The Republic Pictures Horror Collection – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars 4 Republic horrors from the 1940's debut on Blu-ray
Republic Pictures Horror Collection Flier

Let’s dig into the Republic Pictures Horror Collection. Formed from the union of 6 independent Poverty Row studios in 1935, Republic Pictures – under the direction of Herbert J. Yates, a longtime film investor and film processing laboratory owner – got its start producing B-movies and serials, but the company’s bread and butter was the numerous westerns it turned out over the years, most notably starring John Wayne, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. However, the company did make excursions into other genres, including film noir, drama and – in this case – horror. Kino has assembled four of Republic’s ventures into the horror genre – The Lady and the MonsterThe Phantom SpeaksThe Catman of ParisValley of the Zombies – for this Blu-ray set, with all four of the films making their Blu-ray debut here in America (Phantom, Catman and Valley were all previously released on Region Free Blu-ray by Imprint).

The Lady and the Monster (1944)
Released: 17 Apr 1944
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 86 min
Director: George Sherman
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Cast: Vera Ralston, Erich von Stroheim, Richard Arlen
Writer(s): Dane Lussier, Frederick Kohner, Curt Siodmak
Plot: A millionaire's brain is preserved after his death, and telepathically begins to take control of those around him.
IMDB rating: 5.6
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 26 Min. (The Lady and the Monster), 1 Hr. 9 Min. (The Phantom Speaks), 1 Hr. 4 Min. (The Catman of Paris), 56 Min. (Valley of the Zombies)
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 05/21/2024
MSRP: $59.99

The Production: 3.5/5

The Lady and the Monster (1944; 3.5 out of 5)

The Lady and the Monster screenshot

In a foreboding castle on the edge of the Arizona desert, Professor Franz Mueller (Erich von Stroheim) is obsessed with the idea that the human brain can be kept alive even after the death of the rest of the body. He gets the opportunity to prove his theory when the plane of investment banker William H. Donovan crashes near the castle and Donovan’s lifeless body is brought to Mueller. His obsessive experiment proves to be successful, but the experiment takes a turn when Donovan’s brain begins to telepathically contact Mueller’s assistant Patrick Cory (Richard Arlen) and eventually take over Cory’s will entirely. Now, Janice Farrell (Vera Hruba Ralston) must find a way to end Mueller’s experiment and break the spell that Donovan’s brain has Cory completely under its control.

The first of the three film adaptations of Curt Siodmak’s novel Donovan’s BrainThe Lady and the Monster is one of Republic Pictures’ better entries into the horror genre. Though he’s better known today for the many westerns he directed, George Sherman proves to be quite adept here in the horror genre as he skillfully sets up and executes Dane Lussier and Frederick Kohner’s adaptation of the Siodmak novel. Two of the film’s major assets her are the shadowy cinematography by the noir legend John Alton and Walter Scharf’s moody music score, the latter above average for the usually low budget Republic studio. However, the film’s main draw here is not only the scene-stealing performance by Erich von Stroheim, but also solid performances from the rest of the cast, especially Richard Arlen, Vera Hruba Ralston (in her first dramatic performance, one of many that Herbert J. Yates put the former Czech Olympic skater in in his bid to make her a star), Helen Vinson, Mary Nash and Sidney Blackmer. All in all, The Lady and the Monster is a solid little chiller that would anticipate the numerous science fiction horror thrillers of the 1950’s.

The Phantom Speaks (1945; 3 out of 5)

The Phantom Speaks Screenshot

After Harvey Bogardus (Tom Powers) murders a man that he suspects of dallying with his nightclub singer wife Betty (Marion Martin), he is convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair. But sometimes death is only the beginning, as Dr. Paul Renwick (Stanley Ridges) – a spiritualist who believes that some souls can outlast the body after death – soon finds out when he tries to contact Harvey’s spirit. As a result, Harvey’s spirit takes over Paul’s body, and Paul becomes the instrument for revenge against those that Harvey blames for his incarceration and death. As newspaper reporter Matt Fraser (Richard Arlen) investigates the strange murder spree, he and the District Attorney responsible for sending Bogardus to the electric chair become targets and have to stop the possessed Renwick from completing Harvey’s revenge from the grave!

