Jun 2, 2021

On Blu-ray: The Bermuda Depths (1978), The Isle of the Dead (1945), and Doctor X (1932)

I recently enjoyed a trio of horror/fantasy films new to Blu-ray from Warner Archive. While they are dramatically different stories, they each evoke suspense and mystery in intriguingly quirky ways. 

Bermuda Depths (1978) 

Watching and then re-watching this Rankin/Bass television production (yes, the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Rankin/Bass) was an interesting experience in the power of outside influence in changing perspective. I went into it expecting a monster movie, and was a bit disappointed to find a more dreamy fantasy with hints of romance and horror. While I enjoyed the beauty of the cinematography and the appealing cast led by Burl Ives, Carl Weathers and Connie Sellecca, it left me a little cold. Then I read a few fan reviews and I was stunned to find that many viewers had first seen the film as children and had been haunted and mesmerized by it ever since. Their experience watching the movie was so dramatically different from mine that I decided to give it another chance. Watching it again with a more childlike sense of wonder, I caught a bit of its magic, not as strong as those who saw it when they were young, but enough to appreciate its mysterious appeal. 

Special features on the disc include an international theatrical version of the film, and an audio commentary by Amanda Reyes and Lance Vaughan that effectively captures the wonder of this film that captivated so many young viewers.
Isle of the Dead (1945) 

A lesser known entry among the horror films produced by Val Lewton, this one is a slow burn. It doesn’t offer thrills until its last moments, but this chiller about an island isolated by quarantine and haunted by fear of dark spirits keeps you on edge. Elements of Greek folklore give the story of a peasant who suspects a young woman of possessing evil powers added texture. Ellen Drew is appealingly grounded as the suspected malevolent presence and Boris Karloff, Katherine Emery, and Skelton Knaggs are charismatic stand-outs in a uniformly fascinating cast. 

Special features on the disc include commentary by Dr. Steve Haberman and a theatrical trailer.

Doctor X (1932) 

It always astounds me how dramatically a great restoration can change the experience of watching a movie. The new 4k restoration of this two-strip Technicolor chiller is a perfect example of the way it elevates the experience. I’d always looked upon this horror flick directed by Michael Curtiz as an amusing enough comedy-tinged time killer, but a sharper image and better color composition brought out the horrific elements, making it a much moodier and ghoulish experience. I was mesmerized by moments I’d never noticed before, like a blue-green shot of the moon or the rosy hue of Fay Wray’s complexion in contrast to the monster that menaces her. 

An especially robust selection of special features includes a separately filmed black and white version of the film which has been unavailable for thirty years, the featurette The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz, a before/after restoration reel from UCLA, commentaries by Scott MacQueen and Alan K. Rode, and a theatrical trailer.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copies of the films for review.

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