Blu-Ray Review: Karloff at Columbia

The mad scientist at work

William Henry Pratt, aka Baris Karloff, was one of the most recognisable faces of early horror cinema. He’s most famous for playing Doctor Frankenstein’s chilling creation in a number of films throughout the 1930s. The Englishman was cast in over one hundred and fifty roles in a career which spanned over five decades. However, his most iconic and successful parts were in genre cinema. He made a number of films with Columbia Pictures and in Karloff at Columbia Eureka Entertainment bring six of those made between 1934 and 1942 together.

The Black Room

When his wife gives birth to twins, Baron Frederick de Berghman (Henry Kolker) is terrified of an ancient prophecy that foretells of the younger brother killing the elder in The Black Room. To prevent this happening, he seals it up. Many years later, Baron Gregor’s (Boris Karloff) reign of tyranny is a blight on the local villagers. When his brother Anton returns from abroad, he’s dismayed by their discontent and shocked when his younger brother announces his abdication. Roy William Neill’s dark horror allows Karloff to exercise his acting chops and the period is brought to life impressively. It’s a chiller which plays on many classic macabre tales.

The Man They Could Not Hang

Dr. Savaard (Karloff) has dedicated his life to science. More precisely, bringing the dead back to life. After being apprehended mid-experiment, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He vows revenge on judge, jury and everyone else who put him there. When they’re invited to a dinner party, they’re in for one heck of a shock. Nick Grinde’s mystery horror is a brilliantly conceived tale of revenge, which acts as a blueprint for many films which followed.

The Man with Nine Lives

Dr Mason (Roger Pryor) tries to track down the originator of ‘frozen therapy’, a discipline which he believes can change human existence. However, Dr. Kravaal (Karloff) has been missing for many years. Upon arriving at his house, he discovers something miraculous. Nick Grinde once again helms a Karloff ‘crazy doctor’ film which blurs the boundaries between science and criminality, raising the stakes to life and death.

Before I Hang

After performing a mercy-killing on an elderly friend, Dr, Garth (Karloff) is sentenced to death. He’s allowed to continue his experiments in prison, using the blood of an executed murderer he develops a serum which reverses the aging process. However, it comes with an unusual side effect… Nick Grinde’s film plays with Stevenson’s characters of Jekyll and Hyde to make a tense drama.

The Devil Commands

When his wife Helen (Shirley Warde) dies in a tragic car crash, Dr. Julian Blair (Karloff) throws himself into his work. He’s carrying-out pioneering research on brain waves and becomes obsessed with contact her from beyond the veil. Edward Dmytryk’s film plays with the dangers of science and untampered fixations. Drawing on supernatural influences and an atmosphere of the uncanny, it’s a chilling story.  

The Boogie Man Will Get You

Lew Landers’ comedy horror toys beautifully with Karloff’s reputation for playing the mad scientist in this tale of a young divorcee (Jeff Donnell) who coverts an old mansion into a hotel, despite the strange doctor (guess who?!) with a laboratory in the basement. Peter Lorre shines, as ever, shines in this beautifully observed satire.

Limited edition special features:

  • Includes: The Black Room; The Man They Could Not Hang; The Man With Nine Lives; Before I Hang; The Devil Commands; and The Boogie Man Will Get You
  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [3000 copies]
  • All six films presented in 1080p across two Blu-ray discs
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Brand new audio commentaries on The Black Room, Before I Hang, and The Boogie Man Will Get You with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby
  • Brand new audio commentaries on The Man They Could Not Hang, The Man With Nine Lives, and The Devil Commands with author Stephen Jones and author / critic Kim Newman
  • A limted-edition collector’s booklet featuring writing on all six films by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann [3000 copies]

Karloff at Columbia is released on Blu-Ray by Eureka Entertainment on 3 May.

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