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Blu-ray Reviews

While we wait for a full HTF Blu-ray Review of Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection - Recommended...



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#1 of 41 Kevin EK

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Posted October 01 2012 - 12:22 PM

While we wait for a full HTF Blu-ray review of Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection…  And it is RECOMMENDED for purchase…







With thanks to Robert A. Harris for the use of his apropos title, I’m going to post these first reactions to the Universal Blu-ray set of their classic monster movies so that readers can have as much information in front of them before tomorrow’s street date.  As I only received the review copy last Thursday, I have not had time to go through the extensive extras to be found on every one of the 8 discs.   That summation, which must run through all of the bonus materials and discuss from whence they all come (most derive from the 1999 and 2004 DVD releases, while some appeared on the later Special Edition Legacy Series DVDs) will be coming by this weekend.


In the meantime, I think it’s important that readers have my evaluations of the picture and sound quality of the discs in this set.   To this end, I brought the discs over to Joe Kane Productions this past Saturday afternoon and spent several hours examining the contents on Joe’s professional grade system.  I’m grateful to Joe for giving me the opportunity to do so, and I thank him for his generosity, graciousness and for his good counsel.   For the record, Joe’s system is an HD projector that he designed, and the screen is 90”, also of his design.   Joe’s system is calibrated to the nth degree, and is set up to allow whatever information is on a Blu-ray disc to be transmitted to the screen and speakers at around 90% - meaning that the system passes through the information without trying to reinterpret the signal.   Sitting comfortably at a distance of 8 feet from the 90” screen, Joe and I were able to evaluate all 8 discs as projected.  I also brought along for comparison purposes the 2004 “Legacy Collection” sets of Dracula and Frankenstein, and the Special Edition DVDs of The Mummy and The Wolf Man.   The only movies in the set for which we did not have comparison materials were The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature from the Black Lagoon.


The short version of this evaluation is that I’m going to Recommend this set for purchase, based on the strength of the first six discs in the set.  I cannot make this a Highly Recommended set, due to picture quality issues with the final two discs – Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon.  But fans of the original Dracula and Frankenstein, etc, are going to have a great time with this set.  The movies on the first six discs have never looked better on home video, and Universal should be commended for what was clearly a massive undertaking to restore them.  It’s a shame that the last two couldn’t have been in that good company, but in the overall scheme of things, it’s a heck of a good opportunity to get seven classic monster movies, now preserved for all time in all their glory.



Let’s take the discs in order:



DISC ONE:  DRACULA


The first disc in the set contains both of the 1931 productions of Dracula – the English language Tod Browning version and the Spanish language version filmed nightly on the same sets.


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

Both movies are presented in AVC 1.33:1 transfers that are absolutely the best the films have ever looked at home.  The English language version benefits more from the work, showing clear improvements over the 2004 transfer in many ways.  The most significant improvement is a change in the gamma, allowing viewers to see much more detail in the shadowy areas of the screen.  In earlier transfers, many characters and objects are in total blackness when in shadow.  This doesn’t become evident until you compare between the Blu-ray and the earlier DVD, at which point it’s clear that you’re seeing a lot more detail and texture within the shadows.  This is not to say that the moody, dark, expressionist look of the film has been compromised in any way – on the contrary, the improved transfer simply allows the viewer to see a bit more into the shadows.  Both movies have benefited from an extensive cleanup of scratches and other damage, and from a stabilization of the picture that makes the credits easier to watch and generally helps ground the picture.   The Spanish language version of the movie gets the same benefits as the English language, but it seems to me that it was likely in better shape before the restoration to begin with, so the hill it’s climbed in quality doesn’t seem as high as the English language version.  (And for those who are curious, the English language version title card indeed has the word “President” misspelled as “Presient”…)


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Both movies are presented with DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mixes that greatly improve the sound quality from what we’ve been given before on home video.  Again, the English language version really gets the better part of this deal.  The sound has been noticeably cleaned up and the hiss has been reduced, thus allowing the dialogue to be heard more clearly.  Listening between the 2004 DVD sound and the new Blu-ray sound, we noted that the earlier mix had some unfortunate distortion which has now been cleared up.  For the record, the performance of Swan Lake heard over the opening titles is correct for each version of the movie.  (The Spanish language version uses a different performance.)  I also note that the unhappy moans and groans of Bela Lugosi as he is staked off-camera at the end are indeed present.



