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.

Fall 2023 viewing, part one

Detective Luigi Mackeroni (Udo Samel) and his cross-dressing partner Babette (Leonard Lansink) face an unusual foe in Martin Walz's Killer Condom (1996)

As always, writing falls behind viewing and I’ve missed mentioning some disks that deserved at least a comment – so here are some quick notes on recent releases from Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome and some smaller labels covering a wide range of genres from spaghetti westerns to East European animation, from low-budget sci-fi to documentary, from comedy to horror to exploitation.

Recent Asian releases from Eureka

Disillusioned Christians Shiro Amakusa (Kenji Sawada) and Hosokawa Gracia (Akiko Kana) return from the dead to seek revenge in Kenji Fukasaku's Samurai Reincarnation (1981)

Eureka, and their specialty label Masters of Cinema, continue to release a range of Asian films, from pulp action to classical tragedy. Among recent releases are a two-disk set of four sequels to Rickay Lau’s Mr. Vampire (1985), Cynthia Rothrock’s first lead role in Mang Hoi & Corey Yuen’s Lady Reporter (1989), and a pair of very different samurai epics: Tadashi Imai’s bleak dissection of the Bushido code in Revenge (1964) and Kenji Fukasaku’s mix of history and supernatural horror in Samurao Reincarnation (1981).

Summer grab-bag, part one

An attempted robbery becomes a bloodbath in Javier Elorrieta's Night of Rage (1985)

As usual, there’s no coherent pattern to what I spend my time watching. In the past few months, I given my overtaxed attention to quite a few movies from the ’70s and ’80s – British sex comedies and cop movies, Italian gialli, French and Spanish thrillers, Chinese martial arts movies and an Australian superhero musical – plus a pair of recent Korean action movies and two ultra-low-budget do-it-yourself movies from the ’90s.

The martial arts of Joseph Kuo

Brother Wan (Carter Wong) faces Shaolin Temple's final test in Joseph Kuo's 18 Bronzemen (1976)

Eureka’s Blu-ray box set Cinematic Vengeance gathers together eight movies by Taiwanese director Joseph Kuo in the 1970s, an independent specialist in low-budget martial arts movies. These films are packed with great action scenes; the fight choreography, camerawork and editing are exceptional and, although Kuo throws in occasional bits of broad comedy, the tone is often quite dark, with endings that refuse to offer battered characters any final sense of triumph.

Year End 2021

The Count (Udo Kier) is worried about his blood supply in Paul Morrissey's Blood for Dracula (1974)

It’s been a good year for movies on disk, with a remarkable range of releases from many companies which are devoting considerable resources to rediscovering, restoring and preserving movies in numerous genres. Ranging across nationalities and spanning cinema history, there was plenty to divert attention from a real world which has become so depressing and exhausting.

Blasts from the past

Pandemic viewing, Part Two

Karloff at Columbia on Eureka Blu-ray

Recent Viewing 2

Barbet Schroeder’s General Idi Amin Dada (1974): Criterion Blu-ray review

>