- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Universal Studios Home Entertainment jump-starts the Halloween season this week with a must-see set for fright-film fans, The Boris Karloff Collection (three-disc, $29.98). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

The set’s best entry, Rowland V. Lee’s Tower of London (1939), casts Boris as chrome-domed, clubfooted executioner Mord, whom the talented actor succeeds in humanizing without minimizing the menace. Basil Rathbone, as Richard III, and Vincent Price, as the Duke of Clarence, lend able support in this witty, horror-tinged look at murderous court politics in 15th-century England.

Boris likewise shines as a quietly deranged opera-house doctor who harbors a dangerous obsession for diva Susanna Foster in “Phantom of the Opera,” and in director George Waggner’s 1944 Technicolor thriller The Climax.

Segueing to the 1950s, Mr. Karloff, as a loyal servant, takes a back seat to extravagantly perverse villain Charles Laughton in the 1951 Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation The Strange Door but reclaims his chiller chops as a resident physician/professional poisoner in the following year’s The Black Castle, a gothic period piece with dark atmosphere to spare.

While Boris hits nary a false note as a sympathetic scientist shanghaied by crooks, 1937’s Night Key, with its emphasis on standard crime action rather than spooky thrills, rates as the set’s weakest outing. Still, the film, a newcomer to home video, helps fill in a vital gap for Karloff completists.

The latter contingent will also want to scope out Universal’s Frankenstein: 75th Anniversary Edition (two-disc, $26.99), which not only showcases Mr. Karloff’s signature performance but includes, among other extras, the excellent new documentary Karloff: The Gentle Monster, from TV’s “Biography” series.

Tele-video

In fresh TV-on-DVD developments, BBC Video bows a quartet of cathode offerings from across the pond: Five con artists (Robert Vaughn among them) prey on gullible Londoners in the six-episode Hu$tle: Complete Season One (two-disc, $34.98). Writer/director Stephen Poliakoff masterminds a pair of miniseries, Almost Strangers and Shooting the Past (two-disc, $29.98 each), while Sean Bean toplines in the period adventure Sharpe’s Challenge, set in India ($24.98).

DVD extras range from audio commentaries to bonus interviews and featurettes.

Elsewhere, Warner Home Video looks for laughs with Mama’s Family: The Complete First Season and Whose Line Is It Anyway?: Season One Volume One (two-disc, $26.97 each) and goes the dramatic route with One Tree Hill: The Complete Third Season (six-disc, $59.98).

Showtime Entertainment debuts the political drama Brotherhood: The Complete First Season (three-disc, $56.99), while MPI Home Video revisits vampire Barnabas Collins and cronies in the 40-episode Dark Shadows: DVD Collection 26 (four-disc, $59.98).

Goldhil Entertainment revives the 1960s frontier series Daniel Boone: Season 1 and Season 2 (eight-disc, $49.98 each), starring former “Davy Crockett” Fess Parker as the legendary frontiersman, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment unearths the 1980s detective series Riptide: The Complete First Season (three-disc, $39.95).

For younger viewers, Warner adds two new 13-episode sets to its animated superhero DC Comics Kids Collections, The Batman: The Complete Second Season and Teen Titans: The Complete Second Season (two-disc, $19.98 each), along with the cartoon feature Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy! Original Movie ($19.98).

20th Century Fox issues Bratz: Passion 4 Fashion: Diamondz and Bratz Babyz: The Movie ($19.98 each), Goldhil presents the live-action music program Jamarama Live! Kidsfest ($14.98) and A&E Home Video introduces the animated The Wind in the Willows: The Feature Films Collection (two-disc, $29.95).

The ‘A’ list

Three recent mainstream movies make their digital debuts this week. Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore lend their vocal talents to the animated feature Curious George, while street racer Lucas Black takes his act to Japan in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (both Universal, $29.98 each), and Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock find offbeat romance in The Lake House (Warner, $28.98).

New limited-release titles include the epic Beowulf & Grendel (Anchor Bay Entertainment, $29.98), Edward Norton as a modern cowboy in the edgy character study Down in the Valley (ThinkFilm, $27.98), the Kyra Sedgwick showcase Loverboy (Screen Media Films, $27.98), The Notorious Bettie Page (HBO Video, $27.95), with Gretchen Mol as the eponymous erstwhile cheesecake queen, and Deep Mehta’s art-house entry Water (20th Century Fox, $27.99).

Video verite

WGBH Boston Video packages two new neck-craning Nova documentary sets: the five-disc Great Peaks ($49.95) collects “Deadly Ascent,” “Descent into the Ice,” “Everest: The Death Zone,” “Mountain of Ice” and “Volcano Above the Clouds,” while the three-disc The Stars ($39.95) assembles “Death of a Star,” “Deathstar” and “Runaway Universe.”

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Are the following out on DVD or video: “Rich Man, Poor Man” and the short-lived sequel “Book 2”?

— Jack Mohoney, via e-mail

That series is currently unavailable; hopefully, Universal will issue it on DVD in the near future.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at [email protected]aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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