The lasting pleasures of second-tier golden age Universal horror movies

Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff) makes unethical decisions to further his research in Arthur Lubin's Black Friday (1940)

Three two-disk sets from Eureka provide an overview of Universal Studios’ horror movies from the mid-’30s to the early ’50s, in the period when the first wave of early sound horrors petered out and briefly flourished again as low-budget B-movies as the Depression gave way to World War Two. Karloff and Lugosi are joined by notable, if lesser, genre figures like Lionel Atwill and Rondo Hatton in a mix of science fiction and the supernatural, with gangsters and Gothic trappings spicing the mix.

Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers on Blu-ray from Criterion

Alonzo (Lon Chaney) realizes that his romantic feelings for Nanon (Joan Crawford) will never be returned in Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927)

Criterion’s two-disk Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers showcases three of the director’s best movies, including the peak of his long collaboration with Lon Chaney in The Unknown (1927) and Browning’s masterpiece Freaks (1932) along with the lesser-known The Mystic (1925). Fine 2K transfers and some illuminating extras leave you hoping that more of Tod Browning’s work will turn up on disk in restored versions.

Arrow’s Savage Guns: 4 Classic Westerns on Blu-ray

Sole survivor Stubby Preston (Fabio Testi) heads back into the wilderness in Lucio Fulci's The Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

Arrow’s third collection of spaghetti westerns, Savage Guns, brings together another four movies which display the range and flexibility of the genre, from Lucio Fulci’s elegiac and mystical The Four of the Apocalypse (1975) to Mario Camus’ veiled political criticisms of the Franco regime in Wrath of the Wind (1970) and Paolo Bianchini’s intersection of personal motives and historical events in I Want Him Dead (1968). Edoardo Mulargia’s El Puro (1969), about a drunken gunfighter forced back into action, is the most conventional of the four features.

The Criminal Acts of Tod Slaughter on Blu-ray from Indicator

James Dalton, the Tiger (Tod Slaughter) becomes desperate at the end of George King's The Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

Indicator closed 2023 with one of their finest offerings yet – a four-disk, eight film box set of blood-and-thunder melodramas produced, and mostly directed, by George King and starring the inimitable Tod Slaughter as a roster of heinous villains portrayed with gleeful enthusiasm by an actor who devoted his long career to preserving an art form incubated on Victorian stages and largely fallen out of favour by the time these films preserved it with such relish. With striking restorations, mostly from original nitrate negatives, supplemented with commentaries, interviews and Slaughter-related ephemera, this is definitely the highlight of the past year.

Don Shebib’s Canadian working class poetry: Goin’ Down the Road (1970) and its sequel

Friends Joey (Paul Bradley) and Pete (Doug McGrath) search restlessly for a better life in Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road (1970)

Don Shebib, who died on November 5 at the age of 85, left an indelible mark on Canadian cinema with his first feature, Goin’ Down the Road (1970), a raw, realist depiction of the country’s economic inequalities and the failed dreams of a pair of working class friends who leave impoverished Nova Scotia for the promised land of Toronto.

Blasts from the past

Lionel Rogosin: part two

DVD Review: Laddaland (2011)

Being human: two new Criterion releases

Otto Preminger and Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

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