DISC TWO:  FRANKENSTEIN


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

Frankenstein is presented in an AVC 1.33:1 transfer that, again, presents the movie in the best condition it’s ever been seen in a home theater.  As with Dracula, the picture has benefited from stabilization (fixing the gate weave noted on the 2004 transfer), significant scratch and damage cleanup, and a change in the gamma that reveals more shadow details.  The changes here are not as profound as those with Dracula, but they are still noticeable.  Again, it’s a pleasure to see a 1931 movie looking this good on a 2012 HD system!  Of course, there are some drawbacks to the improvement in quality – namely that the opening funeral/body recovery scene is now very obviously on a stage.  The “sky” background is clearly the back wall with a drop.  We can clearly see the folds in the fabric and even a hole!  The issue is exacerbated when the good doctor throws his first shovelful of dirt behind him – and we can see and hear the dirt hit the wall!


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Frankenstein is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that is an obvious improvement over the prior DVD mixes.  Again, the dialogue is clearer, the hiss is reduced.  Like the picture quality, this is not as significant of a quality jump as we saw with Dracula, but the improvement is still noticeable.  And for the record, Dr. Frankenstein’s line of “Now I know what it is to BE GOD!” is present in all its glory.




DISC THREE:  THE MUMMY


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

Here’s another quantum jump in picture quality from the prior DVD transfers.  The Mummy gets a new AVC 1.33:1 transfer which is an absolute revelation in terms of detail and stabilization over prior home video transfers.  This is really a remarkable achievement, given that I don’t think an original camera negative for this movie even exists anymore.  I reviewed the Special Edition DVD a few years ago and noted there were serious picture and sound issues but that there wasn’t much we could expect to be done about it.  Looking at the new Blu-ray of this movie, I was shocked at how much better this movie looks.  Much more detail can be seen, the picture is more stable – this is a pleasure.  Once again, the transfer benefits from a change in the gamma, just like what was done with Dracula.  Scratches and damage have been cleaned up, the gate weave has been fixed.   This is one of those cases, as RAH noted with Pillow Talk, where the guys at Universal really did make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Mummy is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that both reduces the hiss that could be noticed in earlier editions, and fixes the distortion issues.  Again, this is really a pleasure.   If you’re a fan of this movie, you now get to see and HEAR it in a way that hasn’t been possible since it first hit theaters in 1932, and it likely didn’t sound as good then…




DISC FOUR:  THE INVISIBLE MAN


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

This was the first of the movies where we didn’t have a comparison DVD, but the picture quality is exemplary, even without having an earlier edition to check.  The Invisible Man looks great in the AVC 1.33:1 transfer.   There’s a satisfying amount of detail present, although we should note that it does make the tricks a lot easier to spot.  One early shot is obviously a matter of fuzzing the focus around Claude Rains’ face.  In other places, you’ll see the various on-set wires and methods used to create the illusion of an invisible person doing things in the room.  I don’t mind this so much, in the same way that I don’t mind the wire on the tail of the Cowardly Lion.  It can be a judgment call, where restorers can deliberately leave something a little less resolved to keep the illusion – but I’m happy just to have the movie in all its glory.  By the same token, I didn’t have a problem with the final shot in the new Blu-ray of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where it’s now totally obvious that we’re looking at a painting…


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Invisible Man is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that is a pleasure to hear.  Dialogue is clear, even when characters are muttering quickly.  And for the record, the music that Kemp is hearing on the radio when Claude Rains comes a-calling is indeed “La Rosita” and not “Hearts and Flowers”.  (For those keeping track, we’re establishing that these are the original versions of these movies and not later video editions with changed lines or music.)




DISC FIVE:  THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

This is another great transfer along the lines of Dracula and The Mummy.  The new AVC 1.33:1 transfer of The Bride of Frankenstein is a marked improvement over the prior 2004 DVD, which itself had already been an improvement over the 1999 DVD.  The new Blu-ray features a stabilized picture, and a similar level of cleanup of dirt, scratches and damage throughout.  The gamma has noticeably and thankfully been changed to bring detail out of the same kind of murky blacks that were present before in Dracula.  Here, the best example is the opening prologue with the writers.  There is a large fireplace centerstage, with a large portrait mounted above it.  In the 2004 DVD, this portrait is almost completely black.  In the new Blu-ray, you can actually see the portrait.  Again, this does not mean that the moodiness of the image has been lost or that anything has been artificially brightened.   It only means that we are seeing deeper into the black and getting a lot more detail from the darkness than just a flat black shadow.   I have been asked if the framing is correct on this title, based on issues about this which arose with the 1999 DVD.  What I see is identical framing to the 2004 DVD, which shows the proper framing in one signature moment in the hermit’s cabin where the camera holds on an overhead crucifix between two scenes.  Apparently, in the early DVD, this was cropped in an unfortunate way.  The Blu-ray, like the 2004 DVD, includes nearly the full crucifix in the upper center of the shot. 


