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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 12, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
A great double-feature DVD offering two greats from famed genre producer Val Lewton.

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ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)

A staid, low-key Val Lewton chiller that stars Boris Karloff as a tyrannical Greek general during the Balkan war. Due to an outbreak of a mysterious plague, the General is quarantined with a small group of people on an island cemetery. As members begin to meet their doom one by one, an old Greek woman among them claims that a vampiric spirit actually responsible for the "affliction" and thusly opens the debate of reason vs. superstition. Karloff's subtle performance perfectly complements the film's eerie atmosphere, and the rest of the outstanding cast delivers strong support. Genre fans will recognize supporting actor Alan Napier, who would later gain television fame as Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred Pennyworth, on the classic but campy 1960s series BATMAN.

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BEDLAM (1946)

This creepy melodrama isn't really a horror film as much as it is a period-piece thriller. Set in and around a London insane asylum during the 18th Century, the film stars Anna Lee as an upper-crust sycophant who is wrongfully committed to the asylum when she interferes in the affairs of the institution's cruel director, Master George Sims. Boris Karloff's portrayal of Sims is devilishly delicious, yet he still manages to avoid upstaging the wonderful Lee and the rest of the strong, talented cast (a cast that includes Jason Robards, Sr., Billy House, and a young Ellen Corby, among many others). The atmosphere and mood of the setting are adeptly evoked, and the use of William Hogarth engravings--which Lewton claimed inspired the script--as transitional devices is an aesthetic masterstroke that adds even more to the high production quality and helps the film belie its meager budget. The last flick that legendary B-movie producer Lewton would develop for RKO Studios, it's also one of the best.

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As with the other double-feature discs in Warner's VAL LEWTON series, the films presented here do not appear to have undergone any restoration, though both are in pretty good shape considering their age. BEDLAM is accompanied by an optional feature-length commentary from film historian Tom Weaver, but no other extras are offered on this disc. Still, these two films are some of the best examples of Lewton's efforts, and they also feature outstanding performances from genre great Boris Karloff. So this disc is well worth the reasonable price of admission and is a must-have for any serious film collector or Karloff fan.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Val Lewton (1904-1951) was brought to RKO when that studio decided to compete with Universal in the horror genre. As it happened, RKO was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy at the time--and Lewton was given the audience-tested title CAT PEOPLE and ordered to create an inexpensive movie to fit it. Without the budget to create "a monster movie," Lewton responded with a remarkably artful film that relied on suggestion and implication. He would go on to produce nine such films in all, three of them starring Boris Karloff.

Released in 1945, ISLE OF THE DEAD was inspired by a celebrated Brocklin painting. The film had a troubled production; Karloff collapsed mid-way through the shoot due to back problems and was unable to work for several weeks. When he was able to return, other members of the cast were tied up with other projects--so the film sat half finished while Karloff worked in Lewton's memorable THE BODY SNATCHER. It was quite some time before the ISLE cast could be reassembled.

This may account for the fact that ISLE is by far and way the single weakest title in Lewton's films. Whatever the case, the script is certainly no help. Credited to Josef Mischel and

Ardel Wray, the story lacks focus and the dialogue is remarkably awkward. The story concerns a 19th century Greek military commander (Karloff) who visits his wife's grave, located on an island described as a cemetery. But plague breaks out--and in order to prevent its spread the commander quarantines the island. Even as various residents fall ill and die, others attribute the deaths to a Greek-style vampire; to further complicate the story a premature burial leaves the prematurely buried considerably annoyed, to say the least.

The performances are equally weak. Karloff, having just given the performance of his career in the earlier THE BODY SNATCHER, now gives what may be his weakest performance of the 1940s with this film--and frankly he looks incredibly ridiculous with curly hair. But Karloff is not alone: the entire cast is truly at sea, their performances clashing at every possible stylistic level, and director Mark Robson is unable to chart any direction that might give these issues any interest.

True enough, the film does pick up steam in the last fifteen minutes or so, but it all proves too little to late. ISLE OF THE DEAD is a film that only a Lewton, Karloff, or classic film horror fan would care to see--and even they are unlikely to find much to admire in it.

