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Retro : The Horrors

August 06, 1995|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MCA/Universal Home Video's new Universal Horror Classics is a collection to die for. The four chilling videos--Murders in the Zoo, Black Friday, Night Monster and The Black Castle--begin haunting a video store near you on Tuesday.

Universal Studios was the king of horror films in the '30s and '40s. The studio was responsible for such stylish classics as Bela Lugosi in "Dracula"; Boris Karloff in "Frankenstein," "The Bride of Frankenstein," "The Son of Frankenstein" and "The Mummy"; Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man" and Lon Chaney Jr. in "The Wolfman."

Though none of the films ($15 each) in the Universal collection are on par with "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," these new releases still can scare the wits out of the genre's fans.

Karloff and Lugosi are both in the sturdy 1940 thriller "Black Friday." In this Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-esque tale, Karloff plays a surgeon who saves a professor's life (Stanley Ridges) after he suffers an accident. (Karloff transplants the brain of a gangster into the professor's body.)

In order to find hidden money, Karloff encourages the professor to believe he actually is the gangster. Lugosi, in a small role, plays another gangster. Anne Nagel and Anne Gwynne also star.

Karloff is on hand again (along with Lon Chaney Jr.) in the silly but watchable "The Black Castle" from 1952. Set in the 18th Century, this thriller finds handsome Richard Greene as a young English knight out to avenge the death of two of his closest friends. His investigation leads him to the castle of the sadistic Count Carl Von Bruno (Stephen McNally), where he becomes embroiled in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the count. Karloff plays the castle's doctor who helps Greene and love interest Paula Corday escape.

Lugosi, Nils Asther, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson and Ralph Morgan (Frank's brother) star in the nifty 1940 chiller "Night Monster." A creepy figure stalks the country estate of a cripple (Morgan), murdering all the doctors who try to heal him. Meanwhile, the man in the wheelchair devises his own methods to walk: He uses self-hypnosis to create synthetic legs. Directed by Ford Beebe.

U.S. Sen. Robert Dole would probably vote thumbs-down for the sadistic 1933 thriller "Murders in the Zoo," starring Atwill, Charlie Ruggles, Kathleen Burke, Gail Patrick, John Lodge and Randolph Scott. Censors were supposedly so upset at what they saw on the screen that theaters had the option to cut out offensive sequences.

Atwill plays a zoologist and sportsman who is insanely jealous of his wife's (Burke) lovers. The green-eyed monster causes him to kill his competition by tossing them into the zoo's reptile house, where they are devoured by the pythons. Or sometimes he'd just throw them into the crocodile den. Directed by Edward Sutherland. A real curio.

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