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Bride of Frankenstein is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that actually is only a marginal improvement over the earlier mix on the 2004 DVD.  That doesn’t mean there’s a problem – just that it feels like there was less work that needed to be done.  The voices, music and effects are all clear, which is exactly what we should expect and need from this mix.




DISC SIX:  THE WOLF MAN


VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

The Wolf Man gets a new AVC 1.33:1 transfer that is yet another marked improvement over the earlier DVD.   Not only is the image much clearer (which means that several effects shots and rear projection shots are obvious for what they are) but the grain is greatly improved on the lighter parts of the frame.  Going between the Special Edition DVD and the new Blu-ray, we were struck by how Larry’s suit in the early scenes was much easier to see in terms of its details.  This isn’t saying that the grain was removed – it’s saying that the grain continues to be visible but isn’t obscuring all the details.  Basically, this was a delicate job, and it was handled very well.   An early scene in the Talbot house where Larry fixes the telescope is clear enough now that the backdrop outside the window is fairly obvious.


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

The Wolf Man is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that improves over the prior SD mixes by reducing the hiss and making the dialogue clearer.  Which just serves to make the experience of hearing the movie more transparent and enjoyable.




DISC SEVEN:  PHANTOM OF THE OPERA


VIDEO QUALITY   2 ½/5

And here’s where the wheels unfortunately come off the wagon.  Phantom of the Opera was a major Technicolor production in 1943, winning Academy Awards for Color Art Direction and for Color Cinematography.   The new AVC 1.33:1 transfer unfortunately does not present this movie in the best light.  Many shots and sequences are quite good, and lush color fills the screen.  But at random times, in the middle of scenes, there will be shots that go out of green or red registration.  An early scene between Claude Rains and Susanna Foster has a good master shot, and good coverage of Claude Rains  - but when we cut to Susanna Foster’s shot, the green has gone out of registration, meaning that there is a green outline around her and the white areas of her costume now have a green tint bleeding onto them.  It’s a kind of double image effect just in terms of color, and it’s very distracting.  Other shots are out of red registration, resulting in a red outline and red bleed on one side or another of objects or people.  One wider shot in another scene has the brass buttons on uniforms turning a noticeable green along with the white paper of books seen on the tables.  The big climax of the chandelier drop is even more perplexing.  Some of the shots are perfect.  Others are out of red registration.  But the upward looking VFX shot of the chandelier falling is the strangest of all.  In this shot, the painted backdrop appears to be perfectly in sync, but the falling chandelier is out of red registration.   I should also note that for some reason, the titles have been windowboxed, which makes very little sense in a 1.33:1 transfer.  We are inquiring with Universal to determine exactly what happened here, but this is a truly frustrating title to try to watch.  Because there is plenty that is right with it – it’s just that what’s off is pretty far off.


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Phantom of the Opera is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that sounds very clear and gives a lot of punch to the numerous opera sequences.  The issues to be found with this title are not with the sound mix.





DISC EIGHT:  CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON


VIDEO QUALITY   2 ½/5 for 2D, 4/5 for 3D

Creature from the Black Lagoon gets a little more complicated, in that there are actually two pictures to evaluate here.   The 2D version on the Blu-ray has an AVC 1.85:1 transfer that is maddeningly inconsistent.  After a fairly SD-like credits sequence, the picture quality improves dramatically with the first scene in the Amazon as we find the claw.   But then the sequences begin randomly having shots that are of much lower picture quality.  This is not restricted to close-ups or anything else.  All of a sudden, a wide shot of the boat will look like an uprezzed DVD image.  And then the next shot of the boat will show a tremendously improved PQ.  And then in the next shot it will revert to the poorer quality.   I honestly have no idea how that happened, but it’s very distracting to watch.  


