Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by A. Edward Sutherland, Ford Beebe, George Waggner & Jean Yarbrough.
 Starring Bela Lugosi, Rondo Hatton, Lionel Atwill.
Horror, US, 236 minutes, certificate 12.

Released in the UK on Blu-ray 17th April by Eureka


Over the past few years, Eureka have been providing us with a series of nicely presented packages of 1930’s and 40’s horrors and mysteries from Universal Studios. Concentrating on lesser-known entries from the studio, these re-releases have shone a light on what was once a staple of American cinema; the B-movie. Making the most of the studio backlots and a stable of contracted players, these movies, often played as supporting features to bigger budget efforts, offer a welcome reminder of what the Hollywood studio system once offered, especially in these cleaned up hi-def versions that show off the haunted castles, , secret passageways, dark streets and nefarious, shadow clad figures lurking around them to glorious effect.


The first of the four films presented over this two-disc set is MURDERS IN THE ZOO, a 1933 offering that hails from Paramount. Set around a series of, you guessed it, murders in a zoo, the film stars Lionel Atwill as an explorer and jealous husband who uses the animals, he has captured from abroad to slaughter anyone who throws a glance at his wife. Charming in its own way with its many zoological cutaways, an extra plus for depression era audiences who would be wanting the most out of any feature they could afford to see, the film has gained a reputation for its violence, a couple of instances of which can still raise eyebrows today with their sadistic edge.


Following this is NIGHT MONSTER, a 1942 offering that sees Bela Lugosi with top billing. However, that iconic figure only has a supporting role as a butler in a vast mansion, where a mysterious hulking figure has been spotted lurking around the grounds in the fog. Atwill makes a more sympathetic appearance here as a doctor who has tended to the crippled owner of the mansion who is now seeking revenge on those he blames for his condition. Described by Kim Newman in his commentary track as “a proto-slasher” this is a satisfying whodunnit that gains a supernatural edge thanks to the turban wearing character of Agor Singh, a mystical figure who claims to materialise objects across time and space.


More of a charming caper than a sinister horror, the third film here is HORROR ISLAND. A tale of treasure hunters exploring an abandoned castle for a vast fortune. This is a fun example of a studio B-movie with its large cast and packed plot with a highly satisfying reveal towards its climax.


The biggest draw here for afficionados of vintage cinema is the last film included on the set. HOUSE OF HORRORS stars Rondo Hatton, perhaps one of the most recognisable figures of the era. A tragic figure, Hatton was afflicted with acromegaly, an affliction which caused his bones and body tissue to grow at an accelerated rate. Fans of the comic book THE ROCKETEER, and its 90’s Disney adaptation, will instantly recognise Hatton’s distinctive face which was used for the villainous henchman in both the cult comic and film. Released after his death, HOUSE OF HORRORS sees Hatton play The Creeper, a serial killer of women who is taken in by struggling sculptor Marcel who finds inspiration in his misshapen features and directs him to take out any snooty art critics who have the nerve to criticise his work.


This is more of a noir crime flick than out and out horror but is still twisted enough to be included here. It feels a tad exploitative now to see a Hollywood studio making the most out of a man’s debilitating illness, at one point he is described as “the perfect Neanderthal!” Hatton may not have been the most gifted actor, but his undeniable presence was still something to take note of and fans of cult cinema would do well to check out one of his more famous roles.

Again, this is an excellent package to invest in, especially if you have a taste for vintage genre cinema. Eureka do their usual commendable high standard of presenting these works in their highest standard, much like their previous releases of Universal horror films. The foggy photography of NIGHT MONSTER is quite beautiful while the starker black and white shadow filled imagery of HOUSE OF HORRORS is sharper than ever, presenting its star in all his tragic glory. Commentaries are provided for each film, with Kim Newman and Stephen Graham Jones narrating their admiration and knowledge of these films on NIGHT MONSTER and HOUSE OF HORRORS while Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby supply their own brand of both traits for MURDERS IN THE ZOO and HORROR ISLAND. All in all this is yet another entertaining history of a bygone age in genre cinema from Eureka.


Iain MacLeod.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans