Friday, 17 July 2020

Bela Lugosi in Three Universal Pictures (1932 - 1935)

"Excellent Set of Three Universal Masterworks"

Bravo to Eureka! After Scream / Shout Factory has treated US fans to six admirable Blu-ray sets of the Universal's classic horror movies not to feature Frankenstein's monster, Dracula or the Wolf Man, all with excellent transfers and extras, so far the UK has been lagging behind. This two disc three film set may not exactly redress the balance, but Universal's three Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Bela Lugosi is a splendid place to start. 
So let's take a look at Eureka's treatment of these movies, and for good measure let's see how they compare to the Scream Factory US Blu-ray releases.

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Star Bela Lugosi and director Robert Florey, both originally intended by Universal to fulfil those roles on 1931's FRANKENSTEIN instead found themselves working on this loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story, released the following year. Lugosi's Dr Mirakle has trained his ape Erik to kidnap girls so he can inject them with ape blood to give Erik a mate. Poe's story isn't quite as daft.

Extras on Eureka's disc include a commentary by Gregory William Mank, an alternate soundtrack that includes music cues, a 30 minute interview with Kim Newman who discusses all three films in the set, an audio recording of Lugosi reading Poe's The Tell Tale Heart, trailer and a still gallery.

This is substantially more than the Scream Factory release, which does have the Mank commentary plus an additional commentary from Gary Don Rhodes that's not on the Eureka edition, but that's it.

The Black Cat (1934)

Of all the films based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, this is arguably both the least faithful and the best. Bela Lugosi is Dr Vitus Verdegast, out for revenge against Boris Karloff's Satan-worshipping Hjalmar Poelzig for stealing Verdegast's wife, and then marrying his daughter. It's an amazing work and by the time Karloff is strung up and about to be flayed alive by the now-insane Lugosi you'll probably have forgotten there was even a cat in it.

Eureka's extras give us a commentary by Greg Mank, a 13 minute video essay on Cats in Horror by Lee Gambin which is brief but covers a lot of ground including everyone's favourite crap cat anthology picture THE UNCANNY from 1977. There's also a half hour radio adaptation of the Black Cat with Peter Lorre stills, and a bit called 'Vintage Footage' which is actually of the auditions Universal held as a publicity stunt for the cat of the title, featuring Karloff and Lugosi gamely taking part as everyone brings their kitty up for inspection. 

Scream Factory's disc has the Mank commentary plus another by Steve Haberman that's not on the Eureka disc. The Scream disc also has the cat competition footage, plus an Edgar Allan Poe cinema documentary and part one of Karloff and Lugosi at Universal. The Gambin Cats in Horror and the radio play are unique to the Eureka disc.

The Raven (1935)

This bears little relation to Edgar Allan Poe's poem but it does star Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in a mashup of the conte cruele and an old dark house mystery. The climax involves a swinging pendulum blade, crushing walls, impossibly moving rooms and Lugosi getting to say 'Poe you are avenged!' before laughing maniacally and being dragged into a crusher by Karloff. The Raven's running time is only an hour but it's glorious and incident-packed with two riveting central performances and brisk (because it had to be) direction from Louis Friedlander (later Lew Landers). 

Eureka's Blu-ray (from a 2K scan) comes with an isolated music and effects track, a commentary track from Gary D Rhodes, another from Samm Deighan, Boris Karloff reading The Tell Tale Heart this time, a still gallery, and American Gothic, a fifteen minute video essay from Kat Ellinger that charts the evolution of the gothic as a genre and how both THE RAVEN and THE BLACK CAT exemplify some of Poe's themes despite not being especially (or at all) faithful to their source material.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray is also a 2K transfer and has the Rhodes commentary, plus one from Steve Haberman that the Eureka disc doesn't have. It also has part 2 of Karloff & Lugosi at Universal. The Deighan commentary, Ellinger essay and isolated effects track are unique to the Eureka disc.

Final thoughts: this is an excellent set with gorgeous transfers that far supersede any previous DVD releases. The extras are also excellent, with enough unique to the Eureka set that even if you already have the Scream Factory discs you may want to double dip for this. 

Bela Lugosi in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, THE BLACK CAT, & THE RAVEN is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 20th July 2020

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic news. However, I don't know if it will be available in HMV. May have to order it online.