DirectorLloyd Corrigan, Ford Beebe, George Waggner, Jean Yarbrough
Release Date(s)1937/1942/1944/1946 (March 17, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B
- Overall Grade: B+
Scream Factory continues where they left off with their previous Universal Horror Collection, this time providing us with a variety of horror and mystery films from 1937 to 1946. The four films include Night Key, directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Murder on a Honeymoon); Night Monster, directed by Ford Beebe (Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe); The Climax, directed by George Waggner (The Wolf Man); and House of Horrors, directed by Jean Yarbrough (The Devil Bat). These films make up the Blu-ray release Universal Horror Collection: Volume 4.
In 1937’s Night Key, Boris Karloff is David Mallory, an old man and inventor of a particular type of burglar alarm. Unfortunately, he’s cheated out of the profits for it by Mr. Ranger, leaving his beautiful daughter Joan to take a side job. After confronting Ranger and begging him unsuccessfully to reconsider, Mallory attempts to take revenge by using what he calls a “Night Key” to subvert burglar alarms and allowing a petty crook to escape. Discovering this device is a group of gangsters who force Mallory into using the it for their own means. Meanwhile, the authorities, including a lovelorn for Joan policeman and employee of Mr. Ranger’s, Jim, continue to search for Mallory.
Night Key is uneven for the majority of its brief running time. The initial idea is interesting, but it’s constantly butting heads with unnecessary comic relief and a blossoming love story, both of which are perfunctory for the period the film was made in and ultimately useless. Eventually the film centers on the plot once the gangsters get involved, but it’s a rocky road up until that point. Most of the performances are pretty milquetoast, or certainly by the numbers, and nobody really stands out. It’s not a poor film, but not a particularly exciting one.
In 1942’s Night Monster, a series of unexplained murders are occurring near the home of the wealthy and wheelchair-bound Curt Ingston and his seemingly ill sister, Margaret. She claims to repeatedly see spots of blood around the house, but the housekeeper insists that it’s nothing, keeping Margaret under strict supervision to avoid any kind of excitement. After one of the maids quits and disappears soon thereafter, Police Captain Beggs marches into the house for an investigation. That same evening, Ingston has invited three doctors to his home, all of whom previously failed to stop the paralysis that took over his body. One by one, each of them are killed, but the identity of the killer is soon discovered with the help of a nosy horror writer and a psychiatrist.
Though Night Monster is notable for featuring Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill, it’s a fairly standard whodunit from an era that was abundant with similar whodunits. The only difference in this case is that there’s something supernatural involved, and who and how they’re doing what they’re doing comes completely out of left field. All of the performances are pretty good, though many will be disappointed that it’s a very talky film that’s light on scares and focuses more on atmosphere. It doesn’t fully succeed and the killer’s identity is not that difficult to discern, but it’s an enjoyable and mostly engaging little mystery, all said and done.
In 1944’s The Climax, an obsessed physician, Dr. Hohner (Boris Karloff), strangles and kills his love, the world famous opera singer Marcellina, not allowing anyone else to hear her sing. After she disappears and Hohner hides her body away, he continues practicing medicine for the Vienna Royal Theatre. Many years later, a young singer is noticed by the theatre’s director, and much against Hohner’s wishes, he hopes to revive one of Marcellina’s most famous musical numbers. Hohner secretly hypnotizes the young woman into never singing again, though her partner and fiance suspects that there’s something sinister going on.
The interesting thing about The Climax is that it was originally conceived as a sequel to Universal’s remake of Phantom of the Opera, which was released one year prior. The story was reworked into something else that contained similar elements, but used the still-standing sets. For many horror fans, The Climax is a disappointment as its more akin to a thriller. There’s also no mystery to it, as the opening scene shows us right away that Hohner is the killer, leaving little to discover. It’s also not a particularly suspenseful film, more in line with something like The Red Shoes. It’s not a great horror film in the strictest sense of the term, but it’s still worth the effort.
In 1946’s House of Horrors, a downtrodden artist and sculptor finds himself at the end of his rope after his work is rejected by the critics. Meaning to end his own life by throwing himself into the river, he finds a nearly-drowned disfigured man (Rondo Hatton), and is fascinated by his face. He saves him and takes him in, wanting to sculpt a likeness of him. What he doesn’t know is that this man is “The Creeper,” a madman who wanders the streets killing people with his bare hands. After overhearing his savior complaining about the people who stand in the way of his success, the Creeper steps in to help by murdering them, eventually leaving a trail back to the artist.
House of Horrors is not merely a Rondo Hatton vehicle, but it’s also unusual in that it features many prominent female roles. The men all have the final say, as per usual, but there are female characters who are driven to succeed in business, even as a mere cab driver. The sexist cliches of the time are there, but it’s refreshing to see women have more to them than to simply be victims and scream. This film, along with The Brute Man, helped to immortalize Rondo Hatton, who suffered from acromegaly after being exposed to mustard gas during World War I. It’s an engaging thriller with touches of horror, but it’s a shame that Rondo Hatton wasn’t around longer.
Scream Factory brings these four films to Blu-ray for the first time, presenting them on separate discs. Night Key is presented utilizing a new 2K scan of a fine grain print. It offers good delineation, aside from minor contrast fluctuations in a few spots. But the general appearance of the presentation is strong with a fine layer of grain, increasing only during a couple of effects sequences. There are also strong gradations of black, white, and gray. And aside from mild scratches and minor speckling, it’s a stable and clean presentation.
