DirectorStuart Heisler, Edward Dmytryk, Reginald LeBorg, Harold Young
Release Date(s)1941/1943/1944/1945 (June 16, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B
- Overall Grade: B+
Scream Factory continues where they left off with their previous Universal Horror Collection, this time providing us with a variety of horror and mystery films from 1937 to 1946. The four films include The Monster and the Girl, directed by Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key); Captive Wild Woman, directed by Edward Dmytryk (The Caine Mutiny); Jungle Woman, directed by Reginald LeBorg (The Mummy’s Ghost); and Jungle Captive, directed by Harold Young (The Mummy’s Tomb). These films make up the Blu-ray release Universal Horror Collection: Volume 5.
In 1941’s The Monster and the Girl, a young woman moves to the big city for a more exciting life, but her brother pursues her when he discovers that she’s been lured into a prostitution ring by gangsters. To get rid of him, they frame him for murder, upon which he’s convicted and sentenced to death via the electric chair. In the aftermath, a scientist takes his body and places his brain into the head of a live gorilla. Though outward appearances would deem it to be nothing more than a normal animal, the man’s brain remembers those who’ve wronged him and his sister. He then goes after the lawyer that convicted him and the gangsters that framed him, one by one.
The Monster and the Girl is unorthodox in many respects, chiefly due to its unusual mix of film noir and monster movie. The two don’t exactly gel as it’s well over 30 minutes into the 65-minute running time before the monster movie aspect kicks in, but it’s definitely unique and plays everything fairly straight outside of the presence of a couple of bumbling policemen as the comic relief. Placing the brain of a human being into the body of an ape is nothing new under the sun, of course, though it’s highly unlikely that it would function very much after a trip to Old Sparky. Nevertheless, The Monster and the Girl is an effective little thriller. It’s slow and moody with very little score, offers a surprising amount of pathos in its finale, and it’s right down to the bone as far as plot is concerned. Other films of this era may feature similar plots, but not only does this film feature good performances, but it takes more chances than most monster movies of its ilk.
In 1943’s Captive Wild Woman, circus animal trainer Fred Mason returns to the US after capturing and bringing back with him many wild beasts from the jungle, including lions and tigers (no bears). Among his many captures is a large gorilla named Cheela, whom be befriends. A scientist who’s conducting secret experiments on animals and hopes to transplant human glands onto them, kidnaps the gorilla. He takes the brain of a woman and places it in the gorilla’s head which, along with the gland surgery, transforms it into a beautiful woman named Paula. Though by all outward appearances she appears normal, she still carries her primal instincts and is able to help Fred in the circus ring with the other animals. She later becomes jealous when she sees him with his fiancee, which causes her to transform back into Cheela, sending her on a rampage.
Half stock footage, half monster movie, Captive Wild Woman was the first in Universal’s “Ape Woman” series. The majority of the running time is devoted to stock footage, which was sourced from the 1933 pre-code circus film The Big Cage. Real footage of lions and tigers fighting and being subjected to what is now considered torturous procedures permeate the film. A young John Carradine portrays the mad scientist, long before he became synonymous with it in his later years, and the beautiful Acquanetta portrays Paula. Though the animal footage may be difficult for some viewers, Captive Wild Woman is a breezy 60-minute thriller that gets through its plot quickly. It’s not a great film, by any means, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome either.
In 1944’s Jungle Woman, the good-natured Dr. Fletcher has been accused of murder, and stands trial to try and prove himself innocent. In the events of the previous film, he witnesses the supposed death of Cheela. Taking an interest in her, he arranges to have her body moved to his laboratory. There he revives her and she later transforms back into Paula. She then becomes infatuated with Fletcher’s future son-in-law, Bob, but his daughter, Joan, isn’t happy about it. Paula becomes insanely jealous of Joan, which puts her in danger, but Fletcher’s fate in the court room will depend upon the judge and jury believing the outcome of his story.
As many have noted of Jungle Woman over the years, the film is truly a slog. Exceptionally poor performances, an eye-rolling love triangle, almost no body count, and a studio that purportedly attempted to hide or ignore the race of their lead actress (publicly condemned for their “anti-negro” practices) help make Jungle Woman one of the worst of the Universal horror films of its era. Not only does it re-use footage from the first film for flashback purposes, but it also re-uses the same re-used footage from The Big Cage, meaning you have one film, three sources, and a threadbare plot. This was also the last film that Acquanetta would appear in for Universal, leaving the company once her contract was up (if that’s to be believed). Shot in a mere 12 days, Jungle Woman was definitely not one of horror’s high points, and the film remains a chore to sit through.
In 1945’s Jungle Captive, Paula lies dead in the morgue when the mysterious and frightening Moloch comes in to steal her body, killing anybody that gets in his way. Meanwhile, Dr. Stendhal and his assistants Don and Ann have discovered the secret to bringing dead things back to life after reviving a dead rabbit. Don and Ann are soon to be married, but what they don’t know is that the seemingly kindhearted Stendhal is conducting illegal experiments, his latest being Paula once her body is delivered to his private country laboratory. Kidnapping Ann and using her for her blood, Stendhal is successful in bringing Paula back to life, but she’s not to be controlled.