On the other hand, BEDLAM is a remarkably strong film, and many feel that it challenges the very memorable THE BODY SNATCHER in terms of power and style. Released in 1946, BEDLAM was suggested by several engravings by English artist Hogarth, and the film itself echoes both the content and style of Hogarth's work. Set in the 1700s, the story concerns the infamous English asylum Bedlam, which is governed by George Sims--who uses his control of the asylum for personal pleasure, monetary gain, and in order to curry favor with the aristocracy.

When spirited Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) has a falling out with her mentor Lord Mortimer (Billy House), Sims convinces Mortimer to commit her to Bedlam--a process that was unexpectedly easy at the time. But Anna proves resourceful: although she is now at Sim's mercy, her growing sense of responsibility toward the horribly mistreated inmates provides her with an unexpected and unlooked-for powerbase, and she is able to turn the tables with horrific consequences.

Although I myself do not quite class BEDLAM alongside THE BODY SNATCHER, it is nonetheless a powerful, beautifully made film. Mark Robson's direction is equal to his cast, which finds both Karloff and Anna Lee at the top of their form, and the supporting roles give equally memorable turns. The style of the film is classic Lewton, a memorable mixture of dark and light. When all is said and done, it is easy to see why BEDLAM is so highly regarded.

Unfortunately this was not actually the case when the film was released. Although reviews were good-to-excellent, BEDLAM ran into significant censorship problems and was even banned from England, and post-World War II audiences were not in the mood for such a singularly dark story. The film lost money. BEDLAM would be Lewton's last film for RKO, and although he would produce three more films none would equal his earlier successes.

Neither ISLE nor BEDLAM is offered in a pristine print, but in truth the picture and sound quality probably represent a "best case" scenario short of digital restoration, and in any event the quality is more than adequate, easily the best print I have seen of either film. There are no extras relating to ISLE OF THE DEAD, but film historian Tom Weaver offers a memorable commentary for BEDLAM in which ISLE is also discussed to some degree.

BEDLAM is certainly a film worth having, and if it were offered as a stand-alone DVD I would certainly give it five stars. ISLE is an entirely different matter, and if it were offered as a stand-alone DVD I would give it three stars for historical interest--and consider that generous. I split the difference for a four-star final.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
ISLE OF THE DEAD and BEDLAM are two of the nine intelligently made "B" horror movies producer Val Lewton made for RKO in the 1940's. Both are short (about an hour in length) films more of psychological suspense than real horror. Boris Karloff is great in both films though ironically his acting is the best in ISLE OF THE DEAD while BEDLAM is the better overall film.

ISLE OF THE DEAD takes place on a Greek island during the 1912 Balkan War.
Boris Karloff, wearing a curly grey wig (I suppose to make him look Grecian) plays a Greek General nicknamed "The Watchdog". We first meet him forcing another Greek officer and former friend to commit suicide because he disgraced himself by showing up late with his troops to a battle. This shocks a young American journalist who witnesses this but the journalist still agrees to accompany the General to a nearby island to visit the grave of his long deceased wife. When they reach the island they found the grave of the general's wife and all others entombed there have been ransacked for archaeological finds and the bodies destroyed. On the island the general and journalist discover the comfortable home of a charming Swiss archaeologist. Staying with the archaeologist are an old Greek servant woman named Kyra, a British diplomat and his invalid wife, the wife's beautiful Greek nurse, Thea, a doctor and a cockney salesman. The salesman soon dies of the plague and the rest of the group including the general and journalist are quarantined on the island and begin to sicken and die one by one. Kyra creates hysteria with her belief that Thea is one of the legendary Greek vampires known as the Vrykolakes and the General is particularly susceptible to this belief making his mental health greatly deteriorate. The ending is very over the top and the dialogue and plot become more and more clunky as the movie continues. Karloff's performance remains excellent while everything else sinks farther and farther in to mediocrity.