The audio for Night Key is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s surprisingly clean with good fidelity, only carrying minor hiss, but offering good support for dialogue and score.
Night Monster is also sourced from a new 2K scan of a fine grain print. It’s mostly clean and stable presentation with a fine layer of grain. It also features excellent gradations with good contrast. After the first reel, the quality drops slightly with a softer picture that features less obvious grain and a bit of crush. Delineation also wavers slightly. After several minutes, it switches back again. It’s likely that the main source was too damaged and another lesser presentation had to be briefly substituted. Outside of that, it’s a nice picture.
The audio for Night Monster is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Thumps and crackle are prevalent throughout, but it’s an otherwise clean track with decent fidelity. Like the video portion, the audio is slightly different after the first reel. It becomes becomes more full bodied with deeper bass, then switches back again.
The Climax also comes from a new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive. It’s one of the healthiest transfers in this release in terms of color and detail with a fine grain structure. Transitions are much softer, as to be expected, but outside of that, the presentation is quite good. It’s a lovely color presentation, and a change of pace from the films in these sets, which are all primarily in black and white. It showcases the gorgeous art direction of the film, as well as the various textures and costumes. There’s a mild bit of color breathing and contrast wavers in a couple of scenes, but blacks are mostly deep and the presentation clean and stable.
The audio for The Climax is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a tad quiet and requires a volume adjustment, but it’s an otherwise clean track with excellent support for dialogue and score. Some of the musical numbers have a mild warble to them, but the overall track is satisfactory.
House of Horrors is the only presentation to be sourced from an older master, but even so, it’s a solid one. It has the typical softness and lack of extra fine detail that a fresh scan would yield, but it doesn’t appear to be a typical dated Universal master as it’s fairly sharp and stable with only minor scratches and speckling. Contrast leaves a little to be desired, but blacks are healthy and there’s decent gradations to be had.
The audio for House of Horrors is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a solid, clean track with good support for dialogue and score, though it’s lacking in the lower registers. It’s also a louder track than the previous film.
NIGHT KEY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B
NIGHT MONSTER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B-/B-
THE CLIMAX (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B+/B+
HOUSE OF HORRORS (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B-/B
The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (NIGHT KEY)
- Audio Commentary with Tom Weaver and Dr. Robert J. Kiss
- Re-Release Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:39)
- Production Art Gallery (HD – 43 in all – 3:59)
- Image Gallery (HD – 38 in all – 3:27)
DISC TWO (NIGHT MONSTER)
- Audio Commentary with Gary D. Rhodes
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:09)
- Image Gallery (HD – 44 in all – 3:59)
DISC THREE (THE CLIMAX)
- Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:08)
- Image Gallery (HD – 49 in all – 4:26)
DISC FOUR (HOUSE OF HORRORS)
- Audio Commentary with Scott Gallinghouse
- The Creeper: Rondo Hatton at Universal (HD – 22:24)
- Image Gallery (HD – 59 in all – 5:19)
For Night Key, Tom Weaver takes up the primary commentary duties (with a few surprise cameos thrown in). As per usual, he provides his own entertaining brand of film history, which is well-researched and enjoyable, although humorously adding that no one else wanted to tackle it. Joining him is Dr. Robert J. Kiss to talk about the theatrical and TV premieres of the film. The animated production art gallery features 43 on-set stills and storyboards. The animated image gallery features 38 promotional photos, posters, lobby cards, and press ephemera. For Night Monster, author Gary D. Rhodes, whom many will be familiar with from his many books on Bela Lugosi, discusses the film at length. He gives us much background on the film’s development and production, highlighting many concerns from the censors through its various drafts, while also discussing the careers of the cast and crew. As per usual, he offers a treasure trove of information. The image gallery features 44 promotional photos, posters, lobby cards, and press ephemera. For The Climax, old favorites Kim Newman and Stephen Jones chime in for the commentary. They examine the period in which Universal made the film, professing to be fans of the film and hoping to shed more positive light on it. They do successfully, while also delving into the history of the film and those who were associated with it. Though the film is in color, the trailer is presented in black and white. The image gallery features 49 promotional photos, posters, and lobby cards. For House of Horrors, Rondo Hatton biographer and film historian Scott Gallinghouse takes up audio commentary duties, calmly taking us through the film with a wealth of information about the film and its cast and crew, particularly Hatton. He takes a few too many pauses, but the content is invaluable. The Creeper: Rondo Hatton at Universal is a featurette about the actor by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures containing interviews with Rick Baker, Fred Olen Ray, Bob Burns, Ted Newsom, C. Courtney Joyner, Larry Blamire, Michael Hoey, and Jane Adams. The image gallery features 59 on-set photos, promotional photos, posters, lobby cards, and press ephemera. Also included in the package is a 12-page insert booklet featuring photos and information about each film, as well as a set of Blu-ray credits. Everything is housed in a four-disc amaray case within slipcase packaging.
If you’re a lover of vintage Universal horror, you likely don’t need any recommendations from me about picking up this wonderful set. Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection: Volume 4 is an excellent assortment of films that have rarely been seen by modern movie fans. Making their Blu-ray debuts with some nice transfers, it’s certainly worth your money.
- Tim Salmons