Appellate Judge James A. Stewart doesn't find Karloff and Lugosi scary, but Kay Kyser? Aiiiieeeeeee!
Our reviews of The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (published March 8th, 2011), The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published August 17th, 2012), The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published August 27th, 2013), The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray) (published September 16th, 2014), and The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published March 4th, 2011) are also available.
"What a beautiful spot for a murder!"
You don't have to be a movie buff to have heard the names of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Each starred in an iconic Universal horror classic—Frankenstein for Karloff and Dracula for Lugosi—and had a long career despite, or perhaps because of, typecasting. That means there's plenty of material for DVD collections, some of it excellent and some of it, well, less than excellent. You'll find some of both in Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics.
Facts of the Case
Four movies are featured on two discs:
"He seems to be driven by strange impulses, as if he were the
instrument of some supernatural power."
"Your coming here may be the solution to all my problems."
"Would you please turn off that radio?"
Zombies on Broadway
"Nobody's ever seen one? Where are you guys getting one for the
Of Boris Karloff's two starring entries, I enjoyed The Walking Dead most. It's a little picture that has more of a noirish B-movie feel, even with the revival of a dead man as its science-fictional centerpiece. It modestly creates an atmosphere of paranoia, hinting at a divine justice but leaving things ambiguous. It also gives Karloff a good screen role, allowing him to be sympathetic and frightening, using his chilling eyes to good effect.
Frankenstein 1970 offers more of a creepy atmosphere with its mansion, underground crypt, secret lab, hidden passages, and strange bloody experimentation. However, the atmosphere makes it predictable rather than frightening as the monster goes out to get spare parts. The fake scares early on, in scenes set up by the TV crew, are more unnerving than the monster's rampage. Karloff's evil laugh and the sinister organ music he plays feel hammy. The cluelessness of the folks on the TV crew until the last reel is astounding, making the film seem even more ridiculous. The ending works in an interesting suggestion about free will, but it's too late to be taken seriously. The trailer stresses the atomic age aspects; it's trying to sound relevant but I doubt that Frankenstein 1970 ever did. A line from the commentary, delivered after an opening that proves to be a false scare, sums it up: "If the movie had ended right there, it would be a four-star picture."
I liked You'll Find Out, but even with Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre in the cast, it doesn't really belong in a DVD collection of "Horror Classics." The trailer stresses "5 new song hits," and it delivers what it promises: musical interludes with Kay Kyser and his band, including Ginny Simms, Ish Kabibble (Merwyn Bogue), Harry Babbitt, and Sully Mason, with a novelty number at the end as a highlight. Between songs, Kyser plays scared as he and his bandmates try to protect an heiress from killers. Kyser's halting voice and animated face lend themselves well to the coward routine, and the goofiness of Kyser and company is infectious enough that you'll overlook the obviousness of the jokes. If you're into old-time radio, watching the hyperactive Kyser in action in a game show sequence at the beginning will be a bonus.
Zombies of Broadway also goes for laughs. Its pairing of a fast-talking thin guy (Wally Brown) and a slow-witted chubby guy (Alan Carney) reminded me of Abbott and Costello, without the on-screen rapport or slick writing. The best part of this movie was Anne Jeffreys as a knife-throwing cafe singer. The worst part was a blackface bit by Carney, one of many stereotypical routines in the movie. Unless you absolutely have to see every Lugosi movie, I'd skip this one.
The two movies on Disc One include commentaries. Author Greg Mack serves up lots of trivia about The Walking Dead, most interestingly noting that censorship and Karloff's suggestions led to many deviations from the original script, and that H.G. Wells visited the movie's set. Actress Charlotte Austin teams with Bob Burns and Tom Weaver for the commentary on Frankenstein 1970. They have a lot of fun as they share trivia, including the story of an Armed Forces Radio broadcast from Frankenstein's castle in 1952 that inspired the movie.
There are occasional problems with picture quality, as you'd expect with a package of black-and-white B-movies. Frankenstein 1970 and You'll Find Out were in the best shape, while flecks, spots, and lines were found in The Walking Dead and Zombies on Broadway. Zombies also had an apparent problem with a negative in one scene.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While there's only one genuinely chilling movie here and a dud that spoils the set, You'll Find Out really is a comic find, and Frankenstein 1970 could well appeal with its unintentional laughs.
I loved The Walking Dead. If you're into old-fashioned creepy movies, you might want this set just for that one. The rest of the set, however, consists of a not-very-scary frightfest (Frankenstein 1970), a likable but fluffy musical comedy (You'll Find Out), and a horrible comedy (Zombies of Broadway). Karloff comes out of it decently, but Lugosi isn't up to classic par in either of his appearances. If you're looking for nostalgia, three out of four aren't bad, but horror fans are likely to be disappointed.
Guilty of going from one end of the scale to the other.
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