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Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 Main

Universal Horror Collection Volume 4: House of Horrors Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 Large

Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Written by George Bricker
1946, 66 minutes, Not Rated

Starring:
Robert Lowery as Steven Morrow
Virginia Grey as Joan Medford
Bill Goodwin as Lt. Harry Brooks
Martin Kosleck as Marcel De Lange
Rondo Hatton as “The Creeper”

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Review:

When starving artist Marcel De Lange happens upon a man struggling to escape the river, he pulls him to safety. He is immediately struck by the man’s unique physical appearance and brings him home. Finding new inspiration for his next sculpture, Marcel uses the stranger as a model. As it happens, this is the infamous strangler known only as The Creeper. When the artist complains about a particularly mean-spirited review of his work, his muse slips out and murders the author. Marcel feels empowered and taps into a desire to punish other art critics in the city. He must be careful and keep his partner secreted away from prying eyes, namely those of nosy writer Joan Medford, who has taken an interest in Marcel’s work. The Creeper is more than willing to kill anyone who wrongs his new benefactor, but how long can Marcel maintain control of their relationship?

House of Horrors is a better-than-average revenge picture highlighted by the casting of character actor Rondo Hatton (The Brute Man) as The Creeper, a role he originated in the Sherlock Holmes mystery Pearl of Death (1944). Hatton has a distinct physical appearance due to having been exposed to mustard gas in the war, which resulted in acromegaly. He put his striking features to good use and made a career in Hollywood playing heavies. As an actor he doesn’t exhibit a lot of range, but his presence demands attention and he owns every minute of his generous screen time. Most of his scenes are played opposite Martin Kosleck (The Flesh Eaters) as the maligned Marcel De Lange and their work delivers the heart of the film. Virginia Grey (Portrait in Black) stands out as strong willed Joan Medford, whose inquiries inject a threat of exposure.

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Directed by Jean Yarbrough (The Devil Bat), the film is atmospheric and well-staged. The script written by George Bricker (Blonde Alibi) moves at a brisk pace, giving each of its three lead characters clear motivations and decisive actions. Yarbrough garners respectable performances from his cast while cinematographer Maury Gertsman (Terror by Night) shines with his camera work and lighting design. Hatton’s career was cut short by his rapidly failing health, and while his name may not be familiar, his work leaves a lasting impression.

The Universal Horror Collection Volume 4 is something of a mixed bag, with three entertaining pictures and only one stinker. The real problem is that only half the titles offered are actual horror movies. It is always nice seeing the work of actors like Karloff, Lugosi and Atwill, but there is no shortage of material in the vault since the studio was a leading source of horror cinema for more than a decade. I can still recommend the series, as they really do preserve and reintroduce some quality work; let’s just hope Volume 5 gets back to its genre roots.

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Video and Audio:

The first three films in this set receive 2K scans and restorations, while House of Horrors is only given an HD remaster. All are presented in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio and look terrific. The Climax was shot in Technicolor and features a bold, well-saturated palette. The remaining titles are all black-and-white and contain solid gray scale and rich contrast.

Each title comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio track that has been remastered and is free from hiss, pops or other distortion. Dialogue levels are always clear and understandable and optional English subtitles have been included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Disc 1: Night Key

Film historian Tom Weaver reluctantly accepted the invitation to record an audio commentary for this film, which admittedly left him cold. He begins by tracing the troubled production history that resulted in no less than eight writers and four directors attached before cameras rolled. Weaver continues with praise for Karloff’s performance, but little else. He shares synopses from early script drafts and provides notes on members of the cast and crew and reads selections from Karloff’s comments to the press during filming. Fellow historian Dr. Robert J. Kiss chimes in briefly with further analysis. This is an interesting and frequently humorous commentary worth checking out.

The theatrical trailer has been included.

There are two photo galleries; one dedicated to production designs and artwork (4 minutes) and the other showcasing promotional stills, publicity shots, newspaper ads and color poster art (3 minutes).

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Disc 2: Night Monster

In his audio commentary, film historian Gary D. Rhodes details the numerous script changes required by the censor board before filming began. He goes on to provide extensive notes on the cast and other horror films of the era. Rhodes details the familiar tropes present in the picture and explores the history of the supernatural in literature and film. Other topics include observations on war-era films, Bela Lugosi’s career performances and critical reception to this picture.

The theatrical trailer has been included.

A still gallery slideshow (4 minutes) contains a series of black-and-white publicity shots and promotional images as well as some color poster art and lobby cards.

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Disc 3: The Climax

Film historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones provide a frank and informative audio commentary that begins with detailing the connections this film shares with Universal’s Phantom of the Opera and the popularity of operetta in 1940s cinema. They continue with observations on the familiar trope of hypnotism in melodramas and condemn this picture’s weak script and Karloff’s lackluster performance. They praise the casting of two non-white male lead actors and offer additional notes on various cast members. Other topics include the weird period setting of the story, odd character motivations and rushed ending. This is another entertaining and informative track worth a listen.

A still gallery (4 minutes) offers a collection of promotional stills and publicity shots, all curiously in black-and-white considering this was a Technicolor film. A selection of color poster art is also included.

A theatrical trailer contains a fair number of spoilers, but makes the film look better than it is.

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Disc 4: House of Horrors

An audio commentary by historian Scott Gallinghouse provides detailed notes from the original production reports and offers examples of how a shooting schedule works. From there he offers information on the cast and crew, with special attention paid to the life and career of Rondo Hatton. Gallinghouse lists a series of alternate titles for this film and provides analysis of the storyline.

The Creeper – Rondo Hatton at Universal (22 minutes) is a thoughtful appreciation of the character actor, featuring interviews with industry names, including make-up artist Rick Baker, director Fred Olen Ray, historians Bob Burns, Ted Newsom and C. Courtney Joyner and actress Jane Adams. The piece starts with biographical information of Rondo’s life before the war and the injuries he sustained while serving. From there we get an overview of his Hollywood career that exploited his facial features. A nice closer comes courtesy of Baker discussing the inspiration to recreate the actor’s likeness for a character in The Rocketeer (1991).

A gallery of publicity shots, production stills and color poster art plays as a silent slideshow (5 minutes).

Included inside the packaging for this collection is a ten-page booklet, with each film receiving a two-page spread of promotional images and credits.

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Grades:

Night Key:
Night Monster:
The Climax:
House of Horrors:
Threeandahalfstars
Threestars
Oneandahalfstars
Threeandahalfstars
Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Fourstars
Features: Twoandahalfstars
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

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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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