Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Monsters, Part 5 (A Milder Sort of Macabre Edition)

chanduChandu the Magician” (1932, Kino Lorber) Who can save the world from the arch-villain Roxor (Bela Lugosi)? Only one man – Chandu the Magician (Edmund Lowe), who pits his mastery of mystical arts against Roxor’s death ray. At 71 minutes, this adaptation of the popular radio fantasy-adventure series of the same name unspools at a breathless clip, helped immeasurably by Lugosi’s ripe turn (he eats former silent film star Lowe for lunch in every shared scene), lavish Art Deco sets and a barrage of impressive (for the period) special effects, conceived by co-director William Cameron Menzies (“Invaders from Mars”) with cinematographer James Wong Howe (“Seconds”) and visual effects designer Fred Sersen (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”). It’s pure pulp, but undeniably enjoyable (those slavering for the upcoming “Doctor Strange” might appreciate seeing one of the character’s inspirations); Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by historian and Lugosi biographer Gregory William Mank and a brief but informative history of Chandu’s transition from radio to film.

61rtzacrr3l-_sl1000_“Secret of the Blue Room (1933, Universal Vault Series) In an attempt to win the hand of Gloria Stuart (“The Invisible Man”), a trio of suitors accept the challenge of spending the night in the titular room, where three previous occupants all died under mysterious circumstances – and with the door locked from the inside. Universal’s lowest-budgeted film (outside of their Westerns) of 1933 suffers from a script laden with red herrings, but director Kurt Neumann (“The Fly”) wields a barrage of spookshow tropes – windswept castles, cursed rooms, clutching hands, screams in the night – with skill throughout the 66-minuted running time; he’s abetted by the lavish sets (including ones built for James Whale’s “Old Dark House,” also with Stuart) and a cast of pros, highlighted by horror vets Lionel Atwill (“Mystery of the Wax Museum”) and Onslow Stevens (“House of Dracula,” “Them!”), all of which undoubtedly endeared the picture to monster-hungry kids who caught it on television as part of the original “Shock Theater” syndication package in the late ‘50s.

81ocxgjasll-_sl1500_Lured” (1947, Cohen Media Group) Brassy American dancer Lucille Ball is tapped by Scotland Yard to assist in capturing the “Poet Killer,” a serial murderer that has claimed eight victims, including her friend. Using the criminal’s method of attracting his potential targets – personal ads – Lucy is put in the path of an array of eccentrics, from deranged fashion designer Boris Karloff to kidnaper Joseph Calleia, as well as dashing stage producer George Sanders. Could their blossoming romance obscure the identity of a killer? Modest costume mystery by melodrama specialist Douglas Sirk is a mostly lighthearted affair (in spite of the subject matter) tailored to Ball’s musical comedy skills; for our purposes, it’s enjoyable for the parade of stars with horror pedigrees in its supporting cast, from Karloff and George Zucco (as Ball’s police bodyguard) to Sir Cedric Hardwicke (“The Ghoul,” “The Ghost of Frankenstein”) and Alan Napier (“Isle of the Dead” and of course, Alfred on “Batman”). Cohen Media’s Blu-ray partners “Lured” with “A Scandal in Paris” (1946), another Sirk crime story with Sanders, and offers commentary history Jeremy Arnold.

71jda2a8cul-_sl1000_The Woman in White” (1948, Warner Archives Collection) More sinister secrets, more problems: a teaching assignment brings painter Gig Young to an remote English estate where, as is often the case in such places, the malevolent schemes and unusual characters are stacked up like cordwood. There’s fragile Laura (Eleanor Parker) and her more savvy (but oddly self-deprecating) cousin Maria (Alexis Smith); their uncle (John Abbott), who appears at all times at death’s door, and Count Fosco (Sydney Greenstreet), whose jolly veneer is clearly a distraction (he’s Sydney Greenstreet, after all) from unpleasant machinations involving Laura and the unctuous Sir Percival (John Emery). And there’s the Woman in White (also Parker), a dead ringer for Laura who roams the estate grounds (after escaping from an asylum) and issues dire warnings to Young. Director Peter Godfrey and writer Stephen Morehouse Avery try to compact the labyrinthine storylines from Wilkie Collins’ novel – an important title in the history of mystery literature – and if they aren’t entirely successful in transitioning the page to screen (far too much clunky dialogue and sluggishly paced scenes), they do manage to deliver a fair amount of shivery Gothic atmosphere (helped in no small part by cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie), most notably in Young’s nighttime encounters with the spectral Parker. As far as Halloween screenings go, it’s perhaps best reserved for non-horror fans that are still game for a little fright night programming. WAC’s fullscreen DVD-R includes the theatrical trailer.

799975712840The Psychopath” (1965, Desert Island Films) Phlegmatic detective Patrick Wymark (“Blood on Satan’s Claw”) investigates a series of murders, all involving members of a former Allied Forces investigation committee and each found with a doll made in the victim’s likeness. UK horror house Amicus Productions issued “The Psychopath” to compete with a string of early ‘60s thrillers issued by their chief competitors, Hammer Films (“Scream of Fear,” “Paranoiac”). Their effort should pose no challenge to armchair detectives, but it does boast effective direction by Freddie Francis, who helmed several of the Hammer suspense titles, and a script by Robert Bloch (who would go on to pen several Amicus pictures, including “The House That Dripped Blood”) with a slew of grisly (if bloodless) murder set pieces (death by car accident, hanging, blowtorch) and a ripe slice of Freudian psychopathy run amuck in its wrap-up that puts a neat spin on the denouement of Bloch’s best-known work, “Psycho.” Desert Island’s widescreen DVD appears to have been taken from a German source (hence the on-screen title, “Der Puppen-Mörder”).mz-dvd-buybutton

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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