400 min approx (length)
19 April 2021 (released)
21 April 2021
This magnificent set is a real treat for all fans of horror icon Boris Karloff and offers six films comprising the entirety of his output for Columbia Pictures. Presented as a Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray set, KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA debuts worldwide as part of the Eureka Classic range.
Whilst five of the six films are part of the ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle the first film – THE BLACK ROOM - is the odd one out in terms of storyline and setting. Directed by William Neill in 1935, the film is set in 19th century Tyrol and stars Karloff in a dual role as twins – one good, the other rotten to the core… A brief ‘prequel’ sequence at the start informs us of an old curse among the De Berghmann family and a prophecy which states that the younger brother shall kill the elder brother behind the doors of the cursed ‘black room’ – a prophecy that so far has lived up to its reputation. The story then goes forward several decades, it’s now 1834 and Baron Gregor de Berghmann (Karloff) is a sadistic ruler with a penchant for torture and for killing the wives of local peasants. Feared and hated by the townspeople, Gregor spends his time plotting the next outrage while setting his eyes on pretty Thea (Marion Marsh), the daughter of family advisor Colonel Hassell (Thurston Hall). Understandably, Thea isn’t in the least bit interested in Gregor for her heart belongs to dashing Lieutenant Lussan (Robert Allen) – a fact that Gregor hopes to ‘remedy’ and which causes the jealousy of Mashka (Katherine DeMille – adopted daughter of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille)), the castle’s servant girl. When Gregor’s kind and gentle twin brother Anton (also Karloff) visits the castle after years of traveling Europe, the dastardly Gregor sees his chance to rid himself of his rival Lt. Lussan, Mashka and his brother but he hasn’t counted on the interference of Anton’s loyal dog… With plenty of sinister atmosphere, suspense and great performances all round, The Black Room rightly counts as one of Karloff’s finest horror films.
Next up are three films (all directed by Nick Grinde) belonging to Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. In THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939) Karloff plays Dr. Henrik Saavard, a humanitarian experimenting with bringing the dead back to life via a revolutionary heart-lung-machine. When a young medical student offers to volunteer, Dr. Saavard, in attendance of his daughter Janet (Lorna Gray), begins to proceed with the experiment but is unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of Betty Crawford (Ann Doran), the student’s worried girlfriend who alarms the police. Saavard has no chance to finish with his experiment despite his pleas to let him do so. As a result the medical student cannot be revived and Saavard finds himself in the dock for murder, with a jury convinced the medical student’s death is down to Saavard’s ice-cold calculation instead of unexpected interference by the law. Receiving the death penalty, Saavard vows revenge on those responsible for his guilty verdict and sure enough after his execution by hanging his corpse is collected by a sham doctor who brings Saavard back to life in his own laboratory. Soon the first six members of the jury suffer unexplainable deaths. When the remaining individuals receive an unexpected dinner invite to Saavard’s mansion they are shocked when their host turns out to be… the executed doctor. Hell bent on revenge he has staged an elaborate plan to bump off his guests one by one but will he succeed?
In THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES (1940) Karloff is Dr.Leon Kravaal, originator of the so-called ‘frozen therapy’ who has been missing for ten years. When medical researcher Dr. Mason (Roger Pryor), whose own experiments with said therapy land him in hot water, is temporarily ‘relieved’ from his post he decides to visit the deserted home of Dr. Kravaal close to the Canadian border. With him travels nurse Judith Blair (Jo Ann Sayers) who is also Mason’s love interest. Despite the warnings of a local man both Mason and Judith undertake a boat trip to a tiny peninsula on which the apparently deserted home of Kravaal stands but when the pair discover a secret passage in the basement both have no idea of the horrors awaiting them…
In BEFORE I HANG (1940) Karloff plays Dr. Garth and finds himself in the dock again where he is sentenced to death after having performed a mercy killing on an elderly friend. Despite his explanation that he was researching a cure for ageing the judge has precious little time for Garth’s pleading and is told that he will hang in three weeks time. While awaiting execution Garth is allowed to continue with his experiments and receives support from prison warden Thompson (Ben Taggart) and Dr. Howard (Edward Van Sloan), a fellow scientist interested in Garth’s theories. In fact Howard is able to develop a serum (using the blood of a recently executed inmate) which is supposed to reverse the process of ageing and Garth is appointed as the guinea pig. On the day of his execution Garth receives an unexpected last minute pardon and to his surprise realises that the serum seems to work because his grey hair gradually disappears and his daughter Martha (Evelyn Keyes) is especially happy for him. What she doesn’t know is that her father carries a terrible secret because the blood used for his transfusion was that of an executed murderer and Garth soon realises he has no control over his deadly actions… Karloff lends gravitas to all these three parts though the formula began to wear a little thin and was perhaps in need of some ‘rejuvenation’ (no pun intended).
This rejuvenation came with THE DEVIL COMMANDS (1941, directed by Edward Dmytryk) and although here Karloff plays a mad doctor yet again the story is more complex and ambitious. Karloff is Dr. Julian Blair, a medical scientist researching the human brain whose domestic life with his wife Helen (Shirley Warde) and grown-up daughter Anne (Amanda Duff) is a happy one. But when Helen dies in a freak accident Blair grows more and more obsessed with making contact with the dead and possible theories of resurrection. Inconsolable over the demise of his beloved wife he moves to a windswept isolated mansion in New England with his mentally impaired servant Karl (Ralph Penney) while sending his daughter to New York. Enter fake medium Mrs. Walters (Anne Revere) who soon becomes Blair’s ruthless accomplice. Meanwhile, as the experiments grow ever more outlandish and sinister, tongues begin to wag among the locals. When Sheriff Ed Willis (Kenneth MacDonald) arrives to investigate he can’t find evidence of foul play though he instructs Blair’s housekeeper Mrs. Macy (Dorothy Adams) to snoop about the lab – a decision that ends deadly for her and arouses the suspicion of her angry husband. Daughter Anne and Blair’s former research assistant Richard (Richard Fiske) also arrive at the mansion and sense that something is very wrong indeed… This is a real cracker and the various scientific gadgets are a sight to behold!
Rounding up this cycle is the hilarious 1942 ‘Mad Doctor’ parody THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU (directed by Lew Landers) and starring Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. When spiralling mortgage debts get the better of Professor Billing (Karloff) he decides to sell his 18th century tavern to Winnie Slade under the condition that he is able to continue with his experiments in the basement – same goes for his bonkers housekeeper Amelia and hired hand Ebenezer. Whilst Winnie is eager to turn the ramshackle tavern into a hotel her ex Bill is against it and it’s not just due to rumours of ghosts… When he discovers a body in the basement local sheriff Arthur Lorentz (Lorre) is informed and although initially sceptical of the rumours surrounding strange goings-on in the basement the tavern/hotel soon turns into a madhouse…
Among the generous bonus material are four INNER SANCTUM radio plays from 1945 and 1952 featuring Boris Karloff. What more can Karloff fans want?