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Scream Factory releases Volume 3 of their Universal Horror Collection, and dip deep into the Universal vault for a quartet of lesser known films.

In the Spring of 2019, Scream Factory announced the release of a new collection of movies called “The Boris Karloff / Bela Lugosi Collection.” Due to some legal issues with one of the estates of Karloff or Lugosi, Scream Factory was forced to redo the artwork and retitle the collections, “The Universal Horror Collection, Volume 3.” This likely wasn’t the best outcome in the moment, but I’m convinced that it is working out better for these releases. Without being anchored to movies specifically involving Karloff and/or Lugosi, Scream Factory can dive deep into the Universal Pictures archives and bring little known Universal horror movies to Blu-ray release.

The four movies contained in “Volume 3” are, at best, horror adjacent. There are a couple of solid movies within, and the other two are enjoyable enough but lose nothing in translation if you turn on the commentary track during the first watch.

THE MOVIES

Tower of London (1939)

For the purposes of the Blu-ray set, Karloff is the star attraction of the movie. It’s not Karloff’s movie though. This tale of Richard III is completely owned by Basil Rathbone who dazzles in nearly every scene. Tower of London tells the story of Richard III’s rise to claim the throne of England through nefarious means with the help of his murderous henchman Mord (Boris Karloff).

The film is also notable for being one of the first roles for a young Vincent Price, playing the Duke of Clarence.

Tower of London is more a historical drama than a horror movie, though some horrific acts of murder are committed in service to Richard III’s ambition. For fans of palace intrigue and “Game of Thrones,” this Universal movie will fill that empty spot where “Game of Thrones” once inhabited.

The special features on this disc include a new scan of the film print, a promotional still gallery, and an audio commentary. The commentary by author/film historian Steve Haberman is informative about some of the actors and where their careers are during the production. Haberman does spend a significant amount of commentary time discussing the differences between the history of Richard III, the story of Tower of London and Shakespeare’s play “Richard III.”

Spoiler alert — the movie stays closer to the historical record than Shakespeare’s famous play.

FILM RATING: 3.5 out of 5

Man Made Monster, aka The Atomic Monster (1941)

A pre-The Wolf Man Lon Chaney, Jr. plays Dan McCormick, a small-time sideshow performer who has a unique ability to channel and control electricity. A scientist, Dr. Paul Rigas (Lionel Atwill) is working to create the perfect human being by means of electricity. His unethical tests on humans have not gone well. But then Dr. Rigas meets Dan and realizes that he may be the perfect vehicle for his experiments to create a human soldier that is dependent wholly on electricity to live. As the experiments go on, Dan loses his humanity and turns into a mindless slave with the ability to kill with the touch of his electrified hands.

The character played by Chaney, Jr. is quite familiar to fans of the more famous The Wolf Man. His performance as Dan McCormick is one of a powerful looking man who is more a gentle giant, but circumstances intervene to turn him into a monster. But even in his monstrous moments, Chaney, Jr. evokes great sympathy from the audience. It’s hard not to root for this man even when he’s committing unspeakable acts.

Man Made Monster is a surprisingly strong entry in this collection, and more in line with what fans may expect from a movie contained in a horror movie collection. Sadly, if you’re aware of Chaney, Jr.’s struggle with addiction later in his life, Man Made Monster almost seems to foreshadow his true-life addiction.

The features on this disc include a promotional still gallery along with a commentary track from filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr and author/film historian Tom Weaver. Nasr and Weaver dive deep into Chaney, Jr.’s career, personal life, as well as Universal Studio beginning to transition from gothic horror to the sci-fi horror that was beginning to become so popular at the time.

FILM RATING: 3.5 out of 5

The Black Cat (1941)

This is the second film of “Volume 3” that stars the great Basil Rathbone, but a very different kind of film than Tower of London. The Black Cat (not the same as the Karloff/Lugosi thriller from 1934; a great film that fans should seek out) is a mystery/comedy involving the estate of the elderly Henrietta Winslow (Cecilia Loftus). Her family, led by Montague Hartley (Basil Rathbone), come to find out what they will inherit when Henrietta dies. In a startling turn of events, Henrietta is murdered, but the family learns that the estate has been left to the housekeeper and all of Henrietta’s cats.

