These are the kind of movies that would show up with great promise on your local "Nightmare Theater" or "Creature Feature" late-show slot: Hey, Boris Karloff in something called Tower of London? Sounds scary! And you'd watch in bewilderment as the film would turn out to be a historical drama with a few grisly touches. Universal perpetuates this misunderstanding with this DVD release, which declares "The Master of Horror in His Most Frightening Roles!" Which is quite a stretch. (Some of Karloff's best horror stuff is on the Bela Lugosi Collection, a superior DVD package.)
Still, for fans, there's much to enjoy here. Tower of London is a thoroughly entertaining tale of Richard III's bloody rise to power, with Basil Rathbone as Richard and Karloff as his bald, beetle-browed executioner (definitely one of Boris's best looks). Two early-1950s films are great fun: The Strange Door has Charles Laughton doing one of his modern-Nero roles as a perverse nobleman with a really cool torture dungeon (Karloff is his servant), and The Black Castle lays on the wolf howls and creaking doors in a tale of revenge. Juicy performances by Richard Greene and Stephen McNally gives this oomph, even if Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr., are peripheral. McNally's castle is equipped with an excellent secret room with swarming alligators.
Night Key (1937) isn't horror, but a perfectly OK B-movie about inventor Karloff and his revenge on the businessman who stole his electrically charged idea. 1944's The Climax was made to capitalize on the lavish sets Universal made for The Phantom of the Opera, and director George Waggner (The Wolf Man) seems far too enamored of costumes and arias. Even when it's dull, which is frequently, the film has gorgeous Technicolor to look at, and Karloff is suitably obsessed as a doctor messing with a promising soprano. In short, the DVD set may disappoint the unwary, but Karloff devotees will enjoy the icon, and the occasional alligator pit. --Robert Horton