Three films (two previously never released in the UK) starring horror icon Boris Karloff have been unearthed from the vaults of Universal Studios and are now available restored and as a 2-Disc Blu-ray set. In addition, the first print-run of 2000 copies will be presented in a Limited Edition O-card slipcase with a Collector’s booklet.

First up is NIGHT KEY (dir. Lloyd Corrigan, 1937) which is unusual in the sense that it isn’t a horror film but a crime thriller with Karloff playing an inventor who goes on a revenge spree after his employer has him over and yet, he is an ‘avenger’ with a conscience. After years of hardship and almost blind without his glasses, genius inventor David Mallory (Karloff) has finally developed a seemingly burglar-proof alarm system notifying police stations across town the minute a thief attempts a robbery. His adult daughter Joan (Jean Rogers) is mighty proud of her pop and organizes a special dinner to celebrate the occasion. Alas, it is not to be because Mallory’s dastardly employer Stephen Ranger (Samuel Hinds) ‘steals’ (oh, the irony!) Mallory’s invention right under his nose due to a loophole in the contract – a clause his employee clearly wasn’t aware of. Yes – always read the small print! Even Mallory’s legal advisor feels his hands are tight. It should be added that there is bad history between Mallory and his boss Mr. Ranger (who had previously claimed one of the old man’s inventions for himself) as many years ago, both men were in love with the same woman… who made her choice for Mallory, something that Ranger never forgave him for. But Mrs. Mallory died years ago and now the inventor only has his daughter. Devastated that he has to break the bad news to her that his boss has had him over yet again, Mallory swears revenge and together with a rather harmless small time crook by the name of Petty Louie (Hobart Cavanaugh) the two men embark on a spree which sees Mallory sabotaging his own alarm system. That said, Mallory isn’t interested in stealing from all the various shops he breaks into (unlike Petty Louie) but merely wishes to create utter chaos – perhaps like The Joker in Batman. On one occasion Mallory breaks into a store selling cuckoo clocks – don’t expect him to steal any, he merely sets all the clocks to go off at the same time, it’s quite a hilarious scene. It’s a rather harmless kind of revenge though it gives Mallory satisfaction nonetheless because Stephen Ranger is powerless to operate the security alarm without his former employee! Meanwhile, humble security guard Jim Travers (Warren Hull) suspects Mallory is behind all the recent break-ins but can’t prove a thing – instead, he’s smitten with Joan at first sight. Thanks to blabbermouth Petty Louie and his connections to the underworld it doesn’t take long before notorious mobster ‘The Kid’ (a nasal-voiced Alan Baxter) gets wind of Mallory’s expert skills and now wants to draft him in for some serious robberies…which the old man initially refuses. However, he changes his tune quickly when the Kid’s accomplice ‘Fingers’ (Ward Bond) kidnaps Mallory’s daughter and by doing so blackmails Mallory into committing serious crimes. As the situation is in danger of getting out of hand with old Mallory facing years in the slammer if caught, unexpected help comes from Jim Travers of all people – proving that even a low-key security guard can morph into a superhero! This is terrific fun and the then 50-year old Karloff looks considerably older thanks to a white wig, his glasses and a general dotty persona. NIGHT KEY is a fast-paced caper with snazzy dialogue and the right running time of 68 minutes.

