This two-disc set of Hope’s comedy-horror films is a welcome excuse to rediscover the fantastically creepy movies he made alongside Paulette Goddard, especially since their TV screenings have appeared to have dried up.
In The Cat and the Canary, Hope is one of the descendants of a millionaire who meet ten years after his death in his mansion on the bayou for the reading of the will. Jealousy and greed abounds as Goddard’s character - the heir - is put in physical and mental danger while the group attempt to survive the night. An escaped lunatic known as the Cat is also on the prowl.
This is without doubt the stronger of the two films, with Hope’s wisecracking entertainer adds some chuckles alongside some genuinely creepy moments. The legendary George Zucco would become known for horror films following his role as the lawyer and Gale Sondergaard (The Spider Woman) puts in a Danvers-esque performance as the ice cold housekeeper.
The Ghost Breakers, released a year later, capitalises on the chemistry between Hope and Goddard and once again puts them into a haunted house. Unfortunately, it takes almost an hour to get to the Cuban mansion inhabited by spirits and zombies. There’s still plenty to enjoy before we get there, though. Hope is accompanied by his ‘man servant’ (for want of a better expression), played by the brilliant Willie Best. While this creates a troubling situation looking through a modern perspective, it’s interesting to note that despite the occasional bit of casual racism, the character is given a large part to play. Best easily holds his own in the comedy stakes and bounces off Hope excellently - he even saves his life a number of times. That ‘of its time’ element aside, The Ghost Breakers manages to straddle a few genres - comedy, horror, and gangster - and works well within all of them. The Cuban mansion scenes are particularly eerie.
The presentation of both films is excellent - although The Cat and the Canary looks much better. Aside from a fun radio adaptation on The Ghost Breakers, the only extras of note are the commentary on each film. Authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman guide us through the films’ histories, and are amiable and entertaining chat tracks. The box in which the discs are contained is impressive, too, being a hard card case that is opened via a lid. Australian boutique label Imprint certainly does things right. Even with the sparseness of special features, this set is highly recommended for fans of yesteryear.