink fine but are automatons capable of being mentally controlled. When Marcel suddenly dies, Lavond takes his process and goes to Paris to wreak his revenge, using miniature people to commit murder and theft. But his own identity is insecure, so Lavond assumes the persona of Mme. Mandilip, an old woman toymaker. Barrymore is having a great time in the dual role, hamming it up to a delightful extent. The miniaturization matte effects are rather dodgy, but the story works quite well. This was director Tod Browning's next-to-last picture, and it's quite moodily effective in its use of shadow and atmosphere. The sound design is quite interesting and contributes much to the impact of the film; the score by Franz Waxman doesn't hurt one bit either.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Most of the films look excellent. Mark of the Vampire and The Mask of Fu Manchu both are derived from the original negatives, and they're beautiful throughout, with plenty of detail and texture. Two short sections of Fu Manchu are rather dupey and seem to be from a later print, emphasizing just how good the source materials are otherwise. Doctor X is the two-strip Technicolor version, and although a little faded, this first color horror film looks decent. The art direction was clearly intended to make the most of the red-green coloring, making it a reasonable viewing experience. The print (from UCLA's collection) is somewhat worn, with scuffing and scratches throughout, but on the whole it's worthwhile to get the rare color version on DVD. The Return of Doctor X is in stunning condition, and other than a few random speckles looks like it was shot recently. Texture and detail are excellent, and even the glen plaid suit of Detective Kincaid (Charles Wilson) looks rock solid. The Devil Doll looks equally good. Mad Love has plenty of detail but has speckling throughout and an occasional scratch.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono tracks sound decent for early sound pictures. They all have the expected hiss, noise and crackle to varying degrees. Unsurprisingly, the 1939 Doctor X film sounds the best of the six pictures, with a relatively clean audio track. Dialogue is clear enough on all of the movies, though Mark of the Vampire is occasionally a bit challenging.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 126 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
5 Original Trailer(s)
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by writers Kim Newman, Steve Jones, Greg Mank, Scott MacQueen, Steve Habermann; director Vincent Sherman
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Warner provides a sturdy package of extras here. All of the features except Fu Manchu are represented by their original theatrical trailers. The one for Vampire is an amazing piece of first-rate ballyhoo with Lugosi addressing the audience in character (and with more lines than he actually has in the picture). Doctor X lards the emphasis on the comedy, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. Lorre appears out of character as himself in the Mad Love trailer, complete with laudatory quotes from Charlie Chaplin, of all people.

Every picture except The Devil Doll includes a full-length commentary by knowledgeable and enthusiastic admirers of the movies. The Return of Doctor X amazingly enough features a commentary by Steve Habermann interviewing the film's 99-year-old director, Vincent Sherman, who is still sharp as a tack, and goes over his career and the making of this picture. The commentaries are an excellent collection of materials, and the films are short enough that there's never a dead moment. The Mad Love commentary also features Habermann and is pretty good overall, although a little distasteful when Habermann performs a Lorre quote in an amateurish Lorre imitation.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Submitted for your Halloween viewing, six minor horror classics in one handy package, with beautiful source materials, sporting excellent commentaries. Highly recommended from beginning to end.

 


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