BEDLAM is a very ambitious movie with incredibly genuine looking sets and costumes. Karloff is a true villain here playing Sims, the head of the infamous 18th century London insane asylum, Bedlam. Nell, a beautiful outspoken former actress now living as the protege of an old obese but immensely wealthy lord takes an interest in improving the lives of those committed to the asylum after viewing the conditions and actually seeing one of the inmates die "performing" in toxic gold paint at a party for the amusement of the rich. Nell and Sims have a mutual hatred of each other and through a variety of rather complex manipulations he manages to have her committed to Bedlam. The story does not end there though since Karloff as Sims has some payback coming from Nell and the "loonies". Though Sims and his fate are fictional the atrocities that are shown in the movie are historically accurate as tourists of that time period were allowed to tour the facility to laugh at the retarded and insane inmates and even prod them with long sticks to incite them in to rage. From the powdered wigs to the women hawking wares in the street the movie does an admirable job bringing 18th century London to life on a B budget and as always Karloff is excellent playing evil.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I am a fool for spooky B&W horror films and I consider the Val Lewton series of more sinister than horror horror films utter perfection. I don't think any producer put his mark on films as solidly as Lewton did. Whether with the great Jacques Tourneur or with sharp Robert Wise, all Lewton productions had a distinct feel that had to come from the Producer in this instance rather than the various directors. His had a "feel" for Black and White film, rivalled by only the master Mara Bava. They understood dark was sinister and used shadows in a crisp contrast that struck an atmosphere that is unparallelled today.

You get two Lewton Classic for in in this package. "Bedlam" and "Isle of the Dead", both starring the great Karloff.

In "Bedlam" the setting is St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum in 1761 London. Another of Karloff's sharp, on target, understated performances as the overseer who fawns on high-society benefactors while ruling the mentally disturbed inmates with an iron fist. Chilling.

In "Isle of the Dead" you have Karloff as a General trapped in on an island that is surrounded by the plague. They hope the winds will keep the infestation away, but all they can do is wait. One of the women begins to weaken, slowly wasting away, and Karloff becomes convinced her young companion is a vampire.

Super story telling. Timeless Classics.

Subtitles for the films in Spanish, English and French. Commetary by Film Historian Tom Weaver on Bedlam.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 14, 2006
Format: DVD
Bedlam:

With sad irony, Bedlam, one of the Val Lewton-produced B-movie quickies, was not successful at the box office yet was probably the best constructed of his films. Along with The Body Snatchers, I think it stands up as a compelling story with solid dialogue and better acting than we've come to expect from Lewton's films.

Boris Karloff, in a performance of skill and complexity, plays Master George Sims, the ruler of St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum in London...a forbidding hulk of a stone building. Bedlam, for short. The time is 1761. Bedlam is the place where the insane are sent, as well as inconvenient or embarrassing relatives. The violent ones are kept in chains and in cages. The quieter ones are housed in a huge ward, male and female all together, the floor covered with filthy straw, where the inmates mutter or cry or ceaselessly walk or stare at the walls. But they all cower when Master Sims comes in.

Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), is the smart, privileged and arrogant protege of a fat English lord. When she meets Sims her dislike is instant. But Sims counts her patron as one of his sponsors. While many of the upper-class willingly pay a shilling to visit Bedlam and laugh at "the antics of the loonies," Nell finds herself repulsed and outraged. When she sets out to improve conditions, she finds herself blocked by the clever Sims. In a major miscalculation, she aims her furious temper at her protector, Lord Mortimer, leaves him and sets out to make him a laughing stock. Before long, she finds herself an inmate in Bedlam, too. Can she survive in Bedlam by showing kindness? Can she win over the inmates before a confrontation with Sims becomes inevitable? Will she ever be released? Will she find love in the arms of a Quaker she met...and if she does, can she curb her tongue with him? Will Sims ever be brought to justice? All rather mundane questions, but director Mark Robson and the Lewton production team, plus a larger than usual budget, set most of these questions in a fine and repellant reconstruction of an 18th Century insane asylum.

