Following the superb collection of Bela Lugosi films, Eureka! Entertainment brings six pictures the other giant of classic horror, Boris Karloff, made at Columbia. The films have a B-movie feel as none of them are much over an hour in length, but each of them packs a fair amount of narrative and chills in the limited running time. Revisiting them after many years proves a delightful experience, with many of them being cracking melodramas with Karloff captivating the attention whenever he’s on screen.
Out of the six films, which were made between 1935 and 1942, Karloff plays a scientist in five. Even though his characters end up doing atrocious things, they are inevitably driven by good intentions and Boris, as always, gives them an added level of benevolence. The last of the ‘mad doctor cycle’ films was the parody The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942), where Karloff shows his talent for comedy. The film has a light flavour similar to Arsenic and Old Lace (Karloff had appeared in the stage play but not the 1942 film version) and features an equally masterful turn by Peter Lorre. The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) has a gloriously macabre premise, with Karloff playing a surgeon who medically ‘kills’ his willing assistant to prove he can be revived. Had he not been interrupted by the police (called by the assistant’s hysterical girlfriend), the experiment would have been a success. As it stands, the assistant died and the doctor pledges to seek revenge, despite being executed in the gallows. Cryogenic freezing is at the heart of The Man with Nine Lives (1940), with Karloff inadvertently inventing the process after being held in suspended animation in an ice-filled room. Before I Hang (1940) has Karloff’s good intentions putting him on the wrong side of the law again. This time, his anti-aging serum has a violent effect on the good doctor. The misguided scientist in The Devil Commands (1941) wants to prove that the brain can live on after death when his electrically charge machinery detects brainwaves coming from his deceased wife. It’s this role that’s spoofed the most in The Boogie Man Will Get You.
The jewel in the crown of the set is the period piece The Black Room (1935), in which Boris plays twins in the 19th century, who have lived under a cloud of a legend that states the younger of the two will kill the elder to inherit everything. All the films boast impressive production values, with plenty of scientific equipment on display and in The Black Room, an imposing mansion with suitably dark corners and great split screen effects to have Karloff face himself. The sextet of celluloid gems showcase Karloff’s unmistakable acting style and gives us a chance to splendour in his beautifully lisped delivery. The re-appraisal of these films is long overdue, and, while not masterpieces, are great examples of the ingenuity and style of the period.
Each film contains an informative and engrossing commentary, three from Kim Newman and author Stephen Jones, and three from Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby. There’s also a collection of rare images and publicity material for each film, and both discs boasts two extra audio-only stories featuring Karloff. The Karloff at Columbia set is a great opportunity to catch six fun movies from the master of horror and should be in every fan of classic genre films.