The previous Universal Horror Collection, Volume I could have been titled “The Lugosi and Karloff Collection”—in fact, at one point in its development at Shout! Factory, it was. In a similar vein, the new Volume II could have been titled “The Lionel Atwill Collection” had Shout! Factory simply included Man-Made Monster as the fourth film in the set instead of The Mad Ghoul. My OCD/Completist tendencies scratch their metaphoric heads as to why this was not done. Volume II includes Murders in the Zoo, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, and The Strange Case of Dr. Rx, all starring Lionel Atwill as some kind of mad doctor, plus The Mad Ghoul, starring… George Zucco as some kind of mad doctor! Clearly, Shout! Factory knew this set was, how shall we say, Atwill-centric; one of the only special features is a nice, thirty minute short in which Gregory Mank summarizes his Atwill biography. Why hold a fourth Atwill mad doctor vehicle (Man-Made Monster) for the just-announced Universal Horror Collection, Volume III? It’s WEIRD.
I am also a bit confused as to why so much time and effort were laved on the first volume and how little time and effort was afforded this second volume. Volume I includes six commentaries for four films, a new documentary in four episodes, and vintage radio programs. Hooray! Volume II contains only two commentary tracks and one mini documentary—that’s all there is for four films. Booooo! I wonder if Shout! Factory is planning even fewer supplements for its upcoming Volume III?
The transfers here are very beautiful, and Gregory Mank once again proves that he is a national treasure by providing a commentary track for Murders in the Zoo that is a model of the form. Informed, engaged, and brimming with facts, Mank turns Zoo’s brisk 66 minute running time into a love feast for classic horror fans.
Did you know that Gone With the Wind cinematographer Ernest Haller also photographed Murders in the Zoo? I didn’t! Did you know that co-star Gail Patrick went on to produce nine seasons of the Perry Mason television series? I didn’t!
The star of this collection is Murders in the Zoo, a pre-code Paramount film that sought to replicate the previous year’s box-office winner The Island of Lost Souls. Murders in the Zoo is two tons of fun. The film is chock-full of shots, situations, and lines of dialogue that would have (should have?) been cut had the Hays Code been more strictly enforced. In fact, Gregory Mank has a field day on the audio commentary noting which shots were cut in various big cities and foreign countries. We see a man who has had his mouth sewn shut (very disturbing, even by contemporary standards), a wayward woman fed to alligators, and the explicit suggestion that co-star Charlie Ruggles has shit his pants. Call me crazy, but these are the things that make movie going worthwhile!
Maybe we will finally get Murders in the Rue Morgue on Volume X?