Crimes at the Dark House (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (4th November 2023).
The Film

The terrifying talents of Newcastle’s Norman Carter ‘Tod’ Slaughter – the first true icon of British horror cinema – are showcased in this long-overdue box set. Featuring the eight films which ‘Europe’s Horror Man’ made in collaboration with British producer-director George King (Tomorrow We Live), this comprehensive collection also includes a number of rare shorts and newsreel items.

Unlike his contemporaries, such as Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton, Tod Slaughter never left his native shores. Instead, he chose to make his mark in Britain by transferring his most sensational theatrical performances to the screen. Portraying every kind of cruel and cunning criminal – from petty thief to mass murderer – he became the first great villain of British horror, at a time before the Grand Guignol of Hammer Films began to take hold, without once donning monster make-up.

Criminally overlooked by film historians, and only previously seen in compromised versions, these fascinating films have been newly restored using original film materials preserved at the BFI National Archive, and are accompanied by an array of essential contextualising extras, including archival short films and radio plays presented with optional soundtracks by British music legends Current 93, newly recorded commentaries, critical appreciations and personal recollections, and a 120-page book. Strictly limited to 6,000 individually numbered units for the UK and US.


Horror had thrived in the silent era with classics like The Golem (1920), Nosferatu: Symphony of Horrors (1922), The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Cat and the Canary (1927). Universal had continued into the early sound era beginning with the double whammy blockbusting successes of Dracula (English and Spanish versions) and Frankenstein (both 1931) which had kicked off their beloved series of Universal Horror melodramas which also included such less supernaturally grounded entries (and more akin to Slaughter's films) like The Old Dark House (1932), Secret of the Blue Room (1933), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) and The House of the Seven Gables (1940).

In the UK infamous and very popular stage actor Tod Slaughter (real name Norman Carter Slaughter, 1885-1956) brought to the screen his overblown villainy and human monster roles playing in a series of eight rationalist horror melodramas that traded on heightened dramatics, long shadows, murder, lush period decor and blood and thunder plots ... and a certain amount of mild sexiness. Along with the concurrent Universal Horror strand these historically and culturally significant productions would lead the way for Hammer, starting with their own brand of the macabre with The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955 and ramming it home to great box office success commencing with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). Although Hammer never quite produced non-supernatural macabre melodramas of the kind Slaughter made.

Sadly, Slaughter's efforts fell by the wayside over the years and have been largely forgotten. Happily, more recent restoration efforts have rescued him from being a well kept secret amongst horror aficionados and public domain hell (and terrible transfers on home video formats!) and we have this knockout 4-disc BD set from those good folks at Powerhouse Films out of the UK (6,000 limited edition sets for the UK and the USA) that collect all eight of his 1935-40 horror hits in one place with some nice extras. Image and sound have been meticulously restored and these cult classics now look (and sound) as pristine as it's possible to make them given the surviving film elements.

This set has the usual superb book to accompany the films and the extras but this isn't the usual 40+ or even 80-page stunner, it's a full-bore 120-page tome. It has this to say regarding the restorations of the films images:
Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Red Barn, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Crimes of Stephen Hawke, It’s Never Too Late to Mend, The Ticket of Leave Man, and Crimes at the Dark House were all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K at Final Frame Post, London, using original nitrate negative elements which are preserved by the BFI National Archive.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror was scanned in 4K and restored in 2K at Final Frame Post, London, using a 35mm dupe positive which is preserved by the BFI National Archive.

A combination of MTI and Nucoda DVO image-processing tools were used to remove many thousands of instances of dirt, eliminate scratches and other imperfections, as well as repair damaged frames. No grain management, edge enhancement or sharpening tools were employed to artificially alter the image in any way.

The Face at the Window was restored by Kino Lorber using a 4K scan of the original nitrate negative which is preserved by the BFI National Archive.
I had never seen so much as a clip from a Slaughter film before, a real hole in my cinematic eduction but now having seen all eight of his key films (he made a couple more post World War II not included here) I can only thank Powerhouse and Kino Lorber for their herculean efforts to restore them and for Powerhouse Films and Fidelity in Motion for presenting these efforts so beautifully on disc. Shy of an UHD BD release in 4K (and the 2K restorations here being redone in 4K) with higher dynamic range they won't be looking any better.