Next is THE CLIMAX from 1944 with a screenplay by Curt Siodmak, Lynn Starling and George Waggner (who also directed). This horror melodrama was intended as a sequel to Universal’s 1943 version of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ but for whatever the reason THE CLIMAX is a completely new film with new characters – the only exception being Susanna Foster who played the part of soprano Christine DuBois in ‘Phantom…’ and here features as soprano Angela Klatt (a name fit for a washer woman). Despite its plush set designs (leftovers from ‘The Phantom’ production), impressive musical interludes, the same composer (Edward Ward) and splendid costumes, this horror is nowhere near as creepy as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ nor does it feature a disfigured and misunderstood genius. Instead it features Karloff as the deranged Dr. Friedrich Hohner who is employed as a physician at the Royal Theatre in Vienna. In a flashback sequence we see a younger version of Hohner arguing with his fiancée, operatic prima donna Marcellina (June Vincent), who has been chosen to perform for the King. Overcome with obsessive jealousy, Hohner pleads with Marcellina to decline the offer (fat chance!), leading Hohner to strangle her in a fit of rage as he demands that his betrothed only sing for him alone. Afterwards he keeps her embalmed corpse in a makeshift mausoleum in an underground vault – telling everyone his fiancée simply left him. Years pass and Dr. Hohner is still active as a physician for the opera house, looking after staff and singers, in particular the wellbeing of their vocal chords. Current prima donna Jarmilla (Jane Farrar) can’t reach high notes (which is presumably why she’s still alive…) but trouble starts with the arrival of the very talented soprano Angela Klatt who not only can put a nightingale to shame but reaches high notes effortlessly… and Ward gives her plenty to reach! Accompanied by her musical coach and romantic interest Franz Munzer (baby-faced Turhan Bey) even house tenor Amato Roselli (George Dolenz) is thrilled to duet with Angela (much to the chagrin of Jarmilla) while company director Count Seebruck (Thomas Gomez) is equally thrilled seeing how the prospect of Angela can promise a full house. Unfortunately, mad Hohner can’t share the communal enthusiasm because Angela’s voice reminds him of Marcellina’s – worse still, he is of the opinion she stole the murdered singer’s voice! Now he’s scheming to ensure Angela will sing only for him and if she doesn’t he won’t hesitate to ruin her career… After things begin to look dodgy Munzer, with the aid of old opera employee Herr Baumann (Ludwig Stossel), tries to free Angela from the spell of Hohner though he has no idea what he’s letting himself in for… The climax is suitably dramatic if not Grand Guignol altogether but all in all, too much screen time is wasted with operatic interludes when the plot demands more horror. In the final scene Angela even gets to sing for the boy king played by teenage actor Scotty Beckett – complete with streetwise American twang… you’d almost expect him to ask for a cheeseburger and fries while sitting in his theatre box! Who came up with that idea? Gale Sondergaard as Marcellina’s former maid Luise exudes much needed chills, here playing a woman with her own agenda. All in all gorgeous to look at and Karloff is in suitably demented mood but one can’t help thinking the whole affair is a wasted opportunity.

Last but not least we have THE BLACK CASTLE (dir. Nathan H. Juran, 1952) with Karloff playing second (or third) fiddle despite his name prominently displayed in the opening credits. Part swashbuckler (hell, its main star is Richard ‘Robin Hood’ Greene!) and part horror flick, this hybrid effort will please those with a penchant for dark, treacherous castles and sadistic Counts. Set in 18th century Austria the story focuses on nobleman Sir Ronald Burton (R. Greene) who, under the alias of Richard Beckett, travels to the castle of Count Carl von Bruno (Stephen McNally), a notorious libertine and sadist who thinks it hilarious to keep an artificial pond filled with crocodiles deep in the castle vaults and a hungry black panther ready to jump at those who displease him. Oh, and did I mention the bona fide torture chamber? The reason for Burton/Beckett’s descent upon the castle is his search for two friends who mysteriously disappeared while staying at von Bruno’s estate. We later find out that they fell victim to the Count’s sadistic games as he seeks revenge on all leaders of a certain British force stationed in colonial Africa some years prior. Burton and his friends had set the native tribes against von Bruno (causing the loss of his eye) which is the reason why Burton needs to enter the castle under an alias and with some excuses for his visit. It soon becomes pretty clear that von Bruno’s attractive wife Countess Elga (Paula Corday) is terrified of her husband (it was an arranged marriage) who cheats on her at any given opportunity. Other castle dwellers include general dogsbody Gargon (Lon Chaney Jr.), sinister physician Dr. Meissen (Karloff), plus hangers-on Count Ernst von Melcher (Michael Pate) and Count Steiken (John Hoyt). Coachmen Fender (Henry Corden) turns out to be a loyal ally of Burton/Beckett when danger looms left, right and centre. Rest assured it’s not before long when things begin to look pretty hopeless both for Beckett and Countess Elga after a failed attempt to flee…and flee they must after Beckett recognises a pendant with a tribal mask which belonged to one of his missing friends and which Elga claims is a present from her husband – proof that von Bruno killed the two missing men. Karloff comes in and out of the picture sporadically and doesn’t have that much to do (except towards the tense climax) though don’t let that stop you from enjoying this action-laden horror adventure!

Bonus material includes various audio commentaries, stills galleries and trailers.