The Boris Karloff Collection(Universal Home Entertainment, 9.19.2006)
This Halloween season has been a costly time for fans of Boris Karloff. Sony put out Icons of Horror: Boris Karloff -- which features four of his Columbia films -- while Warner put out Hollywood's Legends of Horror Collection, featuring the restored The Mask of Fu Manchu (with Karloff as the sadistic title villain). If that's not enough, Universal has released a 75th anniversary edition of Frankenstein and The Boris Karloff Collection, which features five more Karloff films spread over three DVDs.
Night Key (1937) has Karloff as a security system inventor who gets screwed over by an industrialist. As revenge, he uses an override to break into stores and commit pranks. In a bizarre twist, a local mobster decides to involuntarily make him a part of his crew. This film is more comic crime than mad scientist horror.
Tower of London (1939) tells the story of Richard III's bloody rise to become the King of England. While not a true horror story, Karloff is horrific as Richard's executioner. His bald head and club-foot makes him perfect as a royal killing machine.
The Climax (1944) is a Technicolor affair, which sets it apart from the black-and-white fright-fests found elsewhere in Karloff's Universal career. In this film, Karloff is the doctor for Vienna's Royal Theater. He chokes his mistress to death -- when her singing career is about to separate them -- and covers up his evil deed. Ten years later, he falls for another singer. What will the mad doctor do to keep the new diva from flying away? This film is made by the director (George Waggner) and writer (Curt Siodmak) of The Wolf Man but, instead of pure horror, they make a stab at a classy chiller (with musical numbers). While Karloff is menacing, he's also fairly well-mannered.
Based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story, The Strange Door (1951) has Karloff as the servant of a devious Charles Laughton (who uses his dungeon to secretly imprison his rivals). Instead of being a torture expert, Karloff is the good guy trying to rescue these folks. There's nothing too nightmare-inducing about this film, except the creepy feeling that Laughton probably had a similar dungeon in real life.
The Black Castle (1952) has Sir Ronald Burton going undercover to find out why two friends disappeared while visiting an evil count. It opens with a dog howling in a graveyard and a man about to be buried alive so it's fair to say that this is a legitimate horror film. Karloff has a minor role as a doctor to the Count, while Lon Chaney, Jr. appears as a vicious handyman.
While none of these films are dogs, the box set's claim that these are Karloff's "most frightening roles" is far from the truth. He's barely in two of these five films and, to be honest, the best of Karloff's non-monster work at Universal was released last Halloween in The Bela Lugosi Collection. If you want to experience Karloff's most creepy films, pick up that set or the new 2-disc Frankenstein. If you appreciate all brands of Karloff, this set is for you. -- Joe Corey