Dragonwyck [1946]

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars: Glenn Langan
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 103 minutes

Although only one of the '40s-era movies from the Fox library contained in this set can be called a genuine horror film, all three pictures offer enough excitement and suspense--as well as the presence of genre stalwarts like Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, George Zucco and J. Carroll Naish--to warrant viewings by classic movie fans and broad-minded horror aficionados alike. Dr. Renault's Secret, from 1942, is the real article in terms of horror, with Zucco as the title scientist and J. Carroll Naish as, well, his secret, a brutish handyman with a monstrous heritage. It's a breezy B-picture on par with similar efforts like The Ape Man, although with stronger production value. The fantasy-adventure Chandu the Magician (1931) stars Edmund Lowe as the eponymous yogi, who is dispatched to save his brother from the evil magician Roxor (Lugosi). Based on a popular radio series from the '30s, Chandu benefits greatly from atmospheric cinematography by James Wong Howe and production design by William Cameron Menzies, who pull off some genuinely impressive special effects, and from the marvelous florid performance by Lugosi (who would go on to play Chandu in a subsequent serial). Dragonwyck (1946) is the volume's ringer; with its story of class struggle and forbidden marriage between wealthy Vincent Price and his less fortunate and distant relation Gene Tierney, it offers only the hint of chills in whispers about a ghost. It's also probably the best of the set's three films in regard to production value and performances, with Price taking top honors as the cold-hearted lord of the manor and Walter Huston as Tierney's suspicious father. But that probably means little to horror fans, who will probably pass over the film in favor of Renault's more upfront scares; similarly, classic drama fans may not wish to invest in all three pictures in order to enjoy Dragonwyck. But hope springs eternal that curiosity will introduce both sides to the merits of the other features included here. As with its predecessor, the Fox Horror Classics Collection Volume 2 includes a wealth of fine extras that give historical perspective to the features they accompany. Chandu and Dragonwyck feature commentary tracks by Lugosi biographer Gregory William Mank and writer Stephen Haberman and filmmaker Constantine Nasr, respectively; all three films are discussed in detail by a host of experts (authors Kim Newman, Rudy Behlmer and Lucy Chase Williams, among others, as well as effects legend Ray Harryhausen and collector extraordinaire Bob Burns) in 15-minute featurettes. The Dragonwyck disc also includes two radio adaptations, both starring Price, as well as an isolated audio track for Alfred Newman's evocative score. Trailers for Renault and Dragonwyck and an informative booklet of liner notes round out this eclectic set. --Paul Gaita

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