The Phantom Speaks comes off as Republic’s answer to Universal’s earlier Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi film Black Friday (1940), which fell along the same lines as this movie. As such, John K. Butler’s screenplay does bear some similarities to Black Friday but differs in which the earlier film was more of a science fiction horror thriller while this movie falls more in line with horror with noir overtones. It’s also worth noting that Stanley Ridges – a longtime character actor – played a similar Jekyll and Hyde styled character in the aforementioned Universal picture and gives a reprise of that notable performance here. Similarities aside, the film is briskly paced and directed by John English with a solid performance by Ridges and decent support from Richard Arlen, Lynne Roberts, Jonathan Hale and especially Tom Powers as the man whom death couldn’t contain. In closing, The Phantom Speaks represents an intriguing – if somewhat familiar – noir-tinged horror spin on the “soul possession” troupe in the genre that Republic tried to accomplish in its own right.

The Catman of Paris (1946; 3.25 out of 5)

The Catman of Paris Screenshot

In late 19th Century Paris, writer Charles Regnier’s (Carl Esmond) latest book – detailing a trial similar to the infamous Charles Dreyfus affair – is causing an uproar amongst the French government and is praised by the public. However, the publicity wanes upon the shocking death of a librarian clawed to death while carrying important papers that could contradict Charles’ claims of the book being fictional. But when Charles’ fiancée is killed in the same manner as the librarian, Inspector Severen (Gerald Mohr) is convinced that Charles is indeed the “catman” responsible for these crimes (even Charles believes that he is indeed responsible). However, close friend Henry Bouchard (Douglass Dumbrille) and admirer Marie Audet (Lenore Aubert) believe in his innocence and must find a way to prove it, but there’s a shocking twist in the identity of the “catman”…

A nod to the werewolf movies of rival studio Universal, The Catman of Paris was Republic’s attempt to cash in on their rival’s success while handling it in their own way. Like George Sherman, director Lesley Selander was proficient in the western genre prior to and following this movie and he maintains a brisk pace throughout the proceedings. Veteran Republic stalwart Reggie Lanning – the cinematographer – and film editor Harry Keller (later to work at Universal as producer and director in his own right) establish a sense of atmosphere and style during the brief proceedings (check out the brief montage in the moments of Charles’ “dizzy spells”). However, the film’s main flaw is that it’s burdened with some rather clunky dialogue, weighing down the proceedings in crucial moments where suspense and tension are needed; the cast – led by Carl Esmond, Douglass Dumbrille, Lenore Aubert, Gerald Mohr, Fritz Feld, Francis Pierlot, John Dehner and Robert J. Wilke as The Catman (his true identity will not be revealed in this review) – certainly do their best with what they have here. In the end, The Catman of Paris is one of the more intriguing horror entries from Republic Pictures – warts and all – and notable as part of the studio’s first horror double feature with the next film in this set…

Valley of the Zombies (1946; 3 out of 5)

Valley of the Zombies Screenshot

Ormand Murks (Ian Keith) believed that blood transfusions would give him eternal life; he was placed in the Brookdale Mental Institute by Dr. Rufus Maynard (Charles Trowbridge) where he died after a botched operation by the asylum director. Five years later, Murks has seemingly returned from the dead – by the power of voodoo – and begins his quest for immortality anew, first by killing Dr. Maynard and by going after the Brookdale director, Dr. Garland. The police – particularly detectives Blair (Thomas E. Jackson) and Hendricks (LeRoy Mason) – suspect Maynard’s partner Dr. Terrence “Terry” Evans (Robert Livingston) and nurse Susan Drake (Adrian Booth) of being responsible of the murder, but the real truth lies inside the Murks estate, where both Terry and Susan discover the truth behind Murks’ return, which puts them both in grave danger!

