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Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1 - Black Friday Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Universal Horror Collection Volume 1 Large

Directed by Arthur Lubin
Written by Kurt Siodmak and Eric Taylor
1940, 70 minutes, Not Rated

Starring:
Boris Karloff as Dr. Ernest Sovac
Bela Lugosi as Eric Marnay
Stanley Ridges as Prof. George Kingsley/ Red Cannon
Anne Nagel as Sunny Rogers
Anne Gwynne as Jean Sovac

Universal Horror Collection Vol 1 24 Universal Horror Collection Vol 1 25

Review:

When his dear friend Professor George Kingsley is seriously injured in an auto accident, Dr. Ernest Sovac does his best to help the man recover. The driver of the car that hit the professor was a notorious gangster named Red Cannon. Cannon dies in the hospital and Sovac decides to perform an unorthodox surgery transferring part of his brain to the injured professor. It is rumored that Cannon hid a half-million dollars somewhere and Sovac believes his old friend may be able to help him find it. Once he has recovered from the surgery, Sovac takes him to Cannon’s old stomping grounds in New York City. The gangster’s personality awakens and is looking to settle old scores before retrieving his stolen cash. Sovac forms a tenuous relationship with the criminal, but the personalities are unstable and fight for dominance, threatening to destroy both.

Karloff and Lugosi return to Universal for the last time in 1940’s Black Friday. This is a variation on the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde story with actor Stanley Ridges (Sergeant York) taking the lead role of Kingsley/Cannon. Karloff still receives top billing, but plays the supporting part of Dr. Sovac. He enjoys ample screen time in the beginning, but disappears for long stretches in the second half of the picture. Lugosi is reduced to an extended cameo as a crime boss looking for the missing money. He makes the most of the role and appears to be having a fun time with the character, but honestly the part is beneath him. It should have been Karloff as the patient and Lugosi as his doctor, but Karloff refused the part and took Lugosi’s role instead, bumping the latter to third-tier status.

Black Friday works for fans of Stanley Ridges, who really shines in the lead, but this is supposed to be a Karloff/Lugosi movie. Adding further insult, the two never appear on screen together. It is fun watching Karloff play a morally bankrupt opportunist who only realizes his mistake once it is discovered what he has done. Lugosi has played gangsters before, but he just feels miscast here. It is a shame the casting didn’t work out as originally planned, but the central story remains fairly solid. Things move at a brisk pace and there is something of a body count and the ending is a fine bit of just desserts. This is the weakest of the Universal pairings but is still worth a look, especially for completists.

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Video and Audio:

Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, all four films look terrific with all receiving 2K scans of the original film elements except for The Black Cat, which is in fine condition. The transfers are solid with previously absent detail brought to the front and crisp black and white imagery that is beautiful in appearance.

The original mono recordings are presented in a DTS-HD MA 1.0 that faithfully reproduces the material nicely. Dialogue levels are clean and free from hiss, pops or other forms of distortion.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Each film in this collection receives its own disc loaded with supplemental materials.

Disc 1: The Black Cat

The extras kick off with a pair of newly recorded audio commentaries, the first with author/historian Gregory William Mank. He traces the history of the film and provides biographical information on the cast and crew. He discusses highlights from the script and the much publicized rivalry between the stars. There are quite a few interesting production stories that make this track well worth a listen.

The second commentary comes courtesy of author/film historian Steve Haberman, who begins with notes on various music cues before moving on to address story points and inspirations. He comments on the performances and direction as well as the numerous reshoots and edits. This is another thoughtful discussion you should definitely check out.

The documentary Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe (56 minutes), narrated by genre star Doug Bradley (Nightbreed), covers a lot of ground in terms of cinematic adaptations of the renowned author’s work. Starting with the earliest examples from the silent era with director D.W. Griffith in 1909, we see clips of the film – some of which were previously thought long lost. Moving forward we cover the Karloff/Lugosi efforts of the 1930s and the adaptations they influenced for the next two decades. Director Roger Corman delivered the most faithful adaptations in the 1960s, with Vincent Price starring in seven pictures. This is a well-made piece that shines a light on the long lasting influence of Poe on the film industry.

