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Universal Home Video Legacy Collection

Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection

[Frankenstein: 4.0; Bride of Frankenstein: 4.0;Son of Frankenstein: 3.5; Ghost of Frankenstein: 3.0;
House of Frankenstein: 3.0]

Dracula: The Legacy Collection
[Dracula: 4.0; Spanish language Dracula: 3.5;
Dracula’s Daughter: 3.0; Son of Dracula: 3.0;
House of Dracula: 3.0

The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection
[The Wolf Man: 3.0; Werewolf of London: 3.0;
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man: 3.5;
She-Wolf of London: 2.0]

Disc: 4.0

For fans of classic horror movies, these three box sets are to drool over. First, yes, all of these movies have been formerly available on DVD, all except House of Dracula (DVD premier), but I wanted to make the case that Universal monster collectors would do well by purchasing all three box sets.

First of all, let’s discuss the packaging. True, we do not get individual poster art of each movie, but the title depictions of Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man and Dracula are superb graphic designs. Each gatefold box easily slides out of the slipcase which features a transparent panel on the front that allows the dominant monster in the set to be seen, but the transparent panel has a spooky background setting into which the face of the monster is perfectly framed. Inside the slipcase is a one page glossy insert, one side advertising all three box sets, the other detailing (short description with cast and credits) all four or five films contained in each box set. Then we have the expensive looking gatefold DVD case, the front containing the cover monster painting and title, the back containing sepia photos with a detailed description of what is found on disc 1 (always one sided) and what is found on disc 2 (front side and back side). Then when we open the gatefold, we are hit with a panoramic two page sepia photo spread from the movie (a key scene such as the laboratory creation sequence from Frankenstein, the underground crypt sequence with Bela Lugosi as Dracula near his coffin and Claude Rains confronting his son Larry Talbot) housing the two DVDs included in the package. A defining quote from the movie runs along the bottom edge of the inside gatefold. The packaging is extremely impressive and has that expensive “we care” look.

Okay, okay, you agree that the packaging is impressive, but why splurge if we already own the movies? Fine, here’s more to consider. Each box set, containing four or five movies (The Wolf Man Box only contains four films), sells for $25 street price at Best Buy (on sale for $20). That rounds out to be $4-$5 per film. But all the extras from previous releases are included, and a marvelous new documentary appears in each box (and each documentary is different for each box set).

First let’s examine the Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection box set. We get audio commentary on Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, trailers, Boo! a short film, poster and photo archives for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and two documentaries. But what is new is the remastered soundtracks on some of the movies which eliminate most of the hiss, pops, crackles and feature a less end-high tinny soundtrack (such remastering is advertised on all three box sets). I have not yet had the time to compare sound between older and newer versions of these movies, but the sound has a heavy bottom and sounds very clean. Unfortunately, the censored grunts and groans of the dying Bela Lugosi from Dracula, restored to laserdisc, are once again missing from the soundtrack here. Also a negative splice near the end of the credits for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, resulting in an audible, annoying pop, still has not been repaired digitally. But what is new are documentaries hosted by writer/director Stephen Sommers whose new film Van Helsing rethinks the original Universal monsters for a new generation. Each documentary in each box focuses on Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man or Dracula. The documentary has on-screen interviews with not only Sommers but members of the cast of Van Helsing as well (Kate Beckinsale, Hugh Jackman, etc.) and features impressive montages from all the Universal classics plus footage from Van Helsing. As Sommers enthusiastically makes clear, his wish in making Van Helsing was to demonstrate that he loved these classic Universal movies.

Dracula: The Legacy Collection box set offers the option of hearing the original minimal Dracula musical score or easily switching to the recently-composed Philip Glass score performed by the Kronos Quartet. We also have the Dracula Stephen Sommers documentary. Lupita Tovar introduces the Spanish version of Dracula, and we have the documentary, The Road to Dracula. David J. Skal provides auditory commentary to the original Dracula. And we have a poster and still gallery.

Finally, The Wolf Man: The Legacy Collection box set offers the third and final new Stephen Sommers documentary, this time focusing on lycanthropy. A documentary, Monster by Moonlight, appears. Author Tom Weaver provides auditory commentary for The Wolf Man.

So, besides getting each movie for at most $5.00, Universal has included all the older extras of insightful and carefully executed documentaries, audio commentaries, poster and still galleries, remastered soundtracks and new documentaries featuring a tie-in to Van Helsing. And each collection is housed in attractively designed gatefold boxes that fit inside slipcases.

Still not convinced?????

