The Boris Karloff Collection

The Boris Karloff Collection (1937)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, Chalres Laughton
Extras: Theatrical Trailers

As a lover of classic horror movies from the genre's golden era, I'm always eager to check out the films that make it to DVD. With "The Boris Karloff Collection," Universal now pays tribute to the wonderful actor who was a cornerstone of the studio's stellar rise to success during the 30s, 40s and 50s.

The 3-disc DVD set contains five films, offering up a good variety of roles that Boris Karloff played throughout his illustrious career. Disc 1 starts out with the thriller "Night Key," the earliest film in the collection, stemming from 1937 as Karloff plays an inventor and security expert who is kidnapped by a ring of burglars to help them commit their crimes. A film noir, "Night Key" is a great example how Boris Karloff excelled in roles outside the horror genre and his emotional portrayal is absolutely worth seeing.
The transfer of the film looks good overall, though it is a bit dark and contrast is stark. The print has been cleaned up and while not perfect is devoid of major problems and defects.

Next up on the disc is "Tower Of London" form 1939, a marvelously dark piece in which Karloff plays an executioner helping expedite the King of England's brother on his way to grab the throne. Basil Rathbone is the main character in this dark thriller and his devious scheming character is taking viewers in from the beginning, but it is Boris Karloff who steals the show as he shows how he could apply a touch of humanity and empathy to even the most morbid figures. Also look for Vincent Price in this film in a nice supporting role. Interestingly enough he revisited essentially the same historic story in 1962 in "Tower Of London" under the direction of Roger Corman, that time playing the leading character.
The transfer of this 1939 film is good and also without major issues. Black levels are solid and the transfer's contrast makes for a great viewing, never appearing overly stark or too dark.

In 1944 Karloff appeared in "The Climax" – his first color feature. Interestingly he appears much older in the film than he actually was at the time, as he plays a forlorn theater doctor whose insane jealousy makes him do things he doesn't really want to do and spends the rest of his life mourning.
The transfer of this feature is good, though being a very early color colors appear a bit desaturated and unstable. There are slight color shifts evident throughout the film, even in single shots, clearly dating the film. Nonetheless the performances in the film are marvelous and make for a great viewing filled with a lot of opera music – maybe a tad too much for some.

"The Strange Door" is another gem on the release, though Boris Karloff is once again playing m7ore of a supporting character – a very important one, however – in this film. Starring Charles Laughton as the main character this film oozes menace. Laughton tears up the screen with his trademark portrayal that makes you hate his guts from the first second he fills the frame. I always find it astounding how some actors manage to play heavies that are so evil, so disturbingly maniacal and so utterly disgusting that you could scream. Laughton was an actor who did that regularly and he carries the entire film, in which he kidnaps and kills people at will to satisfy his insane hunger for revenge.
The transfer of this film is great and offers solid blacks with good gray shades for good contrast. The print itself is fairly clean and without major defects, other than a few speckles here and there.

Last in the list is "The Black Castle," the 1952 thriller that is rich with the gothic atmosphere of a castle in Germany's Black Forest as Karloff plays a doctor at the castle. A man investigating the disappearance of his friends vists the castle only to find that he comes in the line of fire of the mad count of the castle himself. It is a great film a definitely another highlight of the box set to showcase Karloff's often underestimated versatility, though again he plays but a minor part in the film.
Again the disc serves up a nice-looking transfer of the movie that is free of major defects. Solid black levels and good gray fall-off make this film a pleasure to watch through and through.

Sadly no extras are included on this release at all. Selected films have the movie's trailer to offer but that is just about all there is. It is a bit disappointing because the third disc of the set is only a single-layer DVD and using a dual-layer disc instead would have provided ample space for some bonus materials or even a sixth film.

"The Boris Karloff Collection" is a great treasure trove for fans of Universal's classic horror and dark thrillers. While Boris Karloff is not always the top-billed actor and plays only supporting roles in some of the films, he always manages to elevate the films and give them depth, making you look forward to every precious minute he is in the picture. Clearly, for fans, this is a must-have set.