'Monsters and Madmen'

The Haunted Strangler, Corridors of Blood, First Man Into Space, and The Atomic Submarine

DVD Watch

Monsters and Madmen: The Haunted Strangler/Corridors of Blood/First Man Into Space/The Atomic Submarine

Criterion, $79.95

It's a very niche-specific audience that'll be willing to shell out the simoleons for this four-disc slice of 1950s B-movie heaven, but for those in the know (read: fans of Boris Karloff and/or Cold War-era sci-fi potboilers), Criterion – Samuel Z. Arkoff bless 'em – has done a bang-up job. It's not just that these four titles were unlikely to be accorded the wealth of good fortune that is invariably a part of the Criterion treatment elsewhere, but that a DVD releasing company, much less Criterion, would see fit to accord them anything at all. Up to now, you'd be far more likely to find the Karloff discs here via Turner Classic Movies or through specialty outlets like Diabolik DVD. As for Spencer Gordon Bennett's 1959 actioner The Atomic Submarine, which pits the ridiculously jut-jawed crew of the titular Tiger Shark against a ridiculously jury-rigged alien life-form 20,000 fathoms below the Antarctic ice, you'd likely never see it, period. (I've never even seen it come up on late-night television, pre- or post-cable.) Of the two Karloff films presented here, only 1957's The Haunted Strangler qualifies as a genuine keeper. Shot back-to-back with producer Richard Gordon's far-better-known – and titled – Fiend Without a Face, Strangler pops off the screen amid the gorgeous chiaroscuro of Criterion's fresh-struck black-and-white transfer. The story, a twist on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,

lags a bit, but not for lack of

pre-existing Victorian sets and loads of dry ice. This is the film wherein Karloff's chief makeup effect consists of him gnawing on his lower lip while giving the camera a wolfish leer; don't laugh – it works. Regardless of the overall quality of the storylines of these four films – and as the mountains of commentary tracks, courtesy of genre archivist extraordinaire Tom Weaver, make clear, these were never intended to be "A-pictures" – Criterion's wonderful package, with its superb box art, matching essay booklets, censored scenes, trailers, and more, is both exhausting, exhilarating, and utterly unexpected. It's one of Criterion's best releases to date.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Criterion, Monsters and Madmen

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