As for the 3D version, I’m marking that one higher as the 3D is quite effective.  The thing is, this is the 1950s eye-popping variety of 3D.  In several cases, objects are pushed very far into the foreground, which makes for a definite impression of things coming at you out of the screen but can also be painful for those of us who aren’t fans of it.  I personally enjoy 3D, particularly for depth, as can be seen in many shots here.  And I don’t have a problem with the opening shot of the Big Bang shooting out into the house.  But watching shots of the Creature swimming behind reeds that are being pushed right into my face is very difficult for me.  For other viewers, this will probably be a lot of fun, and exactly the experience of this movie that they’ll remember from the movie theater.  (My own experience of it was over 30 years ago in a school auditorium, and I know we were using the anaglyph glasses…) 


AUDIO QUALITY    5/5

Creature from the Black Lagoon is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that again, sounds very clear and is easy to understand.  The issues we have here are with the picture, not the sound.




On the basis of what I’ve described here, I’m still going to Recommend this set for purchase – purely on the strength of Discs 1 through 6.  The final two discs have picture quality issues that we’re trying to investigate, but they shouldn’t dissuade fans from picking up the quality work on the first six titles.  And to be honest, we could argue that Phantom of the Opera doesn’t really belong in this collection in any case – it’s not a monster movie so much as it is a kind of gothic romance.  Creature from the Black Lagoon is more at home with the other monsters, but it’s also a generation removed from them.  That said, this is a very handsome package, including a nice booklet and an armload of extras I have not had time to examine yet.  Suffice it to say that nearly all of the commentaries and featurettes from the earlier DVD editions appear to have been ported over, with the addition of a few of the new 100th Anniversary featurettes from Universal.  Going through that material will take a few days, as I want to carefully note from whence all this stuff arises.  As soon as that project is finished (this weekend), we’ll have that up for you.  In the meantime, I hope this first look at the picture and sound quality will help people make their purchasing decisions regarding this set.



Kevin Koster

October 1, 2012.





#2 of 41 Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 01 2012 - 01:42 PM

Pretty damned in depth for a "preview review".  Thanks for taking the time to compare BD to DVD and for heading over to see Joe Kane (even though your 3D system is pretty darn good too).  He is the pickiest person I know when it comes to video.  If he is impressed with something its more than fine for me!  I couldn't justify the price, so for the first time ever I ordered the import version.



#3 of 41 bigshot

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Posted October 01 2012 - 02:06 PM

Are the supplements in HD?

#4 of 41 Kevin EK

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Posted October 01 2012 - 02:08 PM

I have not been able to check them yet, but I'll look at a few right now.  I suspect they are in standard definition.  Most of the supplements are featurettes that date back to the 2004 DVDs and even to the 1999 DVDs.  It's possible that some materials may reach back to laserdisc but that will be part of this week's homework...



#5 of 41 Kevin EK

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Posted October 01 2012 - 03:27 PM

Just spent some more time with the Dracula disc.


Aside from the Spanish Dracula and the new HD "Dracula: The Restoration" featurette, the supplements are in standard definition.


#6 of 41 Russell G

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Posted October 01 2012 - 04:56 PM

Nice work and much appreciated. The quality of the last two discs (especially the 2D Creature, a favourite of mine) would typically cause me to cancel my pre-order. Seeing as I'm going for the UK coffin edition at a price of roughly $8.25 per disc, I'll keep this one coming. I have 2 other DVDs of Creature and Phantom if the blus are too distracting to watch... the curse of the Universal Horror fan.

It is MADDENING though that Universal can't get their shit together on these Bluray sets! Posted Image


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#7 of 41 Dave H

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Posted October 01 2012 - 05:05 PM

Great "partial" review. Looking forward to these although I will probably go with the UK version to save the money.

#8 of 41 Bob Furmanek

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Posted October 01 2012 - 05:28 PM

edited

Bob Furmanek

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As there has been some colorful debate about the meaning of "Director-approved" transfers and how it relates to how widespread 1.66 was in the UK, I will make the following point. The dominant aspect ratio at British Studios between 1955-1970 WAS 1.75. This is based on research going through trade listings of hundreds of British films, as well as studio archives and other primary sources. 1.85 was the second most listed aspect ratio, with 1.65/1.66 a distant third.

 

Tom Crossplot - July 2013

 

 


#9 of 41 Mike Williams

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Posted October 02 2012 - 05:46 AM

Went to Wal-mart, Best Buy and Target today. Could not find this anywhere. I was hoping to get Best Buy to price match the Amazon price. Guess I'll have to order for Amazon. Hope they don't tear up the box.

#10 of 41 Joe Bernardi

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Posted October 02 2012 - 07:17 AM

Went to Wal-mart, Best Buy and Target today. Could not find this anywhere. I was hoping to get Best Buy to price match the Amazon price. Guess I'll have to order for Amazon. Hope they don't tear up the box.