As unsettling and threatening as the movie looks, Bedlam is in no way a horror film. Bedlam is a well-balanced character study pitting the obsequious, envious and dangerous George Sims against the resourceful and unintimidated Nell Bowen. Karloff and Lee are more than up to the task. Anna Lee gives us a Nell Bowen who is remarkably quick with her temper and with her tongue. Her description of Sims is pungent. "If you ask me, my lord, he's a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness and a gutter brimming with slough." Boris Karloff gives us a fascinating portrait of a man who fawns over his superiors and abuses his inmates. It's a masterful job. Watch the difference in how he walks into Lord Mortimer's bedroom after being kept waiting for hours and how he strides into his own empire, Bedlam. Watch how he compulsively touches his pig-tailed wig to make sure it's on straight whenever he meets Lord Mortimer. Watch the difference in his stare when Nell Bowen is seen as just Lord Mortimer's plaything and when she's seen as a threat to him. There are several times when Karloff's face registers anger, resentment and satisfaction in just moments and with just a slight movement of his lips. And unlike many of Lewton's films, in Bedlam there are a number of capable actors in smaller parts.

With two strong actors, it's good to see that they were given a well-written script to work with. When Sims is accused of abetting the death of an embarrassing "guest" at Bedlam, a sane young man who could cause problems for Sims' sponsor, he simply smiles and says that the man's fall from the roof was "a misadventure, contrived by the victim and executed by nature's law that all who lose their grip on gutters must fall."

Was the treatment of the insane in Bedlam just an historical fact which we have corrected in our modern age? If you are naive enough to believe that you might want to read up on Titticut Follies, a Frederick Wiseman documentary he filmed in 1967. It shows the routine mistreatment and humiliation of the mentally ill by the guards and doctors at the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Mass. Or you might sign up for a sociology class in college that could take you to visit a state hospital for the insane. I can recall my own visit years ago to a ward for men which was filled with patients wearing only untied hospital gowns. The men shuffled about or came up to stare and try to touch or simply rocked back and forth. The ward smelled strongly of human waste.

Isle of the Dead:

This Val Lewton-produced Poverty Row programer is a good example of why B movies are B movies. The story could be interesting: A small group of people in an isolated setting (in this case, a small Greek island) are forced to deal with a threat to their lives (in this case, a nasty pestilence called septicemic plague), and in the course of the movie some will live and some will die, some will prove brave and some will go mad, some will swear there is an evil force and some will blame things on the wind and the fleas. And yet, while Boris Karloff does a fine job as the aging General Nikolas Pherides, the rest of the cast demonstrate why they never broke out of Poverty Row.

It's 1912 and we're in the middle of the Greek wars. The General has won a victory, but there are many dead on the darkened battlefield. He is a hard man, driven by duty and patriotism, yet by his standards fair. He's not without warmth and friendliness. He and Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer), an American reporter, visit a small island, used for decades as a place of burial, where his dead wife lies in a crypt. The island is just off the coast where the General's army is encamped. They find the crypt has been forced open and the body missing. But on this isolated little crag of an island they find a large stone house where there is a Swiss archeologist; his severe Greek housekeeper from whom he bought the house; Thea (Ellen Drew), a beautiful young servant; and three guests...soon to be just two. One of the guests, in the middle of dinner, declares he feels ill and staggers to his room. He is soon dead of the plague. The General has an army doctor come over who confirms their worst fears. The General is determined to fight the plague and keep it from infecting his army. He takes charge of the house. He insists that no one may leave the island. They all can only wait and hope the plague strikes no more of them down. And all this time the housekeeper whispers about death and demons. She sees the work of the dreaded vorvolaka, a wolf spirit in human form, and she insists the vorvolaka has taken the shape of the servant girl. As people die, we have noble death, madness, a live burial and, in at least one case, the triumph of superstition.

