Director: John Brahm
Fox Home Entertainment

As part of their prestigious Cinema Classics Collection, Fox Home Entertainment delivers what can arguably be called their finest offering yet during this wonderfully prolific Halloween season of new DVD treasures. The FOX HORROR CLASSICS three-disc box set consists of three masterworks by director John Brahm, all of which celebrate engaging storytelling, sincere performances, and wickedly-delicious atmosphere. With THE UNDYING MONSTER, THE LODGER, and HANGOVER SQUARE, Brahm’s strength as a visual stylist is allowed to shine, rewarding viewers with three provocative, moody chillers. Not only do they feature an emphasis on psychological horror, all three films are set in or around London at the turn of the century, and they all feature sets drenched in fog and shadow. With a solid video and audio presentation that is complimented with a bevy of exciting special features, there is much to admire with the FOX HORROR CLASSICS box set.

The unwavering dread of an ancient family curse is at the heart of our first feature, THE UNDYING MONSTER. Having sold his soul to the devil centuries earlier for immortality, a member of the respected Hammond clan transforms into a wolf-man on certain evenings forcing him to hunt down and kill members of his family. Or, so the legend goes. When a vicious murder occurs on a dark and gloomy night, the locals blame the attack on the Hammond monster, fearing it’s returned to terrorize the family and perpetuate the curse. Scotland Yard is called in to investigate and they assign a pair of detectives with experience dealing with the occult to help solve the baffling case. With strong performances across the board, THE UNDYING MONSTER features James Ellison (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE), Heather Angel (PREMATURE BURIAL), John Howard (THE UNKNOWN TERROR, DESTINATION INNER SPACE), and Bramwell Fletcher (1932’s THE MUMMY).

With THE UNDYING MONSTER, director John Brahm serves up heaping amounts of moody atmosphere, immersing the stage-bound sets in gothic trappings. Brahm is aided immensely by one of Hollywood’s greatest talents, director of photography Lucien Ballard. Best known for his collaborations with famed directors Henry Hathaway, Budd Boetticher, and Sam Peckinpah, Ballard served as the DP for the first two films in this set, and his work here is exemplary. The film’s opening sequence immediately introduces us to his bravura photography as the camera pans throughout the castle interior, perfectly in sync with the chimes of a grandfather clock. Low angles and high-contrast lighting dominate the proceedings, enhancing the visual flair of the film. Even though some unnecessary comic relief and a tendency to focus on police investigation procedures prevent THE UNDYING MONSTER from achieving true genre “classic” status, there’s still a tremendous amount of entertainment value to be found here.

THE LODGER is a magnificent retelling of the Jack the Ripper story, with a scintillating performance by Laird Cregar in the title role. As a series of sadistic murders send fear and suspicion throughout London, we are introduced to a hulking, brooding stranger who has just taken lodging with a family in dire need of additional income. Identifying himself as a pathologist, this “lodger” immediately draws attention to himself with his bizarre behavior and detached emotional demeanor. Despite this, he is able to charm one family member, a stunning actress who is on the cusp of a very successful career. Unfortunately for her, the murder victims have all been females connected to the stage in one way or another. As our lodger continues to display more and more signs of anxiety and misogyny, the tension mounts and culminates with a gripping climax, enhanced tremendously by Cregar’s unforgettable performance. While Cregar tends to overshadow his co-stars, we’re still treated to enthusiastic performances from George Sanders (THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (THINGS TO COME, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), Sara Allgood (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE), and the ravishing Merle Oberon (DARK WATERS).

Director John Brahm and cinematographer Lucien Ballard are reunited once again for THE LODGER, and the results are even more impressive than in their previous collaboration. The London streets are wonderfully realized, bathed in fog and shadows. The murders are executed in a variety of ways, always using methods that celebrate the intricate use of lighting within the diverse settings. But, despite all the eye candy that’s on display here, it’s Laird Cregar’s performance that elevates the film to the upper most echelons of cinematic accomplishments. Cregar is both intimidating and sympathetic, conveying his character’s inner angst with controlled mannerisms and soft-spoken dialogue. His portrayal is always realistic, despite the conflicted, tortured nature of the character. With Cregar’s inspired performance, and the masterful work by Brahm and Ballard, THE LODGER stands proudly as an incredibly accomplished work of cinematic art.

