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Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 (Blu-ray Review)

Scream Factory named their last Universal Horror Collection “Volume 1” and they are coming through with more within just a month with “Volume 2”. The first set was originally a Karloff and Lugosi collection, renamed for one reason or another (And with this label, you can put much more content out under the Universal Horror banner). This one doesn’t have the distinction of those two actors, but it isn’t without merit or a common thread among the films. On one hand Volume 2 is a bit of a Mad Doctor/Scientist collection of films, but within 3 of those a common actor is among them. This could be somewhat of a Lionel Atwill set (A new mini doc is even devoted to him) as he stars in 3 films in this set and is as common a fixture in the Universal Classic Monster films as his colleagues Karloff and Lugosi. This new 4-disc set will be available at the end of the month on July 23rd and can be pre-ordered from the Shout! Factory website or the bottom of this review via the Amazon link.

Murders In The Zoo 

Dr. Gorman (Lionel Atwill) is a millionaire adventurer, traveling the world in search of dangerous game. His bored, beautiful, much younger wife (Kathleen Burke) entertains herself in the arms of other men. In turn, Gorman uses his animals to kill these men. When a New York City zoo suggests a fundraising gala, Gorman sees a prime opportunity to dispatch the dashing Roger (John Lodge) and anyone else who might cross him. Can a reptile expert (Randolph Scott) stop the doctor’s murderous ways?

Murders In The Zoo is a hell of a way to kick off this set. For a 1933 film, this one will probably open many eyes right from the get go on the some of the graphic nature (A dude’s mouth viciously sewn shut) and the unapologetic ruthlessness of the film’s villain. Atwill is at the top of his game here as just a vile rat bastard. This movie wear’s its intentions on its sleeve, but its also another thing just to sit back and watch them play out with almost no real sense of holding back.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: There are no details on the transfer for Murders in the Zoo provided. But I’m sure its somewhere in the range of a 2K scan. Its a bit softer of a picture with some solid textures coming through. Some of it feels like its in the nature of the shoot, as its sort of fitting with the lighting. Overall there are no real troubles or print damage abound and the image is more than well enough to make this probably the most enjoyable watch you’ve had with the film.

Depth:  This one is just slightly above average. It looks fine but the pushback isn’t anything big. Motion is cinematic and smooth with no distortions present.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep and do good to build the atmosphere and define the picture. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones carry a consistent tone from start to finish of the film. Facial features show better the closer the camera gets, but due to the softer look its not incredibly revealing at its best.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Murders in the Zoo comes complete with its mono theatrical mix. Its a pretty loud mix with some really surprisingly good low level tones throughout the film. It has a pretty solid mixture and balance on display, making for a quaint, of its time feeling enjoyable listen to the film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear, with a little heavier analog hiss as a base.

The Mad Doctor Of Market Street 

When Dr. Benson’s experiments in suspended animation result in a man’s death, he is forced to flee San Francisco with the police in hot pursuit. He boards a luxury liner to Australia but a shipwreck lands him and a handful of survivors on a remote tropical island. The island natives are NOT very welcoming until Dr. Benson demonstrates his godlike powers by reviving the comatose wife of the island chief. Now worshipped as a deity, the doctor’s ego rages out of control as he begins to focus on his master plan: “Just as the natives worship me, so will the whole world.”

Its here, its there, its everywhere. Its The Mad Doctor of Market Street. This film hops around all over the place between horror, comedy and other weird genres. “Pick a lane” might be some advice one would give this movie. It goes from the titular Market Street to a boat to being shipwrecked on an island. Atwill is pretty fun in this movie, and it has some all right moments and is too fast paced and quick on the runtime to call it boring. This one is a nice inclusion here as it has a scientist going mad and finding himself praised and feeling and playing an almost god like role in the lives on the islanders here. Yes, the film is a bit dated with its portrayal of them, but it is what it is, so take with that what you will if it effects your viewing.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Like the Zoo, there are no details provided on the transfer for the Mad Doctor of Market Street. However, the image immediately looks much crisper and sharper than the previous film. Details are much stronger and more discernible. The print possibly was in better condition, but this is a rather top not looking picture for this set.

Depth:  Solid dimensional work is abound in this image. Character movement is smooth and cinematic with no motion distortions harming and rapidly moving scenes.

Black Levels: Blacks are well saturated and provide plenty of definition enhancement and textures in many discernible shades without losing any details. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are consistent from start to finish in their white/gray appearance. Facial features and textures are solid in most reasonable distances showing wrinkles, dimples, lines and a little bit of shinyness.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This is another solid and well balanced mono theatrical mix. I’ve been impressed with the more lower end tones coming from it which continues on here. It has a nice vinyl-like hiss here that adds to the charm of watching the old films.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a light analog hiss as a base.

The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx 

A mysterious vigilante known as “Dr. Rx” strikes again, leaving his calling card behind as evidence. All of his victims have been crooks who have escaped prosecution through legal loopholes and his hit list keeps growing. Assigned to the case is private detective Jerry Church (Patric Knowles) but the crimes are baffling and involve death by strangulation and a possible attempt to implant a gorilla’s brain into a human body.