Here’s two more reasons to purchase. The print and soundtrack to House of Dracula, first time on DVD, is outstanding. The print barely features a mark and the contrast creates true blacks and subtle shades of gray. Most fans consider House of Dracula to be perhaps the worst of the monster rally B productions and feel it is inferior to House of Frankenstein. What House of Frankenstein has is Boris Karloff, but his performance is totally lethargic with J. Carrol Naish stealing the show. John Carradine is good, as is Chaney, Jr., with teenaged Elena Verdugo submitting a fresh performance. But the movie is segmented into parts—the traveling circus, Count Dracula, the Wolf Man and returning Frankenstein’s Monster to full potency. For me the film is poorly paced and disappoints. However, House of Dracula, directed by Erle C. Kenton, is darker and more shadowy. The plot is fully integrated as one story and Onslow Stevens does a better mad scientist than Karloff did in House of Frankenstein (playing a sympathetic Jekyll-Hyde performance). John Carradine is just as effective a Count Dracula here, as is Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man. For me House of Dracula is the black sheep of the Universal horror factory and its restoration with perfect picture and sound allows fresh evaluations. Don’t get me wrong, House of Dracula is a B programmer so it does suffer from the same flaws as Universal’s other B productions, but I just happen to consider it vastly superior to the generally over-praised House of Frankenstein.

Also, the bane of the originally released Universal horror film DVDs has been the subpar print of Bride of Frankenstein. Many writers have already pointed out that the laserdisc release was superior in many ways to the well-worn and soft (with less than perfect contrast) DVD release, and most people consider Bride of Frankenstein to be the hallmark release of the monster legacy series. However, unannounced, the DVD print of Bride of Frankenstein has been quietly upgraded and the result is amazing. Just put in the old DVD release and compare it to this new Legacy box set release. Yes, if one were to quibble, of course one could find flaws in the original source material, and Bride of Frankenstein does cry out for the type of restoration accorded Vertigo and Singin’ in the Rain. But the upgraded print provided by Universal is vastly superior to the older DVD print and Bride of Frankenstein can once again be seen for the eccentric classic it most certainly is.

Finally, if sales warrant (here’s the third and final reason to buy these box sets), Universal intends to perhaps provide Legacy box sets to the Mummy movies, the Creature movies and perhaps other Universal titles that never appeared on DVD. Isn’t it about time for The Black Cat, The Raven and The Invisible Ray to hit DVD!!!! If sales dictate Universal might bring out any number of cherished horror classics (and not just classic releases). So even if you think you have everything included in these three box sets, well, think again. Just like memorable dining experiences that we pay for many times throughout our lifetimes, buying these cherished cinematic classics a second or third time is not insane. I expect to buy them again without complaint, but Universal, please just bring out some new titles as well!

HORROR CLASSICS 3:
THE BAT and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL;
Movie: (The Bat 2.5; House on Haunted Hill 3.0); DVD: 3.5

Even though House of Wax in 1953 established Vincent Price as the new horror movie king, and even though the artistic zenith of Price’s horror film work would continue until the early 1960s with Roger Corman’s AIP Poe series, there was something very special about Vincent Price’s work in the late 1950s, a blending of film noir, horror camp and red herring mystery thrillers typified by his work in Allied Artists’ House on Haunted Hill (1958) and The Bat (1959).

William Castle’s direction and Robb White’s script (with equal elements haunted house hokum and film noir snarling dialogue) made House on Haunted Hill a genuine B classic, a film that invigorated the haunted house whodunit for a new generation, one filled with gimmicky skeletons on wires extended into theater audiences upon its initial release. But whether seen with Emergo or not, Castle’s House on Haunted Hill chilled to the bone, with its bickering husband and wife team (the oh-so-perfect Vincent Price as Frederick Loren and Carol Ohmart as his conniving wife Annabelle), its house of hidden passages, falling chandeliers and blood dripping from the ceiling.

Robb White’s script and clever dialogue made the movie special, with its adult banter between husband and wife (“don’t you see a touch of greed—around the mouth and eyes”; “spend-the-night ghost party was your idea”; “Why strangers, why not our friends?”... “Friends!”... “Your jealousy took care of that!”; “You call this a party!!!”... “Could be!”; “Of all my wives you’re the least agreeable!”; “The only ghoul in the house is you!” Annabelle to Frederick) contrasted to over-the-top visual chills (Carolyn Craig’s bending down alone in a darkened room, tapping on a hollow wall, communicating with Richard Long in the other room, and her slow turn to the right, revealing the presence of a horrifying servant/witch woman, who glides across the set on rollers, never fails to bring the house down with deafening screams).

