Lugosi (and Karloff) in some of Universal's best classics
pestcomics | Long Island, New York USA | 07/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have enjoyed the well-priced Universal Legacy Collections featuring their classic monster films of the 30s and 40s and have been waiting and hoping for them to release the balance of their classic horror titles. This DVD collection is the one I have been wishing for. Now I will finally have two of my favorite horror films of the 1930s, "The Black Cat" and "The Raven," on DVD.
As much as I am delighted by this set I find it an interesting and somewhat sad chronicle of Lugosi's early film career. The disc features an early 30s film following his success in "Dracula" where he is the main star ("Murders in the Rue Morgue" 1932), two films which team him in a role of equal stature with his rival, Boris Karloff ("The Black Cat" and "The Raven," 1934 and 35 respectively), a film which exploited the marquee value of his name but gave him a more minor role ("The Invisible Ray" 1937), and, finally, a film which saw him slip into a rather demeaning supporting role ("Black Friday" 1940) beside his old equal, Karloff.
Within eight years Lugosi had gone from full-fledged leading man to supporting actor. It must have compounded matters for Lugosi to have Karloff continue to receive leading roles while he was reduced to small supporting roles in Karloff's films. The duo would work again in 1945 in RKO's "The Body Snatchers" where Lugosi, again, played a minor role opposite Karloff's much meatier portrayal. Lugosi's career was on a steady downward slide by this point (with few exceptions like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein") and would continue to decline through the next decade until his death in the mid-1950s.
The best part of this collection are the earliest films (pre-1937) which represent Universal's golden age of horror. This era saw the original "Dracula" (1931), "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Invisible Man" (1933), and Universal's masterpiece "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). In the early 30s Universal was a studio committed to making quality horror films. In fact, these horror films saved Universal from certain bankruptcy in the dark days of the Great Depression (Abbott and Costello and Deanna Durbin would do the same for the studio ten years later). With the support of Carl Leammle, Jr. they produced A films with good scripts, good directors (Tod Browning, James Whale, etc.), moody sets and photography, amazing makeup by Jack Pierce, and wonderful casts.
As mentioned earlier, "The Black Cat" and "The Raven" are the two films I will enjoy most on this set and they alone are well worth the $20 dollar price tag. Both films take their titles from the works of Edgar Allen Poe but, unlike "Murders in the Rue Morgue," that is where the connection ends. "The Black Cat" is a pre-code tale of revenge and Satanism set in a spectacular art deco mansion built on the site of a bloody World War I battlefield. Lugosi and Karloff are bitter enemies who meet for one final battle of wits. "The Raven" sees Lugosi as a demented, Poe loving, plastic surgeon who disfigures Karloff and blackmails him into aiding him in a plot to punish a woman who has scorned him. Both films are perfect vehicles for their two stars and represent the well-mounted, quality horror product Universal became famous for."
Four of five films great; DVD problems explained & solution
RES | Boston, MA, USA | 10/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"These represent the Universal films outside the "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" franchises that starred Bela Lugosi--or more accurately, Karloff and Lugosi in all but one. Once Karloff entered the Universal scene a few months after "Dracula" (1931) and created such a hit with the Frankenstein monster--eclipsing Lugosi's Dracula, the studio wasn't keen to feature Lugosi as their horror star any longer: very ungrateful of them. So it leaves a "Lugosi Collection" from Universal largely as pairings with Karloff. "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932) is exclusively a Lugosi vehicle. In "The Black Cat" (1934), the two are matched. Lugosi dominates in "The Raven" (1935), while "The Invisible Ray" (1936) is more a Karloff vehicle. "Black Friday' (1940), by far the weakest film, shouldn't be here at all, as Lugosi only has a small role.
Since others have already spoken at length about the films, and since most people buying this two-sided disc know what they're getting, I want to address the DVD mastering problems experienced. Many have noted that, regardless of player, films on the disc pixelate and freeze at random points. This is a problem with Universal's DVD-18 mastering process, which has flaws that have since caused Universal to return to their earlier, more reliable DVD-9 process.
In the meantime, both this disc and the 2-DVD "The Hammer Horror Series" have more than their share of bad discs. Contacting Universal itself will serve no purpose: even though they are aware of the problem, the pressings are out there and are not being remastered. You just have to be persistent and keep exchanging defective copies at retailers--even if you have to get a refund and start again with another dealer; the films are worth it. Eventually, you *will* get one without glitches. It took me three copies from two places for both this and "The Hammer Horror Series." Importantly, you don't have to play through all the films in real time to know if you have a flawed copy: just scan through the films in the player at 4x-10x speed (no faster), and if there is a glitch, the player will freeze at the spot. That way, you don't have to watch through eight 90-minute movies on every copy you try out; it will take only 10% of the time to check the set, and you don't even have to be in the room. If you come back and the image is frozen, rather than having finished the film being scanned and having returned to the menu, then you have a bad one."
Great films but not a hint of restoration!
JasKing | USA | 09/20/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, I will say right now I am a fan of Universal's classic horror product including their B-movies of the 40s as well as a lifelong Lugosi fan. I am also very happy Universal chose to release this collection containing some of their best titles of the 30s ("The Black Cat" and "The Raven" being the best on this set) and some of Bela Lugosi's best work on film. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about this set. Let me go over the collection:
THE FILMS THEMSELVES: Not a hint of restoration on any of the films. This to me is a huge disappointment. As far as I know Universal made no claims of restoration so they have not falsely advertised or anything. I guess I am just so spoiled by Warner's classic releases which always seem to be restored and remastered.
