B&W, 1939, 92 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O'Neil, Vincent Price, Ian Hunter

B&W, 1941, 59 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Nagel, Samuel S. Hinds

B&W, 1941, 70 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Starring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbet, Brockerick Crawford, Cecilia Loftus, Gale Sondergaard, Bela Lugosi, Alan Ladd

B&W, 1941, 60 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Peggy Moran
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Universal (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Fans Tower of Londonof Universal Tower of Londonhorror who lamented the absence of many of the studio's key genre titles have been getting seriously spoiled lately by Scream Factory with its string of four-film boxes inaugurated with the Karloff-Lugosi whammy of Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1 in 2018. Digging further into the vaults, the third set features three titles previously collected (with no frills) on DVD in the studio's 2009 Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive set, with the first title, Tower of London, issued in 2006's The Boris Karloff Collection. All have been released as standalone DVD-Rs as well, but you can skip all of those since this box marks their HD bows along with commentary tracks for each that provide some much-needed context.

So we might as well get started with the earliest film in the set, 1939's Tower of London, which was later sort of remade in 1962 by Roger Corman with one of the same actors, Vincent Price (albeit in different roles). A quasi-Shakespearean melodrama with some violent horror overtones, it's the grisly tale of Richard, the Duke of Gloucester (Rathbone), who is so power hungry he decides to wipe out anyone in his way to the throne currently occupied by Tower of Londonhis brother, King Edward IV (Hunter). He enlists his bald, thuggish henchman, Mord (Karloff), to achieve his ends with each victim removed body count-style Tower of Londonby its representation in his own personal dollhouse.

Featuring a very zesty, utterly evil performance by Rathbone, this is prime 15th-century barnstorming entertainment with a young Price making the most of his pivotal scene involving a vat of wine (the closest thing to a Shakespeare lift in the whole script). As always, Karloff is highly enjoyable to watch as well in what amounts to a riff on his murderous minion from The Raven, and the studio gives the film plenty of gloss with nicely rendered sets and costumes under the guidance of director Rowland V. Lee, who directed Son of Frankenstein the same year (also with Rathbone and Karloff) but gets to show off the period adventure chops here that he'd honed on films like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

The one film in the set to sport a fresh scan (in this case advertised as a 2K scan of a fine grain print), Tower of London looks fairly good here and certainly improves over the older DVD; it's likely due to the condition of the surviving elements that it isn't as crystal clear and sparkling as the very best Universal scans. Fans should be happy enough though with the presentation here, age-related issues taken into account. The DTS-HD MA English mono track (with English SDH subtitles, as with the other titles here) is presentable enough for a print, with the rich score by Frank Skinner (which was cobbled together mostly in lieu of one by Hans J. Salter) obviously faring best. In addition Man-Made Monsterto a Man-Made Monsterstill gallery, the disc comes with a new audio commentary by Steve Haberman who tackles this "last Universal horror film of the 1930s" with a wealth of production info about the ambitious artistic aspirations of the film and the heavy integration of biographic material versus the more familiar Richard III text.

Skipping ahead to 1941 we hit the most fantastical entry in the set, Man-Made Monster, a much cheaper production that could easily be mistaken as a Monogram quickie if it weren't for the cast. That isn't necessarily a bad thing though as it has a lot of charm and features the first real horror performance by Lon Chaney Jr., who stuck with this film's director, George Waggner, for Universal's classic The Wolf Man later the same year.

The plot here is another riff on what Boris Karloff had already been doing on and off for a decade with Chaney cast as Dan, who survives a disastrous bus crash involving a power line thanks to his apparent immunity to electricity. His unique gift turns into a handy sideshow attraction that garners the attention of two scientists, Dr. Lawrence Man-Made Monster(Hinds) and later Dr. Rigas (Atwill), with the latter coming up with a nasty scheme to frame Dan for murder just to see what happens Man-Made Monsterwhen he winds up in the electric chair. Needless to say, it doesn't go well.

At the time this seemed like another double bill filler, but of course now Man-Made Monster is very worthwhile as a dry run for Chaney's most famous role with his casting as a sympathetic guy controlled by powers far beyond his control syncing up perfectly with his vulnerable nice guy persona. You also get another plum villainous role for Atwill, already a pro at this kind of thing, and you'll be rooting for him to get some righteous payback for most of the running time.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray looks quite handsome thanks to the virtually pristine nature of the source material, which has been taken care of nicely over the decades despite many reissues under a variety of titles. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is also in excellent condition and arguably sounds the best of the quartet. Along with an image gallery of stills and lobby cards, you get a new audio commentary that manages to pack in a huge amount of info in less than an hour. Tom Weaver kicks things off with some info about the strangeness of Chaney's billing status in his films and the source story, "The Electric Man," which had been rolling around Universal for a few years, and then Constantine Nasr picks up for what becomes a tag team of sorts as they alternate historical insights about the film (much of it never revealed before, particularly the history behind that source material and its original production as The Mysterious Dr. R) and thoughts on the cast and crew. In the usual playful Weaver fashion, you get a few extra audio surprises as well along the way. Top marks all around for this one.