Jungle Captive is not much of an improvement over its predecessor, even with the presence of Rondo Hatton. He was one of Universal’s newest exploits, famous for being a movie monster without makeup. In reality, he was suffering from acromegaly, which would eventually take his life. Also among the cast were Phil Brown, Amelita Ward, Jerome Cowan, and Otto Kruger, the latter of whom had appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur three years prior. The plot itself is humdrum, but there’s no love triangle this time around, nor are there poor performances. The lack of Acquanetta is felt, but at the same time, the ape woman has very little to do. Jungle Captive would be the last film in the “Ape Woman” series, which had already stretched itself far too thin.
Scream Factory brings the four films to Blu-ray for the first time, presenting them on separate discs. The Monster and the Girl is presented utilizing a new 2K scan of a fine grain print. It’s a solid presentation with good contrast and delineation. Grain resolves well enough and detail is high. There’s a very mild bit of jitter that’s hardly noticeable, as well as some mild scratches. Transitions are rough and the last reel has much more wear and tear the rest of the film, but the presentation is clean and stable otherwise.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a tad quiet but clean, and dialogue has clear definition. Sound effects and score don’t have much push to them, but the overall track is decent.
Captive Wild Woman is the only presentation to be sourced from an older master, and it’s a pleasant one. It has a slight softness and grain isn’t as well-managed as it could be, but it offers good contrast with excellent grayscale. The stock footage, of which there’s quite a bit, is much softer and flatter, and loaded with scratches and speckling. The main presentation is much cleaner by comparison, and stable. There are also moments in the first reel or so where scenes and moments are pillarboxed. Why isn’t entirely clear, but it could be due to a lack of workable film elements.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. A mild hiss is present from time to time, but the dialogue is clear and precise. Score and sound effects have some heft to them, and the overall quality of the track is strong.
Jungle Woman is sourced from a new 2K scan of a fine grain print. It’s generally crisp with nice detail. Grain isn’t entirely refined, but the high encode gets the most out of the presentation. Good contrast and grayscale are on display, though the re-used stock footage is still pretty rough. There’s also evidence of frame damage that’s been repaired, leaving faint signs of it behind in a few places. There are minor speckling and scratches throughout, but it’s stable and natural.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. The volume of the dialogue is a little uneven, but it mostly comes through without fault. Score and sound effects have plenty of push and the overall track is clean.
Jungle Captive is also sourced from a new 2K scan of a fine grain print. It has the most clarity of any presentation in this release, as well as the best contrast. Grain resolves really well and the high encode allows for a natural, problem-free picture. Grayscale isn’t perfect as whites are occasionally too hot, but other than minor scratches and speckling, as well as a bit of jitter in spots, it’s a clean and stable presentation. Perhaps the best of the lot.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. This track offers good support for score and sound effects, and features clear dialogue exchanges. It’s a clean track, but there’s a minor thump and dropout at the 49:38 mark. Otherwise, it’s a quite satisfactory.
THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B-/B
CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/C+/B+
JUNGLE WOMAN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D-/B-/B
JUNGLE CAPTIVE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B+/B
The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL)
- Audio Commentary with Tom Weaver and Steve Kronenberg
DISC TWO (CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN)
- Audio Commentary with Tom Weaver and Dave Hodge
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:07)
- Image Gallery (HD – 26 in all – 1:56)
DISC THREE (JUNGLE WOMAN)
- Audio Commentary with Gregory William Mank
- Image Gallery (HD – 34 in all – 2:31)
DISC FOUR (JUNGLE CAPTIVE)
- Audio Commentary with Scott Gallinghouse
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:10)
The Monster and the Girl features an audio commentary with the always entertaining and informative Tom Weaver, with occasional participation by author Steve Kronenberg. They’re big fans of the film and defend it tooth and nail, highlighting performances and effects, detailing the cast and crew, and going over the history of the project. Weaver even has access to an early draft of the screenplay and points out differences from the final version. For Captive Wild Woman, Tom Weaver returns, this time joined by zookeeper Dave Hodge, who occasionally pops in to talk about the animal footage, commenting on handler practices and how they’ve changed. The commentary also offers actor re-creations of Edward Dymytryk and Acquanetta interviews. The image gallery consists of 26 stills of promotional photos, posters, and press ephemera. Jungle Woman features an audio commentary with author Gregory William Mank. He expertly takes us through the film, highlighting many of the reasons why the film doesn’t work, but also delving into the situation with Acquanetta, having interviewed her years before her death. His commentary is perhaps the most revealing as it speaks on the troubles between Universal and Acquanetta in frank detail (it’s surprising that it wasn’t censored). The image gallery features 34 stills of promotional photos, posters, and lobby cards. Jungle Captive features an audio commentary with author Scott Gallinghouse, who is certainly no stranger to films featuring Rondo Hatton, having written about him extensively. His comments lack the personality and spunk of his predecessors, but he offers a wealth information about the production, the cast and crew, and a bizarre bit of trivia about Betty Bryant, who was originally cast in the film and replaced a few days into production. He drops out a few times, and even ends the track a couple of minutes early, but primarily stays on pace. Also included in the package is a 12-page insert booklet featuring photos and information about each film, as well as a set of Blu-ray credits. Everything is housed in a four-disc amaray case within slipcase packaging.
If you’re a lover of vintage Universal horror, you likely don’t need any recommendations from me about picking up this wonderful set. Scream Factory’s Universal Horror Collection: Volume 5 is an excellent assortment of films that have rarely been seen by modern movie fans. Making their Blu-ray debuts with some nice transfers, it’s certainly worth your money.
- Tim Salmons