The prints don't look horrendous or anything but they could have looked spectacular. The prints they used to make this collection are probably what they show in syndication (like you'd be likely to see on TCM). There is a lot of graininess in all of the films. "The Raven" even has some blotchiness (like dirt on the print) in some early scenes. You can also see lots of scratches all over the place.
If MGM can take a film like "The Ghoul" that was once considered lost and make it look brand new then Universal could have invested some cash in restoring these classic horror films. They did a much better job with their Monster Legacy Collections. I am surprised they put no effort into this set. These are some of the most famous films they ever made!
P.S.: I strongly advise old-time horror fans to buy "The Ghoul". Great film, great restoration.
THE EXTRAS: All I can say to describe the extras in this collection is threadbare. All you get are some battered old trailers. They don't even have a trailer for every film! Glaringly omitted is the famous trailer for "The Black Cat". This is the one that had specially shot footage of Karloff and Lugosi in which they refer to each other as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein". I have seen this trailer on AMC and TCM, it could have easily been included.
Worst of all there is no featurette. Couldn't they have included even a little 10 or 15 minute feature to honor Lugosi?
PACKAGING: I actually like the packaging here. There is a nice outer cardboard box that an inner cardboard holder fits into (similar to Warner's "Citizen Kane", "Casablanca", and "Adventures of Robin Hood" releases). In typical Universal style there is only one double-sided disk. I have read a lot of complaints on Amazon about shoddy disks from Universal. I have never encountered one yet (knock on wood) and this disk played well for me.
BOTTOM LINE: If you have been wanting these films since you got a DVD player, like me, then I would suggest getting this set ASAP. You can't lose considering the price. If you want these films restored and looking their best then wait until the day Universal offers up new releases of restored and remastered prints of them. Who knows when that day will come?
I would give the films on this set 5 stars but can only give this specific release 3 stars."
Half assed dvd release - The best film of the bunch is the s
A. Bazin | NYC | 12/02/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"While it's great to see these films on DVD, once again Universal shows it's complete lack of respect and care for their own classic films. This should come as no surprise after Universal released the classic monsters film library via shoddy, pooly packaged DVD collections that were primarily designed to promote "Van Helsing," a film that crapped all over the original monster classics and stunk so bad audiences got a pre-emptive whiff without even buying a ticket. There must be no one left at the studio that gives a damn about these films, which is far more than simply just a shame. While "Murders in the Rue Mourge" (the second best film in the bunch) is a terrific print, "The Black Cat" has had ZERO efffort put into it's transfer - it is virually indistinguishable from the VHS tape (combo with "the Raven" which I've owned for over 10 years) when played side by side for comparison - no joke. The fact that Universal doesn't even seem to know that "the Black Cat" is such an amazing film irks me no end. Even the brief, generic capsules about each film inside the box refer to "The Raven" as a "horror masterpiece" while "Black Cat" is referred to as a "shocking horror classic." The Raven is a fun film but it is SO far from a masterpiece, as anyone who has seen it can tell you, while "The Black Cat" is one of the greatest horror films ever made. I haven't even had the heart to check out the other discs (all films I know well). The fact that the best film by far on the disc has been given such assembly line, shoddy treatment is unforgiveable. Universal should be ashamed of themselves, and as punishment should be banished to their vaults do immaculate digital transfers of all their early classic horror films. Then it would be nice to see them release those transfers in decent packaging, though the "The Bela Lugosi Collection" is at least a small step in the right direction, as far as the packaging goes!"
1 great - 1 good - 3 ok - Bela and Boris Together
Boudica | Ohio USA | 06/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This collection is comprised of some of Bela Lugosi's not so well known roles in which he did not play Dracula. But it also contains some of the finest acting on his part and are overlooked and overshadowed by his Dracula role.
The films are all black and white, off beat and are horror films in nature. They are good quality films, nicely restored and the sound is good. There is one disk in this collection, double sided.
We start the rampage with "Murders in the Rue Morgue", an interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe's classic, and we find Lugosi as a mad scientist looking for a human bride for his gorilla. Gorilla finds girl, gorilla kidnaps girl, mad scientist injects girl with gorilla blood, girl dies, repeat till we get to the star, boyfriend tracks them down, kills mad scientist and gorilla. Gorilla always loses girl. Actually, it's not all that bad. Love the faces on Bela as the mad scientist.
The real reason to purchase this collection is the second film "The Black Cat". This has got to be one of the most amazing films of all time. Staring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, with Karloff as the Priest of Satan and he plays the part very well. Oh, the cat-phobic Lugosi is a scream. This is a classic chiller; sit on the edge of your chair film. Not to be missed.
Another very good reason, and probably the best offering of this collection is "The Raven". Here again we are treated to the magical chemistry of Lugosi and Karloff, in a very art deco photographed film of two enemies, one woman and torture of incredible horror. This one will leave you stunned in it's ability to shock. A classic, not to be missed.
"The Invisible Ray" again presents us with the Lugosi/Karloff duo, with Karloff as the misshaped doctor who is afflicted with a "deadly touch" and Lugosi as the mad scientist who tries to cure him. Not as good as the other two offerings, but it is one of those "mad doctors go mad" films.
Final entry here is "Black Friday". This is the final Lugosi/Karloff entry, and it involves brain surgery, two friends and gangsters and hidden money. This one plays with a more of a "Jekyll and Hyde" film, with Karloff in the split personality role. The acting is good, the film is not bad, but not one of the better ones.
Overall, for the two films mentioned, this is well worth the purchase. You can not find these films on their own, and with the other films thrown into the mix, this isn't a bad collection of Lugosi films, though all but one also features Karloff, so it should be called the Lugosi/Karloff collection. Collectors of classic horror films will not want to miss this disk from their collection."