A Criterion collection for the rest of us
A. Gammill | West Point, MS United States | 12/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You know, the Criterion Collection has long been a leader in providing classic films in the best possible condition, first on laserdisc and later on DVD. And when it comes to film restoration, they're certainly among the best companies out there.
And yet, it is my feeling that the company is largely unknown outside a relatively small but dedicated group of film enthusiasts, whose passion for the art of cinema equals that of Criterion. Well, that, plus the fact that the company has largely focused their attention on foreign films that the mainstream moviegoing public has never heard of. Sure, there have been exceptions, such as their first-class Hitchock releases (Notorious, Spellbound, Rebecca and a few others); bona-fide classics like Spartacus, the Stones' Gimme Shelter; and a few oddball modern choices: The Royal Tennenbaums, Armageddon (?), The Rock (??).
Which is why I was so happy to find a couple of cult sci-fi films in their catalog a few years back. Both the original version of The Blob (1958), and the sorely underrated Fiend Without a Face filled me with hope that maybe, just maybe, these folks were capable of something more. In fact, the trailers for all four of the films in this collection were included as bonus materials on Fiend.
Now, the films themselves: The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood are were vehicles for Boris Karloff, who was in his sixties when they were made. As he had done many times before (and would continue to do), Karloff plays a mad doctor-type. Corridors is the better of the two, with a young Christopher Lee in a supporting role as a ruthless killer. Neither film could really be called "classic," but both are solid, low-budget chillers that fans of Karloff and/or Lee will enjoy.
The Atomic Submarine is more straight sci-fi adventure story, with the title vehicle facing off against an underwater UFO. Again, this is a "B" picture all the way, but it retains some charm in spite of an overuse of newsreel footage.
First Man Into Space treads more familiar territory, as an organism from space inhabits the body of an astronaut. The thing craves blood, so you can guess what happens next. Not a bad little film, but probably the least of the bunch.
I have to applaud Criterion for making these films available in pristine condition. I'm sure there is an audience for more of the same type of films. The only downfall to this collection is--as with all Criterion discs--the price.
Man, tough crowd
E. M. Collins | Boston, Massachusetts United States | 02/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"wow, people are not giving this set enough credit. These films, while not the best Karloff films, or the best examples of the genere, are all entertaining. The karloff films are much better than people are making them out to be. the atomic submarine and first man into space are also very fun films. all of the films look great.
But, the extras, including commentaries ON ALL FOUR FILMS is what makes this set. The commentaries are nformative, interesting, a great listen.
if you like classic horror/sci-fi and enjoy good commentary tracks, buy this set.
The criterion edition of fiend w/o a face is also highly reccomended.
A competent but unexceptional set
Henry S. Leavitt | White River Junction, Vermont | 04/18/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This is an odd package for Criterion, a company better known for foreign films and art house selections packaged with academic commentaries. It's a good collection of Richard and Alex Gordon features but many viewers, I suspect, will find the packet overpriced. Of the four features, two are Boris Karloff dramas and two are science fiction adventures. All are in black and white in good transfers with clear sound and subtitles.
THE HAUNTED STRANGLER (UK, 1958; aka GRIP OF THE STRANGLER) is a minor classic with Karloff playing a writer who becomes involved in the case histories of a bizarre series of murders. Karloff's performance, I thought, was strong and the plot inventive without feeling contrived.
I found CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (UK, 1958) less satisfying. The highly fictionalized account of the discovery of anesthesia in Britain seemed mechanical to me and a body-snatching subplot felt extraneous and gratuitous. There are nice performances by Karloff and Christopher Lee, however.
THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (USA, 1959) follows a crew of frogmen, scientists, and crusty sailors in pursuit of a flying saucer that has been sinking ocean ships. If it's possible to imagine an sf production spending less on set design than on script development, this is that production, an effort, unfortunately, not good enough to be convincing nor bad enough to evoke the spirit of Ed Wood. It's amusing the first time through but that's about all.
FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (USA, 1959) is an sf adventure in the Science Creates a Monster tradition. A standard space adventure/monster movie is enlivened by some good performances, including an amusing cameo by character actor Roger Delgado.
Rather than the scholarly audio commentaries that Criterion is known for, chatty conversations between Tom Weaver and producers Richard Gordon or Alex Gordon accompany the films. I found the commentaries somewhat disappointing, since none of them talks much about these films, but they are full of anecdotes of other productions. Richard Gordon is especially fond of his work with Karloff who, even in his 70s, was unfailingly hard-working and charming. Christopher Lee was a very good actor though sometimes difficult to work with. The only really harsh words are for Tim Burton who slandered the character of Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD and for Eddie Wood himself who "couldn't direct traffic." A low point is the commentary on First Man into Space where Tom Weaver kills time by reading a list of historical events he gathered from the internet.
Collectors with a passion for 'B' sf adventure and Boris Karloff dramas will enjoy this box set, but those simply looking for a good buy on a classic set of thrilling wonder stories might look elsewhere. I would strongly recommend the Val Lewton box set that Warner brought out. It contains excellent transfers of CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and other Lewton classics, with very good commentaries (though not on all the films). Universal has also produced fine collections of DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN, THE INVISIBLE MAN, and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON with their immediate sequels. Again, the transfers are very good and each set includes additional material.
On a scale of 0 to 5, my individual ratings would be (* for the films and c for the commentaries):
***/cc The Haunted Strangler
*/cc Corridors of Blood
o/c The Atomic Submarine
**/o First Man into Space
Horror / Sci-Fi Grand Slam...
Bindy Sue FrÝnkŁnschtein | under the rubble | 11/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"MONSTERS AND MADMEN is a brilliant quadruple feature for lovers of these two genres. First, there's the Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein, Black Sabbath) classic, THE HAUNTED STRANGLER about a novelist (Boris) who becomes obsessed w/ the innocence of a man hanged for a series of murders, only to become a malignant force himself! Karloff is superb, w/ his sympathetic portrayal, complete w/ facial contortions. Next, in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, Karloff returns as a surgeon trying to find a less traumatic / painful way to perform amputations. Unfortunately, his good intentions are counteracted by his own addiction, as well as the unscrupulous people he must deal with. This leads to murder and despair. Watch for an early, captivating role for Christopher Lee (To The Devil A Daughter, The Wicker Man) as the malevolant "Resurrection Joe". FIRST MAN INTO SPACE has an astronaut who returns to earth as a killer beast, looking much like a burnt tuna casserole in humanoid form! Marshall Thompson (It The Terror From Beyond Space) does his best to track down and save his friend to little avail. Finally, in THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE, Arthur Franz (Invaders From Mars) and the crew of the Tiger Shark must find the reason behind a number of maritime disasters. Along the way, they encounter a UFO w/ a nasty critter (an octopoid cyclops!) aboard that simply must be terminated. There you have it. If you love the 1950s, horror, sci-fi, or Karloff, then this collection is calling your name! These four films are perfect additions to any H /S-F shelf..."