The earlier films are softer, the later ones sharper without their being much in the difference, but otherwise my comments apply to all of them the same. These have looked so terrible in the past and a cursory look online will illustrate my point; gone are the multi-generational duplicates taken from prints several marks removed from the negatives, littered with tramline scratches, specks, print damage etc. and ancient broadcast or video masters with terrible gamma. These are all pristine, pure monochrome with not a sign of any colour bias. Grain is beautifully rendered throughout and mostly fairly fine, occasionally course always filmic.

Black levels are mostly deep and rich with shadow detail being reliant on the surviving sources, generally it's very good but there is the odd darker moment here and there across the films with mild crush but it's mostly intended and in the elements. There's also moments of greyish flatness of lighting but that's also typical of low budget, production line filmmaking. Fine detail is supported as well as it may by the low key contrast. Highlights are strong and true with no blown out detail. All eight films look better than they have since they were made and I'd guess better than most audiences saw them back in the day ('A').

1080p24 / AVC MPEG-4 / BD50 x 4 / 1.37:1
Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Barn (66:55)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (68:13)
The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (69:14)
It's Never Too Late to Mend (67:06)
The Ticket of Leave Men (70:49)
Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (69:20)
The Face at the Window (64:41)
Crimes at the Dark House (68:42)


English LPCM 1.0 (48kHz, 16-bit)
Subtitles: English HoH

Again, the book states:
The original mono audio for all eight features was restored by Michael Brooke using iZotope RX10.
... and a very good job Brooke has done on the sound! Soundtracks of this vintage and budget can he problematic, indeed there is mild hiss but that's to be expected and part and partial of the analogue sound recording process pre-digital and pre-noise reduction. It's never a problem in the slightest even when the 1.0 track is pumped through all four corners of my sound system and when the volume is cranked up. Fidelity is also surprisingly strong at high volume with no distortion. These tracks will never win an awards but in fairness they're restored to their best possible behaviour and in good conscious I have to rate them highly. Excellent hard of hearing subtitles lead me to an overall rating of 'B+' my highest for vintage mono tracks.


Commentaries on all eight films conducted by film journalists and historians, and all presented in lossy English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (48kHz, 192Kbps):

"Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Barn" by Josephine Botting and Vic Pratt and on "The Ticket of Leave Men" by Botting and Dave Thomas (2023)

Botting, Pratt and Thomas are listenable and in my experience Botting and Pratt old hands at this kind of thing, both are obviously friends as well and this makes for a chatty, warm sometimes humorous couple of tracks; Thomas I'm not familiar with but he similarly gets on well with Botting. On Maria Marten we get lots on the actual murder case the film embellishes on as well on both films plenty about Slaughter and the films themselves, the cast crew etc. An excellent couple of listens, highly recommended.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and "Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror" by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and on "The Crimes of Stephen Hawke" with David McGillivray and Newman (2023)

The Jones-Newman track is another as we've come to expect from these two who've been working together for over two decades on yaktraks. As with the Maria Marten commentary above we get plenty on the background to the onscreen story and where this version sits in the history of big screen depictions of Sweeney Todd; on Sexton Blake we get background on the lead character, the franchise (literary and otherwise). They're also mates in real life or at least cover as such to the steady stream of trivia and facts about the production go down as smoothly as an expensive whiskey. Newman also works well with famed cult screenwriter McGillivray who is a raconteur par excellence with both sparking off each other well covering all the required bases on Stephen Hawke.

"It's Never Too Late to Mend", "The Face at the Window" and "Crimes at the Dark House" by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby (2023)Lyons & Rigby go together on commentary tracks like milk & cookies, cake & coffee or burgers & fries! One of my favourite teamings for a comfy yaktrak listen. Everything you could want to know about the three films under discussion is covered and I learned a great deal about a subject I knew bugger all about prior to watching and listening. In fairness, that can said about all of the commentaries (and interviews below).

