Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics (DVD)
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are the magic names when it comes to a bygone era of horror, and quite a bit of that magic is still afoot in Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics, a two-disc, four-film set that gathers some of their lower-profile appearances. Karloff reigns supreme on the first disc, delivering a soulful performance in 1936's The Walking Dead, one of his life-after-execution pictures. Here Edmund Gwenn is the professor applying his reanimation technique to the unjustly electrocuted Karloff; revenge killings ensue--or is it karma? Michael Curtiz's energetic direction reminds you that he rarely phoned it in. Karloff takes on the Frankenstein family name (not the Monster garb) in Frankenstein 1970 (1958), which allows him quite a long leash and more than a few doomy speeches. It gets off to a great start and has a promising "meta" setup (a movie crew is at the Frankenstein castle in order to get authentic atmosphere for their horror picture), but it falls off pretty badly.
The second disc boasts You'll Find Out, a 1940 curiosity that not only brings Karloff and Lugosi together, but throws in Peter Lorre for an extra treat. With all that, who cares if the movie is really a vehicle for the popular radio personality Kay Kyser (and his "Kollege of Musical Knowledge")? Kyser's zany style, complete with sidekicks such as the ineffable Ish Kabibble, actually translates fairly well to the screen, and the movie cheerfully follows the blueprint of a screwball-paced haunted-house comedy. Even disappointed horror mavens will warm to the sight of Karloff, Lugosi, and Lorre huddled together, plotting no good.
Zombies on Broadway is a 1945 B-picture that probably ought to be unwatchable, but in fact it's quite competent (director Gordon Douglas was a versatile pro) and often fun. The headliners are Wally Brown and Alan Carney, whose sub-Abbott and Costello repartee is generally painful, although one grave-digging joke pays off nicely. Lugosi has a meaty role as a Caribbean hoodoo doctor who creates zombies in his jungle laboratory (shades of his White Zombie character). The film was made at RKO, home to Val Lewton's legendary horror unit, and is actually something of a send-up of Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie--complete with two of IWWAZ's notable cast members, the looming revenant Darby Jones and honey-voiced calypso singer Sir Lancelot. For fans of the terror titans, a respectable set, even if the chills are scarce. --Robert Horton
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