What to make of this? The first half of the movie is a taut look at people reacting under pressure, led by the excellent performance of Boris Karloff. We start out on a Greek battlefield at night, filled with the groaning wounded and the dead in carts being hauled to speedy mass burials. "The rider on the pale horse is pestilence," explains General Pherides to the reporter, "and he follows the wars." Then we're off on a small boat to the dark, well-imagined mountainous island, full of rocky, steep paths, threatening trees, a mouldering crypt and crashing waves below a cliff. We meet the cast and, at dinner, see their tentativeness. We can take a measure of their characters. But then the second half of the movie is upon us. We're in the middle of a corny Hollywood horror story with awkward acting (except for Karloff) and even cornier dialogue. "The vorvolaka still lives," whispers the crone of a housekeeper, "rose-cheeked and full of blood!" We're in the poverty-row world of white gauzy gowns slipping around corners, of creaking caskets, a mad death scene, a vicious-looking trident and a leap off a cliff. It's become predictable.

The movie has great atmosphere and Karloff. It's enough for a strong beginning but, in my view, not enough for a strong ending. I particularly enjoyed two members of the cast, in addition to Karloff. One, Skelton Knaggs, is only on screen for a couple of minutes. Knaggs had a distinctive-looking face, weak, ugly and unhealthy. Combined with his whiny voice, he was hard to ignore. In another Val Lewton-produced movie, The Ghost Ship, he plays a deaf-mute who, it's true, narrates the story. The other actor I like is a woman named Katherine Emery. She plays the ill wife of a British diplomat. She has a cultured, precise and unhurried voice. Close your eyes and you'd swear you were listening to Mercedes McCambridge. To see her in full dominant mode, watch Eyes in the Night.

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Bedlam looks just fine on the DVD disc it shares with Isle of the Dead, There is one extra, a commentary by Tom Weaver, identified as a film historian. The DVD transfer of Isle of the Dead is good but at times is too dark during night scenes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2013
Format: DVD
Isle of the Dead is one hour and eleven minutes and releases in theaters on September 1, 1945. The main story is nine people are trapped on an island where there is plague has infected the people and now live in self-imposed exile. While waiting out the plague Madame Kyra convinces General Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff) that Thea is a vrykolakas or a vampire because she is nearby when the people die. Boris Karloff was two weeks in production with this movie when Boris Karloff needed a back operation. When he recovered work was already started on the Body Snatcher. So when the Body Snatcher was completed, he went back to shooting the Isle of the Dead two weeks later. The movie is set around the First Balkan War (1912-1913). Isle of the Dead holds you in suspense to the end guessing what is going on. Isle of the Dead gets an AAAA++++.

DVD EXTRAS

Play Movie
Scene Selection
Languages
I. Spoken Languages
a. English
II. Subtitles
a. English
b. Français
c. Español
d. Off

Bedlam is one hour and nineteen minutes and was released in theaters on May 10, 1946. Bedlam is based on William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress, and a hospital in England. The movie is set in 1761 England and is about St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum. Master George Sims (Boris Karloff) runs the asylum and treats the patients with cruelty. Master George Sims tricks Lord Mortimer into sending Nell Bowen into the asylum because she wants to make reforms. In the end Master George Sims is put on trial by the inmates he mistreats and Nell is helped into escaping by one of the patients. Bedlam would mark Val Lewton last movie with RKO Studios and his first movie not to make a profit. Also this movie would be the last paring of Boris Karloff and Val Lewton. Also this is the only Val Lewton movie to have a happy ending. Bedlam is a good movie to watch though is does not have the previous suspense as his other movies. Bedlam gets an AAAA++++.

DVD EXTRAS

Play Movie
Scene Selection
Commentary by Tom Weaver
Languages
I. Spoken Languages
a. English
II. Subtitles
a. English
b. Français
c. Español
d. Off
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2011
Format: DVD
ISLE OF THE DEAD

Finally, we get to a Val Lewton film! Lewton was the master horror film producer of the 1940s and introduced a whole new approach to horror. Coming of the golden age of Universals monster movies, Lewton made a radical 180-degree turn and began making films that emphasized suspense and the unknown to elicit fear. Isle of the Dead is considered by many to be his least accomplished film, but I think it is highly underrated and worth reconsideration.

Isle of the Dead takes place during the First Balkan War in Greece. Boris Karloff stars as General Nikolas Pheredes, a rational and competent commander who will do anything to ensure the defeat of the Turks and secure Greek independence. Followed by an American reporter Oliver Davis, the general travels to a remote island to visit his wife's grave only to find it has been desecrated. The curator of the island explains it was the work of the natives in search of valuables, but an old Greek woman tells a different story. She claims the dead were destroyed because a vampire was among their numbers, and that the beautiful Greek girl Thea is actually a vorvolaka, a vampire.

