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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Karloff at Columbia


Starring: Boris Karloff
Distributor: Eureka Classics
RRP: £39.99


Certificate: 12
Release Date: 19 April 2021

Eureka Entertainment Classics releases Karloff at Columbia, a two-disc collection of the six films he made with the company. This incorporates the four ‘Mad Doctor’ projects, a parody of the ‘Mad Doctor’ scenario, and the 19th Century setting of the opener. This is the first Blu-ray presentation of these movies. There are three films on each disc, plus two audio thrillers starring Boris Karloff on each...

The Black Room (1935 – Directed by Roy William Neill): This is a curse on the family name. When the Baron dies the elder of his twin sons, Gregor, takes over the position, while the younger one, Anton, moves away. But when he returns it is to find the new Baron is a monster, hated by the people, and that women have gone missing. To escape repercussions the Baron hands over the title and position to his benign younger brother, only to kill him in the infamous Black Room and pretend to be him. However, the family curse of the younger brother killing his evil elder will forever find a way to be played-out. This is a nice little suspense thriller which has some similarities to the format of Tower of London, which starred Karloff and Vincent Price. In fact, these two actors were always at the top of their game. Karloff plays both twins, of course, and is mindful enough to occasionally forget himself when he is the older scheming brother playing the dead younger twin – as the latter had a paralysed hand. Ironically, the hero of the piece is a dog. It can sense the difference between the two men, and even sniffs-out the hidden Black Room.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939 – Directed by Nick Grinde): Karloff plays Dr Savaard who has revolutionised medicine by creating an apparatus which takes over the functions of the body whilst serious surgical work is carried out. For this the subject has to be dead and then brought back to life. He has a voluntary subject candidate, but the man’s fiancé alerts the police who interrupt the procedure. The doctor is accused of murder and, after making his stand in the courtroom, is hanged. However, he has left his body to medical science, who just happens to be his assistant. The doctor is returned to life, and manages to lure all of those who condemned him to his old house, where he intends to kill them one-by-one. This one is highly enjoyable. You can’t take your eyes off the screen for a moment. Karloff’s performance is riveting and compelling in that he is the innocent party here. You can’t help rooting for him, even after he begins knocking-off his enemies. He is given some nice set-pieces to showpiece his acting prowess – particularly when he is obliged to convince others of his rightful motives, such as in the courtroom.

The Man With Nine Lives (1940 – Directed by Nick Grinde): This is a loose sequel  (of sorts) to The Man They Could Not Hang. A medical researcher attempts to progress the work of Dr Kravaal who has gone missing. He traces the man, who had been conducting illicit experiments in cryogenics, only to discover him frozen in his own freezer area. He is returned to health by Morgan the researcher, but embarks on a regime of revenge by using his betrayers to perfect his lost procedure. Again, it’s Karloff who makes this film well worth watching. He takes centre stage, and you are mesmerised by his captivating performance.

Before I Hang (1940 – Directed by Nick Grinde): Dr Garth is put on death row for releasing a patient from great pain and suffering by euthanising him. Whilst in prison he is permitted to continue his research into the ageing process, developing a serum to reverse it. He uses himself as a Guinea Pig but, although successful, the use of the blood from a crazed killer causes him to temporarily change temperament. A Jekyll and Hyde-type story.

The Devil Commands (1941 – Directed by Edward Dmytryk): Dr Blair conducts experiments proving that every human being has an individual brain pattern, which could eventually be used to read minds. But when his wife dies in a car accident he sees her brain patterns begin to repeat on his chart. He sells-up and moves to a remote house on a clifftop, with a clairvoyant, where he begins to use local subjects in his attempt to return his wife from the dead. This is slightly drawn-out for the subject matter and plot, but Karloff plays the eminently polite but ultimately crazed scientist with ease.

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942 – Directed by Lew Landers): This is described as a delightful parody of the ‘Mad Doctor’ films, but it somewhat lets the side down. It isn’t slapstick silliness, but it is a tongue-in-cheek frantic run-around. A penniless mad professor has his house bought from him to pay off his debts. He is allowed by the new owner to remain and continue with his experiments into creating a super human. But constant comings and goings, and certain unscrupulous individuals (such as Peter Lorre’s character) continue to complicate matters. The film keeps you focussed, whilst not being of the quality or seriousness of the others.

This is an excellent set, and the perfect way to release these themed Karloff classics to the world. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movies, and as an added bonus we have the four audio horror/thrillers. The Limited Edition of only 3,000 copies features a slipcase and a very nice Collector’s Booklet.


Ty Power

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