Director: Nick Grinde
Sony Pictures

Sony DVD has made a true believer out of me by releasing this seldom seen Boris Karloff film to home video for the very first time ever, in any format. It has never been made available on VHS or laserdisc, has rarely appeared on television stations, and has only made the rounds to film fans via a very dark and dupey 16mm print up to now. THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES was one of several "mad doctor" films the actor made for Columbia in the late 30s and early 40s. Most of these features are still Missing In Action on DVD with the welcome exception being THE DEVIL COMMANDS (1941), which Columbia issued a few years back, grabbing little attention, mainly due to consumers feeling the disc was overpriced for what it was. Fortunately, this new release is more affordably tagged and it comes highly recommended for lovers of older classic horror films and Boris Karloff especially.

Karloff plays Dr. Kravaal, a pioneer in human cryogenics who was conducting unethical experiments before he mysteriously vanished along with a small group of law officials who were in the process of apprehending him for his crimes at the time he disappeared. We fast forward ahead ten years to the 'present' day of 1940 where young Dr. Mason (Roger Pryor) and his fiancée/assistant, Judy (Jo Ann Sayers) are making great strides in the treatment of cancer patients through means of 'Frozen Therapy,' a process originally spearheaded by the missing Kravaal himself. Curious to know exactly what happened to the old doctor, Mason and Judy embark on a search to Kravaal's long abandoned residence. Descending many steps downward below the surface of his home, they discover the scientist mysteriously preserved alive inside his own ice chamber, along with the men who tried to arrest him. Once all the main players are revived, Kravaal remains as wrapped up in his experiments as ever, and is now determined to continue them at any price -- even if it means using these people around him as unwilling human guinea pigs.

Sony's new DVD of THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES is taken from 35mm and is remarkably nice-looking. The black and white images are sharp and detailed, with rarely a speck of dirt to be noticed unless you're especially searching them out. I watched this disc alongside the previously mentioned 16mm print I owned, and the difference was astounding. This movie was filmed with dark and dimly-lit underground sequences where only candles or a fireplace provided any illumination, yet while sometimes I couldn't even see the faces of the actors in the murky old print, the new Sony DVD was clean and bright. As nice as this transfer is, I should mention that there is a relatively brief five minute spot late in the picture (around the 64 minute mark of this 74 minute feature) where there is a momentary weakening of the quality, like a slight flickering that stands out only because we've been so pleased with the materials up to that point. It almost looks as if a different print was used for this few minutes, but in the overall mix it doesn't amount to a hill of beans considering the look of the rest of the film is so pleasing. The packaging boasts: "Remastered in High Definition."

The audio is crisp and clear, and there are options for English, French and Japanese subtitles. There are no extra features pertaining to the movie itself, only trailers for other non-related product from Sony.

Considering that THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES is more attractively priced, it is my hope that more casual fans might be persuaded to pick it up than did the previous THE DEVIL COMMANDS release. At least this time Sony's cover doesn't try to hide the fact that this is a Boris Karloff movie! I am very pleased that Sony/Columbia has decided to tap into their collection of Karloff-related features in this series and it is especially gratifying that at least they've chosen, whether intentionally or not, two films which have never seen the light of day on any format for their first DVD releases. Of course, there are still other Boris titles in their library that beg to be issued next: THE BLACK ROOM, THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU and BEFORE I HANG. Hey, Sony -- how do you feel about a "Boris Karloff Box Set" for next year? (Joe Karlosi)