When one of the group falls ill, it is determined he has died of plague, and the island is quarantined. Stresses build as uncertainty sets in, but with the guidance of General Pheredes and the army doctor, Dr. Drossos, there is hope that the disease can be defeated. This faith in science suffers a severe setback when Dr. Drossos falls ill and dies. Suddenly the whisperings old woman's words about vampires and the supernatural take seed in the general's mind. He is shaken by the death of science. If indeed there is a vampire in their midst, he decides he will search it out and destroy it. Thea becomes his primary suspect and he resolves to put an end to her nightly feedings.

The dynamics of this quaranteened group is fantastic to watch. Oliver defends Thea, as do her employers (she is the personal attendant of an ill English woman), against the accusations of the old woman and the general. Things come to a head when the English woman dies and is quickly entombed. But without a doctor's knowledge, she is incorrectly pronounced dead and has been buried alive--or is she indeed the actual vampire?

This is what makes this movie so great. Lewton keeps us guessing, all the while feeding us obscurely macabre visions. The scenes are filled with dark shadows--a typical Lewton motif--feelings of terror and dread. Pheredes represents the typical modern person. When in control, he is rational. When his foundations of faith have been destroyed and he is cornered by a terrific threat, his mind degenerates into superstition and irrational thoughts. The idea of a real vampire was once ludicrous, but now he defends the Greek superstitions to their fullest. Karloff plays the duality perfectly and is believable to the last.

The finale of the film is extremely tense and terrifying. Words cannot justify the masterful cinematography and development the film uses to create fear. It is the work of a true artist and has to be seen rather than read about. Indeed, it is an end to a movie that few films can match and it will at the least shock you with its conclusion.

Again, the Isle of the Dead is a wrongfully overlooked film. It is brilliantly acted and written, and the concept of a small group trapped on an island and forced to face a horrific power outside of their control is fantastic. Through this medium, Lewton forces us to examine a variety of issues, such as authority, science, religion, and human nature. It is also a lot of fun to watch and interesting throughout. Widely considered one of Karloff's least ambitious films, I think it was in actuality one of his greatest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Isle of the Dead

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE / Hamlet Act 1. Scene V abt. 1601

`Under conquest and oppression the people of Greece allowed their legends to degenerate into superstition; the Goddess Aphrodite giving way to the `Vorvolaka.' This nightmare figure was very much alive in the mines of the peasants when Greece fought the victorious war of 1912."

Gen. Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff) is an experienced watcher. That is he must watch over his troops to be sure the do what they are supposed to and survive to win the day.

Finding some time take a war correspondent (Marc Cramer) to visit the grave yard island where his wife is buried. There he meats a strange collection of people and an unseen enemy that is much deadlier than any bullet. Will he be able to fight it logically and scientifically? Or will his cultural fears lead him to see the truth?

Once again we see that Boris Karloff can act and that Val Lewton can take a scary title and turn it from a cheap horror movie into a classic Psychological Thriller.

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Bedlam

Story suggested by The William Hogarth painting Bedlam plate 8 "The Rake's Progress

Once again Val Lewton takes what would have been a second rate horror story and turns it into a sit on the edge of your seat psychological thriller. The basic question of the story is the same as the one in his movie "Ghost Ship"; that is, is man fundamentally good and helpful of others or is he so self centered that he will act even to his own ultimate demise? An added element is that of not quite being granted all mental faculties.

The year is 1791 Lord Mortimer (Billy House) is just one of the upper class (Wiggs) that gets his kicks from watching the loonies of Bedlam loon. His protégé (Anna Lee) is discussed at the treatment of the "guests" by the head apothecary, Master George Sims (Boris Karloff who can actually act). She attempts to correct this to the detriment of Lord Mortimer. So Lord Mortimer and Sims invite her as a guest to Bedlam.