Double cross upon double cross leads to Vincent Price’s ultimate victory as the intended victim who ultimately becomes the victor, making him almost sympathetic. “A pity you didn’t know when you were playing your game of murder, I was playing too!”

Vincent Price with his mustache curled at the end, making him the very essence of stereotyped villainy, has never been oilier nor more obnoxious; however, his subtle expressions and letter perfect line reading of the intelligent dialogue elevated this performance to one of the finest of his career.

The slightly letterboxed print is simply gorgeous, mastered from an excellent 35mm print, with sharpness and clarity and perfect contrast. Only a few sequences feature some white speckling, but otherwise, the print is superb (and the sound is infinitely superior to the Fox laserdisc released 10 years ago).

Similar in theme yet infinitely different in tone comes The Bat, released one year later, another horror house whodunit, but this time the emphasis is on mystery and not horror (this was the fourth screen adaptation of the Hopwood and Rinehart play). Agnes Moorehead, in a delightful “cozy” mystery setting, rents an old house, the Oaks, to set the mood as she writes her latest mystery novel. However, a murderous fiend, the Bat, returns to his lair to continue killing innocent people as he searches the hidden passages and rooms to try to find one million dollars hidden away there.

It seems the bank president John Fleming (who owns the Oaks) embezzled one million dollars in securities, converted them to cash, and hid the money in the Oaks, a house rented to Moorehead by his nephew Mark, but rented unknown to him. John Fleming enlists the help of his physician, Dr. Wells (Vincent Price), to help him pull off the scam, but Wells gets greedy and murders Fleming, desiring all the money for himself.

Simply stated, while Price is immediately revealed to be a greedy, murderous fiend, the audience is never sure if he is the Bat or not, and as things turn out, he is simply one of several red herrings. Moorehead’s butler, Warner, a man acquitted of a recent criminal charge, is also given motive to be the killer. In this movie, almost everyone has an angle or reason to be considered a suspect, but the Bat’s identity, revealed at the very end, is quite surprising with so many red herrings running around the premises.

Unfortunately, critics and fans never went wild over The Bat. With Vincent Price only playing a red herring role in a murder mystery, The Bat was sold as a horror chiller and perhaps most mystery fans never realized what they were missing, since the film was not geared nor advertised to that market. The screenplay and direction by Crane Wilbur is crisp and mood-evoking, constantly throwing shadowy figures into the mix, having innocent victims venture out of their rooms in the middle of the night to discover hidden passageways or hidden wall panels. The Bat himself is quite imposing, a man wearing a dark suit and hat, his face silhouetted by his black hood, wearing leather gloves with huge steel claws which he uses to tear out the throats of his victims (but in those innocent days of 1959, nary a drop of blood is to be found, except a spot of blood on the finger of the police detective who touches the back of Vincent Price’s head after his car crashes into a ditch).

The tone of the movie is always playful, even when a potentially rabid bat is released into the bedroom of Agnes Moorehead and flops around the room before biting the arm of faithful servant Lizzy. The plot enjoys implicating guilty suspects as the potential fiend. As Price returns to the house he nervously utters that perhaps the Bat is still in the house. Lt. Anderson says, “That’s possible,” while staring at Price, suggesting that Price is the Bat who is now in the house. Price continues, “He’s looking for something.” Later, when the Bat charges an innocent female victim running down the stairs and tearing her throat out in plain view of several witnesses, Agnes Moorehead throws an object at the fiend, hitting him in the back of the head. After the Bat runs out the front door, in runs Lt. Anderson, followed a few moments later by Vincent Price, who recounts his car accident story and how he hit the back of his head, now bloody (thus the implication is made again that Price is the Bat).

Even though Vincent Price’s role in The Bat is only a supporting one, the entire ensemble cast, most notably Agnes Moorehead, is superb and the clever dialogue and creepy surroundings keep the viewer on the edge of his/her seat.

Once again, The Bat features a pristine 35mm print, projected in its original aspect ratio (slightly letterboxed), that just shimmers. This film has never looked this good since its original theatrical release in 1959, and to be honest, the movie is seldom shown on television, so this DVD version is indeed something to value.

Roan Entertainment has captured the essence of late 1950s Vincent Price, in his B horror black-and-white pinnacle, with these two excellent thrillers (one horror, one mystery) showcased with pristine, letterboxed prints. For fans of Vincent Price and horror/mystery cinema, things seldom get better than this.