Like a game of Clue, the family members are each implicated in Henrietta’s murder and the identity of the murderer must be found before more are killed for Henrietta’s estate.

As a Bela Lugosi fan, The Black Cat is a bit of a disappointment. He’s not asked to do much on screen aside from peer around corners and look mysterious. Sometimes he holds a black cat.

Do not be fooled by the movie title or the title card when the film starts, because the 1941 The Black Cat bears little resemblance to the Edgar Allan Poe story. However, if you can look past the lack of Lugosi and Poe, this rendition of The Black Cat is enjoyable mystery romp. The movie has the feel of a Scooby-Doo adventure without the talking dog.

The commentary track by author/film historian Gary D. Rhodes gives quite a bit of detail about the production of the film and some inside knowledge of the studio in 1941. Fans of Universal Studios history and Bela Lugosi will find this commentary very interesting if, at times, a bit dry.

FILM RATING: 2.5 out of 5

Horror Island (1941)

I was looking forward to watching this movie based only on the title. It doesn’t have any recognizable stars of the time, but Horror Island is an evocative title. I was thinking monsters or perhaps murder most foul on a mad scientist’s hidden island. Alas, the film is about a ragtag group trying to find buried pirate treasure on an island of Florida. Armed with pieces of a treasure map, the group get on a boat toward the island with a Phantom (Foy Van Dolsen), who is hell-bent on sabotaging the search for the treasure.

Horror Island has a 60-minute running time and is reminiscent of the old “The Phantom” radio plays that my mother used to listen to. Whenever I saw the Phantom in the movie, the famous tagline, Only The Phantom knows! went through my mind.

Horror Island, as a movie, is a nice distraction but mostly fluff. It’s not scary enough for horror, not funny enough for comedy, not tense enough for a mystery, and not adventurous enough for a treasure heist. The image of the Phantom is striking, but the rest of somewhat forgettable. As a Universal Pictures completist, it’s nice to have this movie in the collection and watch it once or twice, but I don’t foresee many fans revisiting this one.

The features on the last disc contain a promotional still gallery for the film and commentary from filmmaker/film historian Ted Newsom. Horror Island is the one movie in this set that I could have watched the first time with the commentary track on and not missed any of the plot or dialogue.

Newsom goes into some detail about how Universal Pictures was operating at the time and the thinking behind releasing a movie like Horror Island. The film was cheap to make, had no stars to pay, and at a 60-minute running time, could play more times in the theater on a daily basis.

FILM RATING: 2.5 out of 5

THE DISCS

Scream Factory’s third “Universal Horror Collection” is, like the previous two, a beautiful set. All four movies look crisp and have a clean sound. Even though not every movie gets the 2K scan treatment, they all look pristine.

As these are lesser known films in the Universal library, it’s not a surprise that there are very few special features. The commentary tracks for all four movies go into some depth about the films, the actors, and into the decisions by Universal Pictures in that era. If you’re a fan of film history, these commentary tracks are required listening while watching the films.

THE VERDICT

As Scream Factory dips into the lesser known titles in the Universal horror catalogue, fans are getting some questionable horror content but worthy movies to add to the collection. The “Universal Horror Collection Volume 3” is a Blu-ray set that can sit proudly in your movie collection, but these more obscure films may whet the appetite of movie completists more than the average fan.

COLLECTION RATING:

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

THE SPECIAL FEATURES

Disc One: Tower of London (1939)

  • New 2K scan of a fine grain print
  • New audio commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman
  • Still gallery

Disc Two: Man Made Monster (1941)

  • New audio commentary with author/film historian Tom Weaver and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr
  • Still Gallery

Disc Three: The Black Cat (1941)

  • New audio commentary with author/film historian Gary D. Rhodes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Still gallery

Disc Four: Horror Island (1941)

  • New audio commentary by filmmaker/film historian Ted Newsom
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Still gallery

For more information and to purchase “Universal Horror Collection Volume 3”, visit Shout! Factory here.

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