Will she ever get out or just go crazy. While there she applies a theory supplied by a Quaker (Richard Fraser), one of the Society of Friends if this works the tables may turn on Sims. What can Sims say in his defense?

Cat People / The Curse of the Cat People
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson, 1945)

Mark Robson was one of Val Lewton's go-to directors, and Isle of the Dead is the best example of why. Lewton's low-budget horror empire never produced a film quite as fine as this again.

Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff) is a general in the Greek army who's battling not only enemy forces, but an outbreak of plague, as well. When the army is encamped across the river form the island where his late wife is buried, Pherides and Albrecht (Jason Robards), an American war reporter attached to Pherides' division, visit the island to pay their respects. When they get there, though, they find the grave empty. Hearing a woman singing, they head for the custodian's house and find a disparate group there; just as the new arrivals appear, plague strikes the island, and General Pherides declares a quarantine. Worse, one of those on the island is suspected of being a vorvoleka, an evil spirit who feasts on the souls of the living to sustain her own lifeforce.

Warning: here be spoilers-- not for the plot, per se, but knowing the character details in the following paragraph will give away a good deal of the mechanism Robson uses to drive the plot; proceed at your own risk.

The general's transformation is fascinating to watch. He's a man used to being in command, and now he finds himself battling enemies he cannot see, and he reverts from the empirical skeptic who so aggressively turned his back on his heritage that he was willing to quell a revolt in a Greek town angry with taxes levied on them to a raving fundamentalist. This will likely be somewhat more surprising for those who associate Karloff with his iconic role as Frankenstein's monster; even after all these years, I still get something of a jolt when I see Karloff acting by using tone of voice rather than just facial expression and body language. Both of which he uses to full effect here, naturally, but they're augmented by an excellent script, and Karloff lives up to it. With a performance like that heading things up, the rest of the cast really only has to perform competently. And while some of them fulfill expectations, there are some other notable performances here, especially that of Marc Cramer, playing the foreign archaeologist renting the caretaker's house, who embraces the faith from the beginning that the general doesn't come to until later. The tense-but-friendly rivalry between the general's skepticism and the archaeologist's faith is not the level of complexity one expects from a movie coming out of Val Lewton's shop, and that makes it all the more impressive. A wonderful film. ****

* * *

Bedlam (Mark Robson, 1946)

Bedlam is another of the films on which the team of Val Lewton (producer), Mark Robson (director), and Boris Karloff (star) show their stuff. While it's not as impressive as their landmark work together, Isle of the Dead, it certainly holds its own.

Karloff stars as George Sims, the administrator of St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum-- Bedlam-- in Victorian England. Sims alternately kowtows to his rich benefactors, of whom Lord Mortimer (Billy House, a man who had walk-on roles in, perhaps, more great films than any other actor-- his last two big-screen appearances came in Touch of Evil and Imitation of Life) is the richest, and exercising sadism thinly veiled as treatment over his charges. Mortimer's current paramour, Nell Bowen (Anna Lee, an actress on the soap Port Charles for years before her death in 2004), is horrified at the treatment of the inmates, and leans on Mortimer to campaign for reforms-- until Sims has her declared insane and admitted to the asylum herself.

While not as eerily poetic as Isle of the Dead, and a lot more ham-handed in its attempt to get its message across, Bedlam is still an absorbing film. Lewton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Robson as well as producing, has come up with an entertaining stable of characters, most of them peripheral. The inmates in the asylum are a wonderfully-sketched lot, and must have had a great deal of fun making this movie. They stand in direct contrast to the supposedly free people on the outside of the asylum, who are (with the exception of the hero, of course) a stodgy, stuffy lot caged by the conventions of Victorian society. Ham-handed, as I said, but still, all in good fun. It's amusing melodrama, not a major film by any means. There are, however, far worse ways to waste an hour and a half. ***
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2009
Format: DVD
I was thrilled at how quickly the movie "Bedlam" arrived at my home and it was in perfect condition. Boris Karloff never looked so frightening in his understated way. The film helped me understand the way mentally ill people were treated in the past as I was taking a psychology class.
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