The B-picture in the aforementioned initial horror double feature for Republic, Valley of the Zombies is both typical of the early zombie movie and a misnomer at the same time – there’s no additional zombies despite the film’s title. The film’s major asset is the cinematography by Republic stalwart Reggie Lanning, who brings a very dark and moody atmosphere to the proceedings; a necessity when dealing with a movie that deals with voodoo as a major plot device. Director Philip Ford – the nephew of the legendary John Ford – is also to be commended for maintaining said atmosphere throughout the brisk proceedings, which he maintains a decent pace throughout. Having said that, there are two major drawbacks to the film’s success: the trite dialogue between stars Livingston and Booth – which sound clever on the surface but really feels plodding instead – and that the film’s depiction of the zombie Murks owes more to the screen’s typical depiction of vampirism than it does to voodoo and zombies (the comparisons to Warner Bros. earlier 1939 film The Return of Doctor X are more apparent); however, the decision to cast Ian Keith as the main heavy here – his appearance comes off as a cross between Lon Chaney in the lost film London After Midnight and Bela Lugosi – is a standout amongst the cast here, which includes Robert Livingston, Adrian Booth, Charles Trowbridge, Thomas E. Jackson and LeRoy Mason. In the end, Valley of the Zombies is a rather disappointing entry in the Republic Pictures’ foray into the horror genre, with interesting yet differing elements that don’t come completely together to form a cohesive whole, despite a solid atmosphere.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

Each of the four films in this set are presented in their original 1:37:1 aspect ratios, taken from brand new HD transfers created by Paramount Pictures from 4K scans of the film elements. For each film, film grain, gray scale and fine details are all represented faithfully with varying degrees of issues like scratches, tears and dirt present, but nothing that would make any of the 4 films unwatchable. Overall, this release is likely the best all four films will ever look on home video and surpasses their respective previous home video releases.

Audio: 4.5/5

The original mono soundtracks for all four films in this set are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this Blu-ray release. Dialogue, sound mix and music scores for all four films (Walter Scharf for The Lady and the Monster, Edward H. Plumb for The Phantom Speaks, R. Dale Butts for The Catman of Paris and the uncredited combo of Plumb and stock music by Hans J. Salter for Valley of the Zombies) are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on the tracks for each film. Overall, this release is likely the best each of the four films will ever sound on home video, surpassing each of the four films’ previous home video releases.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Commentary on The Lady and the Monster by artist/film historian Stephen R. Bissette – Newly recorded for this release, Bissette goes into the details behind the making of the movie, as well as some of the differences between this film and later film adaptations of the Curt Siodmak novel as well as the career of Vera Hruba Ralston; featuring contributions by journalist G. Michael “Mike” Dobbs.

Commentaries on The Phantom Speaks and Valley of the Zombies by novelist/critic Tim Lucas – Carried over from their respective Imprint Blu-ray releases, Lucas brings his usual multi-faceted look at both films’ production histories as well as where each of the two films fit in the careers of its respective cast and crew members.

Commentaries on The Catman of Paris and Valley of the Zombies by film historians David Del Valle and Miles Hunter – Newly recorded for this release, Del Valle and Hunter bring their spirited discussion and dissection of the two movies and their history as Republic’s first horror film double feature.

Sidebar on The Lady and the Monster (59:48) – Tim Lucas and Stephen R. Bissette engage in a lively discussion and appreciation of the movie in this feature-length featurette.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Mad Doctor, The Raging Tide, The Spider Queen Strikes Back & The Queen of Spades

Some special features that didn’t make the cut here are a commentary track by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, a video essay by Kat Ellinger, and the 1991 The Republic Pictures Story documentary from the Imprint Blu-ray release of The Catman of Paris.

Overall: 4/5

Kino has done a solid job of bringing the Republic Pictures Horror Collection of horror movies to Blu-ray – with The Lady and the Monster making its Blu-ray debut here – with decent HD transfers and five commentary tracks and feature-length sidebar as informative and insightful special features. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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