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Scary monster, super creeps

October 08, 2006|Susan King

Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection

(Warner, $40 for the three-disc, six-film set)

Mark of the Vampire

Tod Browning directed this fitfully entertaining 1935 remake of his "lost" 1927 silent, "London After Midnight," which featured Lon Chaney.

Elizabeth Allan plays a young woman whose wealthy father appears to have been killed by a notorious vampire named Count Mora (Bela Lugosi), known to haunt a local castle. A year later, when she becomes the count's target, an expert on vampires (a crafty Lionel Barrymore) arrives on the scene to prevent her death and put an end to Count Mora's evil doings.

Things are not exactly what they seem in this clever little thriller, which also features Jean Hersholt.

"Mark of the Vampire" is known for its twist ending. Even the actors didn't know how the film would conclude until a few days before production ended. "Mark" previewed with audiences at 80 minutes; nearly 20 minutes were cut before its release.

Extras: The theatrical trailer and wryly witty commentary from British film historians Kim Newman and Steve Jones, who discuss "London After Midnight," the genesis of this remake and the film's censorship problems.


The Mask of Fu Manchu

This pre-code, politically incorrect hoot from 1932 has a little something to offend everyone.

Boris Karloff plays the title role, the brilliant but evil Dr. Fu Manchu, who wants to get ahold of the mysterious relics from Genghis Khan's newly found tomb so he can rule the world and destroy the white race.

Myrna Loy plays Karloff's equally demonic daughter, who goes into a sexual frenzy when the handsome hero (Charles Starrett) is being whipped.

Over 30 years ago, certain racist remarks about Asians were deleted from prints of the film. However, the DVD was made from the unedited camera negative, so all cuts have been restored.

Charles Vidor was the film's original director but was quickly replaced by Charles Brabin; the whole production was fraught with difficulties, especially since there was no completed script before production began.

Extras: Fact-filled, tongue-in-cheek commentary from Greg Mank, author of "Karloff & Lugosi: A Story of a Haunting Collaboration."


Doctor X

Shot in an early version of Technicolor in 1932, this pre-code shocker deals with a "moon killer" who strangles, dissects and cannibalizes his victims.

Because the murders take place near the research laboratory of the eerie Dr. X (Lionel Atwill), he and his colleagues are under suspicion. Dr. X makes a deal with the police that he will conduct his own investigation to see if any of his fellow doctors is the ruthless serial killer.

Lee Tracy plays the wisecracking reporter investigating the murders (he also provides romantic interest); Fay Wray plays Dr. X's daughter, who nearly becomes the killer's next victim. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

Extras: The trailer and knowledgeable commentary from horror historian Tom Weaver.


The Return of Doctor X

Humphrey Bogart made a lot of turkeys early in his career at Warner Bros., and this 1939 howler was one of his worst.

Thankfully, it's so bad it's fun. Bogart plays an insane doctor who was executed for causing the death of a young boy in an experiment to discover how long a child could go without food. The boy is brought back to life through another doctor's experiment, but because he needs fresh blood to stay alive, he goes on a killing spree.

Just seeing Bogart in whiteface makeup with a white skunk strip in his hair makes it all worth watching. Bogie later said of the movie, "This is one of the pictures that made me march into [studio head] Jack Warner and ask for more money again."

Wayne Morris and Dennis Morgan also star.

"Dr. X" marked the directorial debut of Vincent Sherman ("Old Acquaintance"), who died earlier this summer just shy of his 100th birthday.

Extras: The trailer and commentary with author Steve Haberman and Sherman, who was a very spry 99 when he recorded his track. Haberman chats with Sherman about "Dr. X" and about his early career in Hollywood.


Mad Love

Though best known for his work as a cinematographer, first in Germany and then in the United States -- he worked on "I Love Lucy" -- Karl Freund also directed some infamous horror films, including 1932's "The Mummy" and this creepy 1935 shocker.

A bald Peter Lorre plays the famous Parisian surgeon Dr. Gogol, who spends his nights in a special box at the theater because he is obsessed with the horror play's star, the beautiful Yvonne (Frances Drake). His obsession turns to madness when he learns that Yvonne is married to the popular composer-pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive).

After Orlac's hands are crushed in a train crash, Yvonne goes to Gogol and begs him to help her husband. He agrees, but unbeknownst to Yvonne and her husband, he surgically grafts on the hands of an executed murderer who was a knife-throwing specialist.

Extras: The trailer and astute commentary from Haberman.


The Devil Doll

Tod Browning's last significant film stars Lionel Barrymore as a once-respected banker who was sent to prison on Devil's Island after he was framed by his three partners.

Nearly 20 years later, he escapes with a fellow convict (Henry B. Walthall of "Birth of a Nation" fame), a mad scientist who has worked with his equally crazed wife on a method of reducing human beings to the height of small dolls in order to preserve the world's natural resources -- tiny people don't eat as much.

After the scientist dies, Barrymore sees the invention as a way to seek revenge upon the men who destroyed his life. He returns to Paris with the scientist's wife, and in the guise of an old woman -- Barrymore's disguise is reminiscent of Lon Chaney's outfit in Browning's "The Unholy Three" -- opens a doll shop.

Maureen O'Sullivan plays Barrymore's embittered daughter in this 1936 thriller.

Extras: The trailer.

-- Susan King

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