In the four-part documentary A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal, part one focuses on The Black Cat (24 minutes) with film historians Gary D. Rhodes and Gregory William Mank. They discuss the picture’s place in history arriving right after the censor board came into effect. There is talk of the sensational pairing of Karloff and Lugosi and how it helped boost their careers. A wide variety of rare behind-the-scenes photographs are included throughout, providing a look at the working relationships of the stars in spite of the start of a long running rivalry.

There is a brief snippet of vintage silent footage (1 minute) of a studio public relations stunt called “The Black Cat Contest”, which encouraged children to bring their pet cats to the shoot.

A photo gallery plays as a silent slideshow (9 minutes), featuring publicity stills, international poster art and lobby cards.

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Disc 2: The Raven

There are two audio commentaries for this film, the first featuring author/film historian Gary D. Rhodes, who discusses the challenges of adapting Poe for the big screen. He praises Lugosi’s performance and talks about the working relationship between the two legends. Rhodes goes on to talk about the script and working with the censors before filming inflammatory scenes. He also shares several production stories and audience reactions to the end product.

The second commentary is hosted by author/historian Steve Haberman, who details historical references within the production. He goes on to discuss casting notes and takes a look at the make-up effects. He also draws comparisons between this film and the previous release The Black Cat with its inclusion of sadism, cruelty, medical disfigurement and torture which led to a temporary banning of horror in Britain in 1935.

Film historians Gary D. Rhodes and Gregory William Mank return for part two of the documentary A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal (17 minutes). They acknowledge Karloff’s reluctance to do the film and how it provided Lugosi an opportunity to shine. They discuss the improved relationship between the leads and share some of their favorite scenes.

A rare audio recording of Bela Lugosi reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” (13 minutes) delivers a thoughtful performance by the talented actor. Lugosi’s work on stage and screen closely associated him with the author over the years and this is a nice sample of his work.

Another photo gallery plays as a silent slideshow (8 minutes), featuring publicity stills, promotional images, poster art and lobby cards.

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Disc 3: The Invisible Ray

Author/film historian Tom Weaver provides an audio commentary filled with interesting production stories and trivia. He points out numerous differences between the script and screen and talks about the studio’s changing views of horror. He points out the similarities to Karloff’s later picture Die, Monster, Die! and then takes a side trip discussing the stars’ personal finances. Historian Randall Larson steps in late in the picture to provide commentary on the film’s score.

A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part 3: The Invisible Ray (17 minutes) finds Mank and Rhodes discussing the two stars’ rivalry and how they maintained respect for each other. This film is the longest and most expensive in their series of work together. There was a new regime at Universal who pitched the movie as a thriller instead of horror. There is discussion of death rays in cinema and how this picture was received by audiences.

A theatrical trailer has been included.

Yet another photo gallery plays as a silent slideshow (7 minutes), featuring lobby cards, publicity shots and international poster art in both color and black and white.

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Disc 4: Black Friday

Film historian Constantine Nasr provides an audio commentary filled with interesting information, including a history of the production and the return of horror to Universal. He discusses early drafts of the script, casting, the shooting schedule, editing decisions and he provides a critique of the performances of Karloff and Lugosi.

The final installment of the documentary series A Good Game Karloff and Lugosi at Universal part 4: Black Friday returns us to the discussion with film historians Gary D. Rhodes and Gregory William Mank. This time they start with their thoughts on the unfortunate decision of casting Stanley Ridges in the lead, pushing Karloff and Lugosi into supporting roles. They address the rumors that Lugosi was hypnotized on set for his performance and also acknowledge what a strong factor luck played in the stars’ careers; good for Karloff, not so much for Bela. There are more rare behind-the-scenes photographs peppered throughout the documentary offering a glimpse of life on the set.

An episode of The Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Show (27 minutes) featuring Boris Karloff in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is included and the actor delivers another dynamic performance in the lead.

A theatrical trailer has been included.

A photo gallery plays as a silent slideshow (7 minutes), offering publicity stills, lobby cards, newspaper ads and poster art has been included.

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Grades:

The Black Cat:
The Raven:
The Invisible Ray:
Black Friday:
Fourstars
Fourstars
Threeandahalfstars
Twoandahalfstars
Universal Horror Collection Volume 1 Small
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Fourandahalfstars
Overall: Fourandahalfstars

The Invisible Ray Previous The Black Cat Next

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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