CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932) Director: Marcel Varnel and Willam Cameron Menzies
DRAGONWYCK (1946) Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
DR. RENAULT’S SECRET (1942) Director: Harry Lachman
Fox Home Video

A follow-up to Fox’s 2007 release FOX HORROR CLASSICS VOL. 1, FOX HORROR CLASSICS VOL. 2 is a much welcomed box set in a Fall release season extremely lacking in vintage genre releases from the major studios. Although only one of the titles in this set can be deemed a true horror film, the other two certainly maintain the desirable qualities, not to mention the presence of two of the biggest icons in horror history: Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price.

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932) concerns Frank Chandler (Edmund Lowe), better known as “Chandu the Magician,” a mystical do-gooder who can perform illusions such as disguising himself instantaneously or turning a rifle into a snake (he can also foresee certain dangers). An evil Egyptian madman known as Roxor (Bela Lugosi) kidnaps Chandu’s brother in law (Henry B. Walthall, THE DEVIL-DOLL), inventor of a death ray which he wants to utilize to destroy cities around the world. Roxor also manages to capture most of Chandu’s family, as well as his sweetheart Princess Nadji (Irene Ware), and our hero must escape being buried alive (at the bottom of the ocean) to save them all.

Based on a children’s radio program, CHANDU THE MAGICIAN contains a lot of the thrills associated with serials which makes it an enjoyable affair, and it nicely mixes fantasy, action and humor (mostly by Herbert Mundin as a drunken associate of Chandu who sees his miniature doppelganger every time he takes a swig). Co-director William Cameron Menzies (of INVADERS FROM MARS fame) shows off his art director skills with some elaborate sets and miniature model effects, most impressively when a camera pans its way through an Egyptian tomb, as photographed by James Wong Howe. Outshining leading man Lowe by miles is Lugosi, who was in his prime and is deliciously sinister delivering dialog about destroying cities and being wicked to his hostages. A few years later, Lugosi would take over the role of the non-villainous Chandu for the serial “The Return of Chandu” in 1934.

A big budget 20th Century-Fox production based on the novel by Anya Seton, DRAGONWYCK (1946) is a lavish period piece set in 1844. In Connecticut, Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney) is the daughter of a Bible-clasping, hard-working farmer (Walter Huston). Miranda is invited to stay at the New York mansion of wealthy distant relative Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price) and be a governess to his daughter. Miranda is initially impressed with the elegant lifestyle associated with the massive estate known as Dragonwyck, but she is victim to social snobbery and Nicholas’ own arrogance and hostile attitude towards his tenant farmers, not to mention his estrangement from his own wife and daughter. After the wife dies, Nicholas asks to take Miranda’s hand in marriage; she readily accepts but soon witnesses his much darker side.

In her book, The Complete Films of Vincent Price, author Lucy Chase Williams puts it best: “DRAGONWYCK is an atmospheric Gothic romance incorporating all the tried-and-true elements of the genre: a naïve young heroine, a splendid mansion seat, pounding thunderstorms, restless villagers, murder and madness, ghostly manifestations, and an incredible lord of the manor, proud and haughty, driven to murder by pride love and lust.” The 103 minute melodrama is aided greatly by the solid performances by Tierney and Price (one of a handful of films they did together, but not as good as LAURA) with the latter getting to shine in the villainous role. Here, Price’s tormented Nicholas Van Ryn is a precursor to the costumed anti heroes he would be portraying years later in Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe films for AIP. The haunting score by Alfred Newman is terrific, and the film also features Jessica Tandy as a crippled Irish maid and Henry (Harry) Morgan (from the MASH TV series) as a hot-headed farmer. Glenn Langan (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN himself) has a significant role as the kindly doctor, Jeff Turner.

Made in 1942 by Fox’s “B Unit”, DR. RENAULT’S SECRET involves Dr. Larry Forbes (Shepperd Strudwick, VIOLENT MIDNIGHT), a young American psychiatrist visiting France to marry his fiancée Madelon Renault (Lynne Roberts). His arrival meets with an inn murder which was meant for him, and later, the hanging of a stray dog the main suspect is Noel (J. Carrol Naish, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Noel is the slow-witted, homely handyman of Madelon’s uncle Dr. Robert Renault (George Zucco, THE MUMMY’S HAND), who happens to have a large lab beneath his fancy villa, so you know he’s up to no good. In the meantime, Inspector Duval (Arthur Shields, DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL) is looking for the murderer and tough ex-con Rogell (familiar Hollywood heavy Mike Mazurki) is plotting his own master criminal act.

DR. RENAULT’S SECRET was produced as a co-feature for THE UNDYING MONSTER and was obviously influenced by Universal’s then-popular horror cycle. With its simplistic mad scientist plot and swift 58 minutes, it also resembles something made by “poverty row” studios Monogram or PRC, though with better production values courtesy of the Fox lot. The presence of Zucco and Naish together also make this highly watchable, and it’s got some great shadowy photography that emphasizes Naish’s character of Noel, a sympathetic gorilla-turned almost human with animalistic tendencies. It’s happens to be one of the actor’s finest hours, and the make-up is subtle but effective: Naish sports bushy eyebrows, flared nostrils, body padding and a Eugene Levy wig. DR. RENUALT’S SECRET is something of a gem of low budget 1940s horror, and it’s so pleasing to finally see it in such an excellent transfer.

Fox has done an impressive job in bringing these three black and white classics to DVD in their original Academy full frame aspect ratios. Both DRAGONWYCK and DR. RENAULT look excellent, with a sharp picture, excellent detail, and a nice grayscale. CHANDU looks fine too, even if it suffers from some print blemishes inherent to the source material – none of which is at all distracting, and obviously a lot of clean-up work was done (as evidenced by the “restoration comparison” which accompanies this film, as well as the other two. The mono audio fares well on all three, coming across crisp and clear. Each title includes its original English mono track, and DRAGONWYCK and DR. RENAULT’S SECRET also contain a Spanish mono track. All three also offer optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French. Each film is housed in its own slimcase with full artwork and back cover information.

Each film has its own 15+ minute featurette (“Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu”, “A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck” and “Horror’s Missing Link: Rediscovering Dr. Renault’s Secret), all excellently produced and containing interviews with numerous authors, film historians, as well as some in the film business. CHANDU features a commentary with author Gregory William Mank and DRAGONWYCK with film historian/screenwriter Steve Haberman and filmmaker Constantine Nasr. CHANDU has one still gallery, while DRAGONWYCK has several, as well as the original trailer and two “Dragonwyck” radio programs; one with Price and Tierney and one with Price and Teresa Wright. Another great feature here is that Alfred Newman’s score can be isolated. DR. RENAULT’S extras are rounded out with several still galleries and an original trailer. As mentioned before, all three have a “restoration comparison” so that one can see the digital clean-up that went into the new transfers. A slick booklet, with well-written liner notes on all three films, accompanies the set. (George R. Reis)