Since THE LODGER was so successful for Fox, they immediately went to work on a follow-up. Reuniting director Brahm, actor Cregar, producer Robert Bassler, and screenwriter Barré Lyndon, HANGOVER SQUARE is arguably even better than its predecessor. Cregar stars once again as a vicious killer, but this time the violence instigated by his character is a direct result of discordant sounds which savagely alter his personality. Portraying a famed, temperamental composer, he has no recollection of the murders he commits, and this dementia is bolstered by his involvement in a love triangle that centers on a manipulating singer. Again, even though Cregar’s splendid performance tends to dwarf those around him, we are still rewarded with fine acting by Glenn Langan (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE), Alan Napier (ISLE OF THE DEAD, THE MOLE PEOPLE), and the lovely Linda Darnell.

Like the previous two films discussed here, the direction and photography are once again resoundingly assured and stylish. Ballard is gone this time, but with Joseph LaShelle working the camera, the visuals are still scrumptious. A final image of Cregar at the piano, feverishly playing while flames engulf everything around him, is a lasting image not soon forgotten. Maybe the most welcomed new addition to the creative team is legendary composer Bernard Herrmann (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), best known for his timeless collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock and the films of Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer . His score here is marvelous, and with the plot of HANGOVER SQUARE focused on the character of a brilliant composer, the addition of Herrmann couldn’t be more appropriate.

Fox has done an impressive job in bringing these three gems to DVD in their original full frame aspect ratios. While the source material on all three has its share of blemishes, the transfers themselves are to be lauded. THE UNDYING MONSTER looks the best, with a sharp picture, excellent detail, and a nice grayscale. THE LODGER comes in a close second, with HANGOVER SQUARE not too far behind. Again, any issues with the image appear to be inherent to the source material and not the transfer. The audio fares just as well, coming across crisp and clear. HANGOVER SQUARE does display some hiss, though. All three films include their original English mono tracks, plus there are stereo tracks for each one, and THE UNDYING MONSTER even has a Spanish mono track. All three also offer optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French.

As usual for their Cinema Classics Collection releases, Fox has included numerous special features for all three films. For THE UNDYING MONSTER, the standout featurette is “Concerto Macabre: The Films Of John Brahm,” a splendid new short documentary running just over 15-minutes that provides tremendous insight into the talented director while also discussing some of the more artistic elements of his three films. Also included is a restoration comparison featurette, a very well-preserved theatrical trailer which runs just over a minute, and two photo galleries – advertising and stills. With THE LODGER, we are given a commentary track by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. “The Man in the Attic: The Making of The Lodger” is a new short documentary, running just over 15-minutes. “The Lodger Vintage Radio Show Performed By Vincent Price & Cathy Lewis” is a real joy, and runs just under 30-minutes. Plus, we’re treated to a theatrical trailer, a restoration comparison featurette, and two galleries of stills and advertising photos. For HANGOVER SQUARE, we’re blessed with not one, but two commentary tracks, and one includes actress Faye Marlowe. The highlight, though, is “The Tragic Mask: The Laird Cregar Story,” which explores the tragic life of Cregar and his untimely death at such a young age. “Hangover Square Vintage Radio Show Performed by Vincent Price, Linda Darnell & Faye Marlowe” is similar to the one for THE LODGER and runs about 30-minutes. There are again two photo galleries for still and advertising material. And on top of all this, we get a six-page booklet and postcard-size reproductions of lobby cards for THE UNDYING MONSTER and HANGOVER SQUARE.

Fox certainly has been busy this Halloween season. Even with their handling of MGM’s Midnite Movies collection, as well as releasing their own library titles on the Midnight Movies banner, the FOX HORROR CLASSICS DVD may very well be their best offering yet. Fox treats these films with the kind of respect and admiration they so richly deserve, making this box set a mandatory addition to every fan’s collection. Highly recommended. (Matt Martell)