The Black CatPerhaps The Black Catno Universal horror film has been dismissed as widely or unfairly as The Black Cat, simply because it shares the same title as the earlier Karloff-Lugosi classic, has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe (despite a "suggested by" credit), and often hogged up TV broadcast slots when horror kids wanted to see that earlier film instead. Taken on its own terms, this is a lively little old dark house thriller with a wild cast and some beautiful production design flourishes as well as plenty of spooky atmosphere.

With wealthy matriarch Henrietta Winslow (Loftus) apparently in his final days, her family congregates at her estate along with two antique appraisers, Hubert (Crawford) and Mr. Penny (Herbert). As it turns out, the imperious housekeeper, Abigail (Sondergaard, the Spider Woman herself), and the family black cats must also pass on before the inheritance can be distributed. When murder strikes, the clock is ticking to find out who's responsible and what mysteries are lurking within the hidden corridors of the house over the course of a dark, death-filled night.

One stumbling block many viewers have with this film is the "comic relief" supplied by Herbert, though goofy intrusions had really become almost standard by this point. What you can focus on instead are the flamboyant visuals (including some nifty spiral lighting patterns scattered all over the place) and the chance to see a comparatively svelte, The Black Catenergetic Crawford (way before his Oscar-winning role in All the King's Men) as the romantic lead. You The Black Catalso get a thankless but odd little role for Bela Lugosi and the odd sight of Alan Ladd, just on the cusp of stardom the following year, as one of the disposable relatives. This is really Sondergaard's show though as she gets all the best moments and looks spectacular as a more glamorous version of the Mrs. Danvers type of role; though she very rarely got leading roles, she was always a reliable secret weapon for any film and proves that once again here.

As with Man-Made Monster, this one looks quite strong given the good quality of the existing source material; the very dark climactic scenes register nicely here despite the inherent heightened graininess caused by the lighting, and the sets really look striking and classy here with a chance to study more detail than ever before. An SD theatrical trailer and a really fun gallery (lots of great portrait shots) are included, but the biggie here is a new audio commentary by Gary D. Rhodes. It's almost entirely historical and only references the screen action on a couple of occasions as he reels off a lot of background info about the film; as with some of the other tracks, he clearly went diving into the Production Code archives at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library and has a lot of info about the attempts to avoid undue "gruesomeness" in the material, particularly a key burning scene (that ended up being censored in some territories anyway). It's a treat to hear someone really dig into this film, which used to be so marginalized that it didn't even hit a single home video format until 1998.

Horror IslandContinuing the "murder mystery disguised as a horror movie" concept, and basically an atmospheric, nautical Scooby-Doo mystery before such things even existed, Horror Island is another amusing programmer from Waggner. This time the concept revolves around that old chestnut, a treasure hunt, as financially strapped Bill (Foran) finds out that the family island he's inherited, Morgan's Island, may have some valuable secrets after he gets half of a treasure map while saving a sailor from attack by a mysterious "Phantom" assailant. Horror IslandTurning down a property sale, Bill decides to start up a treasure cruise business for the island, Buried Treasure Inc., and talks socialite Wendy (Moran) and her boyfriend into an expedition. The ploy turns into a real murder mystery as the Phantom issues dire warnings and starts to pick off the newcomers on the island, with the hunt for the supposed Morgan's treasure also unveiling surprises like a hidden torture chamber.

Heavy on comic relief (in particular Fuzzy Knight as our hero's best buddy, "Stuff" Oliver), Horror Island is more of a straight-up popcorn mystery than a traditional horror film. That doesn't mean it isn't fun though, as the cast is energetic and the story moves along with plenty of thrills and spills over its brief one-hour running time. As an added Horror Islandbonus, the fact that the opening revolves around a boat called the "Skiddoo" will make some Otto Preminger fans chuckle. The transfer here appears to be the same HD source used for that Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive set and a subsequent standalone DVD-R release (the windowboxed credits give it away), but that's actually fine since the quality was solid in the first place and looks better here with nicely refined film grain throughout. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is also in fine shape. An SD theatrical trailer is included along with a modest image gallery, but you also get a new audio commentary by Ted Newsom who's chock full of Universal trivia about the actors and also goes into the practice of making short B-level movies to maximize daily exhibition numbers as well as an odd distaste for the original The Mummy.

Reviewed on March 21, 2020.