Bela Lugosi has certainly had his share of collections and box sets hitting the stands, but now, belatedly, Boris Karloff has some sets of his own, and we’re not talking cheap public domain films from late in his career.
Universal, where Karloff became a star with Frankenstein, has released, as part of their Franchise Collection, The Boris Karloff Collection. There are five films here: Night Key (1937), Tower of London (1939), The Climax (1944), The Strange Door (1951) and…The Black Castle (1952). Welcome as these films are to DVD, they are, generally speaking, far from being among Karloff’s most memorable films. But that is largely because his biggest Universal pictures have already appeared either in the Frankenstein or Lugosi collections. These aren’t really horror movies, either. Most are period pieces, with Karloff playing secondary roles. He’s the primary antagonist in The Climax, though, which is a Phantom of the Opera variation sans make-up. The standout is Tower of London, where Karloff is the clubfooted, murderous servant of Basil Rathbone’s even more murderous Richard III.
Karloff is the lead all the way down the line in the other recent set, Columbia’s Boris Karloff: Icons of Horror Collection. There are four films here: The Black Room (1935), The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), Before I Hang (1940) and The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942). All but the first are fine representatives of the Mad Doctor phase of Karloff’s career. The Black Room is another period piece, with Karloff playing good and evil twins, and it’s a ton of fun. But even more delightful is The Boogie Man Will Get You. Too long unavailable on home video, this has Karloff and Peter Lorre sending up the whole mad scientist subgenre. This set is easily the most important Karloff-related release since the Lugosi set appeared with The Black Cat, The Raven and The Invisible Ray.
Neither of these sets have any extras to speak of, but Warner steps up to the plate with the Legends of Horror Collection. Six films, five excellent commentaries here. This isn’t a Karloff collection, but I mention this anyway as one of his classics is here, and no self-respecting fan of classic horror can possibly pass this collection up. Karloff is the title villain of The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), which at last is presented with every appallingly racist line uncut. The print is sometimes a bit rough, but the trade-off is worth it. The rest of the collection is just as golden: Lugosi in Mark of the Vampire (1935), Tod Browning’s remake of his own London After Midnight, complete with ridiculous twist ending; The Devil-Doll (1936), also by Browning, wherein Lionel Barrymore reduces people to doll-size to wreak vengeance on his enemies (and this is the one film in the set without a commentary); Peter Lorre, bald and utterly mad in Mad Love (1935), the definitive version of the oft-filmed novel The Hands of Orlac; the early colour horror Doctor X (1932), whose comic relief is annoying, but whose grotesquerie is terrific; and most peculiar of all (and also a previously unavailable treasure), The Return of Doctor X (1939), a sequel in name only, but that features a zombified Humphrey Bogart (!).
Consider all three of these sets absolutely essential.