Running Time: 330 minutes (approx)
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: Standard 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Region: 1
MSRP: $26.98

Own It!
The Bela Lugosi Collection

When attending the theatrical release of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, it seemed my job was answering the questions of my companion – the repeated question being, “Did that really happen?” The question changed slightly at the end, with the proclamation that Bela Lugosi memorabilia now fetches a higher price than that of his bete noir, Boris Karloff: “Is that true?” The response: “Well, yeah – there’s less of it.”

Bela Lugosi may epitomize the Hollywood Heartbreak story, from lofty heights to rock bottom, superstardom to less-than-obscurity, with the additional stigma and horror of drug addiction thrown in. The Bela Lugosi Collection brings five of his films into the digital age, with a presentation that mirrors that arc, in a way.

  • Murders in the Rue Morgue is probably the best showcase for Lugosi here, as he gets to display genuine talent in a couple of standout scenes (one, alas, marred by some damage to the print). Bela plays Dr. Mirakle, a madman who desires to prove his Darwinian theories by injecting blood from his pet orangutan (played in closeups by a chimp) into women of the streets, with the usual deaths resulting. Murders has the closest resemblance to its source material of any of the flicks, especially -
  • The Black Cat. Regarded as a horror classic, this movie actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the production design is so striking, so different from the other Universal old dark house movies, it definitely deserves a look. This is the first team-up of Lugosi and Karloff, and they are fairly evenly matched, even if this also points up some of Lugosi’s limitations – there is little difference between Vitus Verdegast in this movie and Dr. Eric Vornoff in Wood’s Bride of the Monster. Also, don’t look for any aspect of Poe’s story in this movie. You’ll hurt yourself.
  • The Raven, however, is fairly soaked in Poe, if a rather odd interpretation of same. Lugosi plays a Poe-obsessed surgeon who becomes even more obsessed with a patient, and goes so far as to place his victim’s father in a recreation of the Pit and the Pendulum. Karloff is in place as Lugosi’s patsy, a criminal surgically scarred and forced to do the madman’s bidding.
  • The Invisible Ray is an odd inclusion, though it was popular enough to deserve laserdisc treatment, back in the day. A hoary old chestnut (Karloff even has the “they all laughed at me!” speech) about a scientist’s pursuit of “Radium X”, a powerful element derived from a meteorite which turns it’s discoverer into a glow-in-the-dark killing machine. It is unquestionably Karloff’s film, with Lugosi relegated to a somewhat sympathetic supporting role.
  • In Black Friday, both of the horror stalwarts rather take a back seat to Stanley Ridge (who?) a mild-mannered college professor who receives a life-saving partial brain transplant – trouble is, it was from the brain of a violent mobster, with predictable results. This movie is perhaps best known for the publicity stunt in which Lugosi was supposedly hypnotized to more fully feel the terror of being trapped inside an airtight vault.

Most of these movies are in surprisingly good shape, though the occasional blemish surfaces, and scratches remain a problem (though not a constant presence). The picture can tend rather too much toward the grainy on higher-resolution sets. Keep in mind this is five movies over two sides of a flipper disc, and the compression does not seem to have run amuck too badly (especially since the three movies on Side A are barely over an hour each). A little grain enhancement is quite forgivable.

The disc menu itself is amazingly utilitarian; no flying logos or spots pimping other releases, just a simple listing of movies on that side of the disc and a notice that you must flip it to see the other movies. A black-and-white version of the modern Universal logo does proceed each movie, but wow - being given what I've been grumbled about for ages is a bit jarring. I should start grumbling about money more.

There are trailers for Rue Morgue, Invisible Ray, and Black Friday (ballyhooing that hypnotism stunt). Past that - nothing.

Which strikes me a being deuced odd. Given the amount of material here, a documentary would have doubtless been out of the question, but a text piece would have been most welcome. All we told about Lugosi is the 52 word blurb on the slipcase - and 15 of those are the movie titles! The casual viewer would be quite lost as what's all the hubbub about this Lugosi fellow.

But who am I kidding? A casual movie watcher is not coming anywhere near this disc. The movies are all nearly three-quarters of a century old, and in black and white to boot - only dedicated fans of the genre or the actors involved will be purchasing this one. Still, a bit of background, and acknowlegement of where Lugosi stands in the landscape of the genre, would have been very nice.

But probably the most telling aspect of this enterprise is found in the packaging itself: Once out of the handsome slipcase, the cardstock box opens to reveal the disc on one side, brief recaps of the movie on the other. Removing the disc from its clear holder reveals a photo from The Invisible Ray, forming the backdrop behind those synopses and the disc holder.

In the very center of the photo, facing the camera, is Karloff. The back of Lugosi's head is to the far left.

Bela still can't get no respect.

Dr. Freex, 11/5/2005