PictureAll three movies in this set are presented in their original 1.33:1 full-screen aspects.
Once again, Fox have managed to pull off a couple of miracles with their restoration work here. Dr. Renault's Secret, in particular, looks astonishingly good. Having spent most of viewing time lately perusing titles in 1080p, I was fully expecting quite a come-down clarity and sharpness-wise, but this was not at all the case. Renault, the first movie that I watched from this set, is remarkably sharp and detailed, boasting immaculate blacks, spot-on shadow delineation, excellent greys and wonderful separation in the contrast. Incredibly clean and damage-free, the print is in admirable condition.
Dragonwyck certainly looks the best that I have ever seen it and this transfer is the second favourite of the set. Blacks are stronger than before, with much better shadow delineation offered throughout the interiors. Damage is at a minimum, with only some minute pops and flickers dotted about, infrequently. Detail proves to be quite revealing with lots more patterns and embroidery, furnishings and décor presented for scrutiny. Long shots have more stability than I've seen before, the framing a lot crisper and clearer with group shots, such as the Kermess and the fanciful party providing more information and detail around the periphery and amongst the many extras than previous versions have managed to bear. Close-ups are nice and boast a vitality that offers smart contrast and facial clarity and the thin smattering of grain adds a very filmic quality that is definitely pleasing.
Chandu The Magician fares the least well, being the oldest film of the batch. Its image is prone to the odd wavering vertical line here and there, some speckles and pops and the occasional frame-jump, a couple of which are quite glaring. But the picture is still strong and detailed, with only slight elements of softness around the edge of the frame. Blacks aren't particularly bold, but then they still perform more than adequately for a print of this vintage despite a slight tendency to haze. Shadows are decent and the grey-scale is certainly better than many other supposedly restored films from this period. There is one rather horrible sudden white flash during a romantic clinch but, other than this, there really isn't any overt damage that leaps out and draws attention to itself. Moments such as when June Lang is being offered for auction reveal some prominent points of interest and, even looking around the crowded set at the grubby hands and faces, you can see lots more detail than you might have expected for such a regularly dismissed film. Some of its long shots are softened and muted - peering down into Roxor's lab - but, on the whole, Chandu is a lot better and vital-looking than you may have expected.
Once again, I doff my cap to the restoration team for such loving and attentive work.
SoundAll three films are presented in single-channel DD mono.
Both Dr. Renault's Secret and Dragonwyck sound just fine, without any hiss, popping or distortion. Chandu, perhaps unsurprisingly, has hiss aplenty, but this is neither bothersome nor prone to fluctuation. The older track also has a few crackles and dialogue is noticeably less clear than it is on the movie's more recent companions. But, that said, Chandu still sounds great and I had no problems with missing words or warped-out effects, even if that damned score did keep getting on my nerves.
The other two films both employ smooth dynamics, much better range and detail with their scores, particularly Newman's on Dragonwyck, and dialogue that is crisp, clear and always discernable. Beyond that, there really isn't much else that I can say. There are certainly no detrimental elements that you would find off-putting and, for the most part, all three sound great. Thus, all things considered, the package warrants a firm 7 out of 10.
ExtrasBoth Chandu The Magician and Dragonwyck have commentary tracks. Chandu lets us hear from Greg Mank, who has graced a great many vintage horrors already. As usual, he blatters out an incredibly detailed commentary that rarely pauses for him to take a breath and he delivers a dozen anecdotes-a-minute in that rather clipped Golden Age style that many such historians like to effect, reeling out names, dates and film titles almost parrot-fashion. Once again, he tends to go overboard on trivia from the whole of Hollywood at the time of the film's production and release, charting the careers of seemingly the entire cast and crew with an endless name-dropping spiel. But I love the true tale of how the great Val Guest (director of such classics as The Quatermass Xperiment, The Abominable Snowman and many others) got his big break in movies by actually panning Chandu and claiming that he could do much better. Mank also provides a lot of seriously creepy actor deaths and misfortunes that can be connected to this film.
