The Bela Lugosi Collection [DVD]

This single-disc/five-movie DVD release is a bargain and then some. Two of the movies, Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934) and Robert Florey's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), are brilliant pieces of horror filmmaking, while the others are very nicely made and satisfying entries of somewhat variable quality in the same genre. Two of them, The Black Cat and The Raven, were paired together in the 1980s on opposite sides of the same laserdisc release, in time-compressed editions mastered from what looked like second- (or third-) generation materials. This DVD utilizes a better transfer of the same quality materials on those two movies; the digital video format eliminates many of the defects that marred the laserdisc edition, so that on The Black Cat, in particular, sections of the film -- most especially the section depicting the Black Mass -- look quite stunning. There is still some lingering graininess, however, which leads one to ponder just how good proper preservation materials of these movies would look if properly transferred. Of the remaining titles, Murders in the Rue Morgue is the best of the three and looks very good despite some staining and artifacting, owing to the sheer age of the 1932 film. This movie, although a full talkie, bears the closest resemblance to a silent movie in its acting and visual styles, and is the most beguiling on that level -- resounding with echoes of late silent cinema in its look, editing, and visual language -- as well as generally looking astonishingly good. Of the remaining titles, The Invisible Ray was widely available in a laserdisc release, and it looks very good in most spots, despite some vertical scratches in the film element. The newest of the movies in the package, Black Friday, isn't much more than a footnote to Lugosi's career; whereas he was either a star or co-star in the other four movies, he isn't much more than a supporting player in this film, with Boris Karloff and Stanley Ridges getting the best roles and screen time. The film does look gorgeous, however, without any undue scratches or other excessive blemishes, and the contrasts and details are very rich. Each movie has been liberally chapter-encoded, there are reissue trailers for three of the five films here, and the sound is good throughout. The two-sided disc opens automatically to a simple, easy-to-use menu on either side, each leading to a simple dual-layer submenu for the individual film. There are optional English and French titles available on all five movies.
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Synopsis

Murders in the Rue Morgue
Having missed the opportunity to direct Frankenstein for Universal, Robert Florey was offered Murders in the Rue Morgue as a consolation, whereupon he transformed a pedestrian property into a minor classic. Owing more to Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than to Edgar Allen Poe, the film stars Bela Lugosi as Doctor Mirakle (accent on the second syllable), a carnival sideshow entertainer who doubles as a mad scientist. Kidnapping prostitutes off the Paris streets, Mirakle endeavors to mix their blood with that of his pet gorilla. His experiments will forever be doomed to failure, however, until he is able to obtain the blood of a virgin -- and that's where Camille L'Espanye (Sidney Fox) comes into the picture. When Mirakle's monkey kidnaps Camille and murders her mother, suspicion immediately falls upon the girl's sweetheart, starving artist Pierre Dupin (Leon Waycoff, later known as Leon Ames). But by using the deductive skills displayed in the original story by Poe's master detective C. Auguste Dupin, our hero not only proves his innocence, but rescues the helpless heroine from Mirakle's clutches. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Black Cat
The first cinematic teaming of horror greats Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi is a bizarre, haunting, and relentlessly eerie film that was surprisingly morbid and perverse for its time. Peter (David Manners) and Joan Allison (Julie Bishop) are honeymooning in Budapest when they meet mysterious scientist Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Lugosi) aboard a train. When the trio's bus from the train station gets into an accident, the young couple accompanies Verdegast to the castle of the spectral Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), an architect and the leader of a Satanic cult. Poelzig's treachery in World War I caused the deaths of thousands of his and Verdegast's countrymen, as well as Verdegast's own internment as a prisoner of war. While Verdegast was detained, Poelzig married first his wife, who later died, then his daughter. Now Verdegast has come back for retribution, and the honeymooners are trapped in the two men's horrifying battle of wits. Corpses preserved in glass cases, frightening Satanic rituals, and a climactic confrontation in which one of the characters is skinned alive add to the film's pervasive sense of evil and doom, along with the stark black-and-white photography by John Mescall that makes Poelzig's futuristic mountaintop mansion even more disturbing. Karloff and Lugosi are both excellent, with Lugosi doing a rare turn as a good guy, albeit one who has gone off the rails. Having little to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, The Black Cat has grown in stature over the years and is now widely regarded as the masterpiece of director Edgar G. Ulmer and one of the finest horror films ever made. ~ Don Kaye, Rovi

The Invisible Ray
The last of Universal's three Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi teamings of the mid-1930s, The Invisible Ray is dominated by Karloff as Dr. Janos Rukh, the inventor of a laser-like heat ray. Despite the scoffing of his colleagues, Rukh intends to use the ray for the benefit of mankind, but first he requires a new element called "Radium X" to perfect his invention. Before long, he has embarked upon an expedition to Africa in search of a radium source, accompanied by his beautiful young wife Diane (Frances Drake), handsome young scientist Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton) and financiers Sir Francis and Lady Arabella Stevens (Walter Kingsford, Beulah Bondi). His system poisoned by increased exposure to radium, Rukh begins acting strangely, virtually forcing Diane into Ronald's arms. Apparently killed during the expedition, Rukh is actually alive, dementedly determined to use his "invisible" radium ray to do away with all his enemies. Soon he is able to kill with the mere touch of his hand, and this is how he disposes of his severest critic (and greatest supporter), humanitarian doctor Benet (Bela Lugosi). Rukh later tries to kill Diane as well but is unable to go through with it. The mad doctor meets his Waterloo when he is confronted by his own avenging-angel mother (Violet Kemble-Cooper). Not as lively as previous Karloff-Lugosi efforts, The Invisible Ray is nonetheless an effective melodrama. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Raven
Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff team up in this excellent 1935 chiller. Lugosi is crazed brain-surgeon Dr. Richard Vollin who is infatuated with the characters and devices found in the Edgar Allan Poe stories. When a local judge brings his beautiful daughter for brain surgery, the doctor falls in love with her and is spurned by the judge when he asks for her hand in marriage. To extract revenge, Vollin invites the judge, his daughter, and her new fiance over for dinner. He intends to try out some of his gruesome Poe gadgets on them. Before he can, enter Boris Karloff, a prison escapee who wants Vollin to do some much-needed plastic surgery on his face. Vollin obliges, but instead of making him handsome, he deforms Karloff and subjects him to his will. Now the evil Vollin can get down to business... ~ Phillip Erlewine, Rovi

Black Friday
Told in flashback as Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff) is marched into the gas chamber, Black Friday concerns kindly college professor George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges), who is seriously injured when he is caught in the middle of a gangster shootout. Kingsley's best friend Sovac performs an emergency "brain-ectomy", replacing Kingsley's gray matter with that of dying gangster Red Cannon. Though the operation is successful, the mild-mannered Kingsley occasionally lapses into Cannon's more brutal personality, and it is during one of these spells that he reveals the existence of a cache of stolen money. Hoping to use these ill-gotten funds to finance his neurological research, Sovac hypnotizes Kingsley into "becoming" Cannon, and while thus entranced the poor fellow commits several murders, including the elimination of his chief rival, mobster Eric Marnay (Bela Lugosi). Ultimately, Sovac is forced to kill Kingsley/Cannon "for the good of mankind", which brings us full circle to Death Row. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Bela Lugosi
    Bela Lugosi - Dr. Mirakle
  • Bert Roach
    Bert Roach - Paul
  • Brandon Hurst
    Brandon Hurst - Prefect of Police
  • Noble Johnson
    Noble Johnson - Janos, the Black One
  • D'Arcy Corrigan
    D'Arcy Corrigan - Morgue Keeper

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