A pair of welcome new releases come at the end of this month from Warner Archive. First, we have Boris Karloff starring in 1945’s “Isle of the Dead” one of producer Val Lewton’s famed horror films for RKO, then we jump to 1978 for a fantasy/horror TV movie from producers Rankin-Bass, best known for their stop motion animation Christmas specials like “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but here bring us the live-action “The Bermuda Depths” with Burl Ives.
I’ve talked about Val Lewton in his column before, a few years ago when I looked at the blu-ray release of his most famous movie, 1942’s “Cat People.” Lewton was a B-movie producer at RKO and really knew how to use his limited budgets for maximum impact. Lewton and his directors knew that what was scariest wasn’t what you saw, but what you didn’t see. Using images richly painted with shadow to let you imagine your own horrors lurking in the dark recesses.
In the ‘40s, there wasn’t a horror star bigger than Boris Karloff, having made his career in the early ‘30s as the monster in James Whale’s adaptation of “Frankenstein” for Universal. In “Isle of the Dead” Karloff stars as a general fighting a war in Greece, he goes to visit a small island where the grave of his late wife is, but then signs of a plague that’s been ravishing the land shows and the general forbid anyone from leaving it. As the plague spreads among those on the isle, the General soon begins to believe that it is the work of one of the people on the island, who he suspects is a vampire out to destroy him.
“Isle of the Dead” is one of the most beautiful looking Horror films of the era. The black and white is rich and the outdoor sequences around the tombs are really specular. Warner Archive’s new blu-ray improves dramatically over the old DVD release. While the DVD looked fine, it had some scratches and dirt on it. This new blu-ray, sourced from a new 2K scan of the film’s original nitrate negative, is stunning. My jaw dropped several times at how sharp and clear this new transfer is.
An added bonus over the old DVD is the addition of a wonderful commentary track by historian Dr. Steve Haberman. I’ve heard Dr. Haberman’s commentary tracks before on other classic horror movies, and they’re always a welcomed experience. Haberman’s commentary is never dull, full of details about the making of the film and the actors who appear in it. It’s a rich, engaging commentary and well worth your time.
The 1970s were truly a golden age for the TV movie. With every network showing original movies weekly, some of the more notable Horror offerings having scarred an entire generation. “The Bermuda Depths” is a film that lived long in the memories of those who saw it as kids when it first aired on ABC in 1978. The has a solid cast, featuring Burl Ives, Connie Sellecca a few years away from starring on “The Greatest American Hero,” Carl Weathers, and Leigh McCloskey in the lead role has a young man whose parents died mysteriously years ago.
Sellecca plays a mysterious woman who may, or may not, have sold her soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth, Ives plays a Marine Biologist with Weathers as his student. Added to the mysteries comes a giant sea turtle that kills, with those sequences and effects done by Tsuburaya Productions—best known for the Ultraman franchise and pioneering the effects in the original “Godzilla” movies. The movie is a lot of fun, it’s kind of everything you’d hope out of a 1978 TV movie about The Bermuda Triangle and mysterious goings-on. You’ve got boats being attacked, mysterious deaths, and a spooky and hypotonic character who appears to live in the ocean.
What impressed me most about Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “The Bermuda Depths” is the image. Sourced from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, I can honestly say this is one of the best-looking blu-rays I’ve seen in a long time. There is a richness to the beautiful color pallet of his film that you wouldn’t think you’d find in a late ‘70s TV movie. The shades of blue in particular are really stunning.
Bonus materials come well-stocked on this title. Though shot for TV, “The Bermuda Depths” was released theatrically overseas. Both aspect ratios are included. The 1.33:1 TV broadcast version, and a 1.85:1 international theatrical ratio. A commercial track with historian Amanda Reys and Lance Vaughan, co-founder of Kindertrauma, a website decimated to all those things from pop culture that scared us as kids, is included. It’s a good commentary, lively, and engaging. Only a slightly bit awkward at times as it was partiality recorded with Zoom, but given the times we are in that is forgiven, it’s nice to have it along. Vintage TV movies on blu-ray are not the most common, but it’s nice to see that when done right, they can go toe to toe with their theatrical counterparts.
Both of these discs are a good time and are highly recorded for fans of the genre, and the creators of each work. Warner Archive once again gives us a great set of archival goodies to enjoy, which can be yours at www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive. Really pleased with both discs, and for the beautiful scenery alone, “The Bermuda Depths” is worth your time. See you next week.