I received my copy from Amazon yesterday. No worries about tearing up the box which is plastic wrapped to cardboard and inserted into the shipping carton. I watched Creatures in 2D. The few unfocussed shots were of the boat from a distance, and (other than noticing them) didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the movie.

#11 of 41 Reed Grele

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Posted October 02 2012 - 07:36 AM

Received my set today. So far have only spot checked CREATURE in 3D on my 65" Panny plasma. WOW!!!! :jawdrop: I was going to wait for the Hitchcock box to arrive before I hosted another "party", but guys, you have to see this on the 10' screen. ASAP! Kevin, I see what you mean about the scenes where the weeds are way ahead of the other action being hard to take. I confess that I wasn't ready for the incredible depth. But I'm good with it. Ron, You wanted more "in your face" 3D. Well.... You've got it! In spades!!

#12 of 41 Kevin EK

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Posted October 02 2012 - 07:41 AM

Reed, thank you for confirming my sanity.   I think we're using the same set to see the 3D.


To clarify, I evaluated the picture and sound of the Blu-ray set at Joe Kane's professional setup.  But for the 3D, I am using my own 65" VT30.



#13 of 41 Bob Furmanek

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Posted October 02 2012 - 08:23 AM

Received my set today. So far have only spot checked CREATURE in 3D on my 65" Panny plasma. WOW!!!! :jawdrop: I was going to wait for the Hitchcock box to arrive before I hosted another "party", but guys, you have to see this on the 10' screen. ASAP! Kevin, I see what you mean about the scenes where the weeds are way ahead of the other action being hard to take. I confess that I wasn't ready for the incredible depth. But I'm good with it. Ron, You wanted more "in your face" 3D. Well.... You've got it! In spades!!

Every Golden Age 3-D feature has the same quality of cinematography and depth. I've been saying that for the last thirty years but those crummy anaglyph versions from the 1970's have made it hard to believe. Now you're seeing it the way it was seen in 1954!

Bob Furmanek

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As there has been some colorful debate about the meaning of "Director-approved" transfers and how it relates to how widespread 1.66 was in the UK, I will make the following point. The dominant aspect ratio at British Studios between 1955-1970 WAS 1.75. This is based on research going through trade listings of hundreds of British films, as well as studio archives and other primary sources. 1.85 was the second most listed aspect ratio, with 1.65/1.66 a distant third.

 

Tom Crossplot - July 2013

 

 


#14 of 41 Charles Smith

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Posted October 02 2012 - 08:24 AM

Oh, my.    

Posted Image



#15 of 41 Reed Grele

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Posted October 02 2012 - 09:43 AM

Oh, my.      :banana:

Is that a dancing banana, or are you just happy to see me? :pc:

#16 of 41 Johnny Angell

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Posted October 02 2012 - 10:03 AM

So I'm wondering now, if for some odd reason, I want to watch Creature in 2D, should I watch the blu-ray or my legacy dvd? I really have to wonder what is going at Universal. Does someone have to hold a button down during the transfer to ensure it is all in HD, the operator's hand gets tired and he lets up on the button?:rolleyes: Yeah, i know, makes no sense. But for a film to appear to go in and out of HD makes no sense either. I wonder if this disc might be eligible for replacement if Universal gets enough complaints. It doesn't help that this is the movie I wanted more than any other in the set. I grew up with the Creature. Still, can't wait for the Coffin to get here.
Johnny
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#17 of 41 Mark-P

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Posted October 02 2012 - 10:11 AM

Still, can't wait for the Coffin to get here.

My grandmother was just like that - always talking about how she was looking forward to dying. She was a rather morbid person.

#18 of 41 Nelson Au

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Posted October 02 2012 - 10:14 AM

Holy Cow! Week after week of great releases! And this is highly anticipated by me too! Thanks for the review! No issues like the Hitchcock set. Can't wait to see Frankenstein.

#19 of 41 Johnny Angell

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Posted October 02 2012 - 10:15 AM

My grandmother was just like that - always talking about how she was looking forward to dying. She was a rather morbid person.

[GROAN] :) I'm starting to feel like Bud Abbot's straight man to Lou Costello every time I mention the Coffin.
Johnny
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#20 of 41 Russell G

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Posted October 02 2012 - 10:17 AM

Originally Posted by Johnny Angell 


[GROAN] Posted Image I'm starting to feel like Bud Abbot's straight man to Lou Costello every time I mention the Coffin.

If it wasn't for the strict HTF guidelines on politeness some of these "jokes" would be torn apart! Posted Image


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