The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is a fun little diddy that once again falls more into the murder mystery/noir field than it does complete horror. Though the film takes a while it does drive into that and has a sequence that feels like it inspired many a mad scientist section of elaborate haunted houses that pop up during the October fun time. A fun fact about this movie is that it shot without a complete script and a lot of it is done with some loose adlibing for both conversational dialogue and plot points. Yes, it does create some holes (SHUT UP ABOUT PLOT HOLES), but its not really too big of a deal and it gives a fresh feel for every scene. This one also isn’t afraid for the comedic touches as well, though it does play more straight for the mystery at hand. Its one of the best films in the set, even if its no the most “horrific”.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Par for the course, no details on the transfer for this one, however The Strange Case of Doctor Rx carries a very comparable image to that of Mad Doctor of Market Street with its crisp and sharp image, showcasing some good contrast and really giving fine definition to the black and white picture.

Depth:  Solid dimensional work is abound in this image. Character movement is smooth and cinematic with no motion distortions harming and rapidly moving scenes.

Black Levels: Blacks are well saturated and provide plenty of definition enhancement and textures in many discernible shades without losing any details. No crushing witnessed.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are consistent from start to finish in their white/gray appearance. Facial features and textures are solid in most reasonable distances showing wrinkles, dimples, lines and a little bit of shinyness.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The Strange Case of Doctor Rx comes with a rather solid mono track that really flushes out and feels quite loose and balanced while still carrying that vintage charm with a nice vinyl hiss to it. This one didn’t have quite the low frequency punch some of the others have, but its still a more than solid representation.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Clear vocals with good depth and a solid analog hiss accompaniment.

The Mad Ghoul 

When Dr. Morris experiments with a poisonous gas first used by the ancient Mayans in their sacrificial rites, he discovers that it produces a “death in life” state in the subject. It also has severe, irreversible side effects of advanced decomposition that can only be temporarily halted by a potent mixture of herbs and fresh human hearts. Guess who can’t wait to test it on his unsuspecting lab assistant Ted? Grave-robbing, corpse desecration, murder and total madness follow.

This might be my favorite film in the set. If anything, just for it being the most “horror” of them all. The Mad Ghoul features a more mad scientist driven, zombie-like plot that is brought to life with great mood and atmosphere. Ghoul has an impressive array of make-up work that showcases in the film to go along with the absolute best cinematography found in the set. Its a film that’s just fun to look at, with wonderful sets, darkness, shadows and fog. This is a classic horror treat and the perfect capper for the four film Universal Horror set from Scream Factory.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: With The Mad Ghoul, 3 of the 4 films in this set provide quite a similar and crisp, sharp image with a good variation and contrast on the black and whites. This one might showcase some of the best and most fine details. Overall, I would probably rate this highest of the images found in this set.

Depth:  Good depth of field on display in the film. Pushback at a good above average level between backgrounds and foregrounds. No motion issues with rapid movements, its rather clean and cinematic in nature.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and help to sharpen and define the image even better while also providing variations on shades to help keep detail intact. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones carry a consistent appearance from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures are quite crisp and clear. Its very impressive to see the finer details on all the make-up work featured in the film.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The Mad Ghoul has a mad cool mono track to accompany that gets the job done quite well. The mix is pretty balanced and has decent low frequencies. With a nice, incrementally thicker analog his, this one still sounds quite good and complimentary to the era with which it was made.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a nice, slightly heavier analog hiss.

Extras 

Universal Horror Collection: Volume 2 is a 4-Blu-ray disc set with each film presented on its own disc. This set also includes a short insert booklet that features some notes and marketing images/posters for the films.

Disc 1 – Murders In The Zoo

Audio Commentary

  • By Author/Film Historian Gregory William Mank

Image Gallery (HD, 1:48)

Disc 2 – The Mad Doctor Of Market Street

Trailer (SD, 1:41)

Image Gallery (HD, 5:55)

Disc 3 – The Strange Case Of Doctor Rx

Lionel Atwill Featurette (HD, 19:02) – Gregory William Mank, who is becoming a regular on these classic horror Scream Factory Blu-rays, talks about Lionel Atwill’s career in Hollywood and personal history, not limited to just the films on this set.

Image Gallery (HD, 5:16)

Disc 4 – The Mad Ghoul 

Audio Commentary 

  • With Filmmaker/Film Historian Thomas Reeder

Image Gallery (HD, 5:51)

Press Kit (HD, 1:01)

Summary 

While on the outside, this set doesn’t look as “star studded” or loaded in the bonus features as the previous set, don’t overlook it. It does have a star in Lionel Atwill (Hell, Shemp Howard shows up in a film), some solid commentaries and a featurette. Oh and the movies here are all pretty good to be honest. Most of the films look pretty terrific here. Its a nice second chapter in this series and I really hope we see a third volume if Scream Factory can put one together.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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