Dragonwyck has the informative Steve Haberman to keep us company. Haberman is another regular contributor to vintage horror releases and this time he is accompanied by filmmaker Constantine Nasr, who is responsible for many of the featurettes that you find on discs such as these. The two rabbit on very pleasantly throughout, addressing cast and crew - and resumes of their careers and connection to other film industry bods, as all these commentators simply love to do - and talk about the reshoots, the disputes between Mankiewicz and originally intended director Ernst Lubitsch and certain dropped scenes. Once again, this is a great track that piles of the facts and the trivia like there's no tomorrow, but these two lack the sudden highly amusing quotes that Mank will throw in to catch you off your guard.
Dr. Renault's Secret has the brief but good documentary Horror's Missing Link: Rediscovering Dr. Renault's Secret (15:51) in which we hear from Steve Haberman, Greg Mank, Kim Newman, Steve Jones and other notable film historians, writers and critics. An infectious love for such material is essential for these mini-retros, and these guys supply oodles of it. There's nothing too revelatory here, but we do get to see some stills from the original The Wizard and hear about the bizarre alternative title for the remake of Buried Alive, which bears absolutely no connection to anything we see in the movie.
Chandu boasts a witty look back at the film in Master Of Magic: The World Of Chandu (15.17). The usual suspects are once again rounded-up and the film's history is charted back to its radio origins. We hear about the effects work and the casting and how Lugosi totally overpowered and dominated Lowe. The feature is swift, detailed and nicely put-together, as are they all.
On hand, once more, are the retrospective gang of scribes and biographers - along with some new faces, such as Mankiewicz's son - to discuss the making of Dragonwyck in another nicely presented little featurette entitled A House Of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck (16.12). This takes a fairly detailed look at Anya Seton's original novel and how it reflected both the era in which it was set and how it made Hollywood realise that this was precisely the way it wanted its big romances to look. They ponder on how much of a horror film it really is - Steve Jones quite succinctly and convincingly arguing that it definitely is by virtue of it containing quite a few vital genre ingredients - and, best of all, talk about how the film created the legend of Vincent Price. Kim Newman makes the wonderful and pertinent point that Dragonwyck was the crossroads for Price in that he could have gone very successfully down either of two routes - as a Byronic leading man in period romances or, as history went on to prove to certainly my own personal relief, as a dark, haunted sophisticate in a pure Poe mould. The links between Price and Poe, as predicted by Dragonwyck - an Edgar Allen Poe poem prefaces the original novel - are astonishing and the actor's marvellous relationship with the writer's doomed characters suddenly seems pre-ordained. Don't know about you folks - but I love all this gothic stuff! God, I miss Vincent Price.
Restoration featurettes are also provided, as is the original radio play adaptation of Dragonwyck, starring the vocal talents of Vincent Price and Gene Tierney, reprising their roles from the film. All three films also restoration featurettes that split the screen to reveal before and after shots of several key scenes from each. And the set is rounded off with trailers and stills galleries and another nicely illustrated booklet providing some background on the three movies.
A very respectable roster of bonuses for fans to enjoy.
VerdictA strange trio of movies to place in a horror triple-bill, to be sure. Dragonwyck is only a borderline chiller that plays about with gothic atmosphere and psychological torment and is really only of interest for Alfred Newman's rich score and the early, career-establishing performance of Vincent Price. Chandu The Magician is a wild romp that collides sci-fi and horror with ribald 30's imperialist adventure and features a deliciously villainous performance from Bela Lugosi. Dr. Renault's Secret, by far the shortest and supposedly lesser thought-of of the three is actually the most assured and satisfying. It doesn't have the pretensions of its companion-pieces, or the over-ripe sense of melodrama. But in Carrol J. Naish and George Zucco, it offers great value and some quite shocking violence.
The picture quality of the trio is excellent so full praise must go to the restoration team responsible for bringing these oft-neglected productions up to scratch - or away from scratch, so to speak. And Fox must also be congratulated on finding some extra material to bolster their arrival in such a prestigious package. The commentaries are as fact-packed and entertaining as those offered on the original volume and the radio play and various documentaries just add lots more period charm and fun-filled production trivia. If you loved the first set, then you will find this collection very appealing indeed. Fans of vintage horror/suspense have much reward with these three lesser-known, but magnificently staged period genre films ... and since the set can be picked up for around a tenner, what have you got to lose?
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