"A Long Shadow: Ania Goszczyńska and David Tibet on the History of the Red Barn Murder" 2023 interviews (10:23)
"Shock Factor: A Discussion with Giles and Imogen Slaughter" 2023 interviews (11:19)
"Slaughter's Stock: A Tribute to the Regular Players in Tod Slaughter's Films" 2023 featurette (12:12)
"Full-Blooded: Stephen Thrower on Tod Slaughter" 2023 interview (59:06)

All of these pieces - totalling 93:00 - are presented in 1080p24 1.78:1 with lossy English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (48kHz, 192Kbps). The Goszczyńska-Tibet interview covers the real life case, both struck me as quite eccentric with Tibet using his hands rather distractingly throughout (they're a couple incidentally). In any case, a valuable and enjoyable featurette that educated me about the real Red Barn case which I hadn't heard of before. We also see some relics of said barn onscreen. We get the Slaughter family perspective which is warm and funny from the second piece, wonderfully informative look at Slaughter's stock company of actor colleagues in the third and the chunky fourth interview is the estimable Stephen Thrower turning his razor sharp lens to Slaughter; all of these were hugely informatibe and essentail.

Audio Plays (1932):
- "Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Barn":
-- With original soundtrack (13:07)
-- With alternate score by Current 93 (12:32)
- "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street":
-- With original soundtrack (12:28)
-- With alternate score by Current 93 (12:38)
The Tod Slaughter and Company audio plays of Maria Marten, or The Murder at the Red Barn and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street were newly digitised and remastered from the original Regal 78 rpm shellac records, from the collection of Ania Goszczyńska and David Tibet, by Michael Lawrence and Lauren Winton at Bladud Flies! in Brecon, Wales.
The underlying sound quality of these plays is generally pretty good although there's a fair amount of hiss being very simple mono tracks presented in lossy English Dolby Digital 1.0 (48kHz, 192Kbps). The revised modern versions take the original, primitive 1.0 and expand the sound field featuring excellent new scores. However - as with Universal's Dracula which had a new Kronos Quartet soundtrack - the mono original with hiss remains in the centre and the new ambiance score is in pristine stereo and doesn't really integrate terribly well. They are more successful that the Kronos-Dracula soundtrack because that was presented in 5.1 and it utterly overwhelmed the original 1.0 sound, but hiss seems worse here and distracting. These are presented in lossy English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (48kHz, 192Kbps).

Image Galleries:
- Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Barn Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (14 images)
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (43 images)
- The Crimes of Stephen Hawke Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (10 images)
- The Crimes of Stephen Hawke Image Gallery: Script Treatment (34 images)
- It's Never Too Late to Mend Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (10 images)
- The Ticket of Leave Men Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (11 images)
- Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (6 images)
- The Face at the Window Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (44 images)
- Crimes in the Dark House Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (34 images)
- Tod Slaughter Miscellany Image Gallery (55 images)

A whopping 261 images in HD with plenty of interest to look at and savour!

Short Films:
- "Tod Slaughter at Home" (1936) (4:07)
- "Pots of Plots" (1938) (3:51)
- "Bothered by a Beard" (1946) (35:01)
- "Puzzle Corner Number Fourteen" (1954) (19:12)
- "London After Dark" (1926):
-- Silent (7:12)
-- With score by Current 93 (7:12)

London After Dark was supplied in SD by the BFI National Archive. Bothered by a Beard was supplied in HD by the BFI National Archive. Puzzle Corner Number Fourteen was scanned and restored in 2K at Final Frame Post, London, from a 35mm combined dupe positive which is preserved by the BFI National Archive.

Tod Slaughter at Home and Pots of Plots were supplied in SD by British Pathé.
Generally this amusing cadre of shorts look excellent with the standard def upscales obviously lacking somewhat when set against the HD of the others. There's still damage in evidence with scratches, speckles and split frames popping up hither and tither but not enough to really compromise enjoyment in any way. Visual qualities are strong and the encoding is topnotch. Details and grain obviously fare better in the HD scans. Sound is lossy English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (48kHz, 192Kbps); the new score on London After Dark is 2.0 stereo. images are 1080p24 1.37:1 monochrome.

120-page liner notes book with new essays by Jean-Claude Michel, Ania Goszczyńska and David Tibet, Doug Young and Kip-Xool, excerpts from Slaughter’s unpublished memoirs, archival essays and reviews and film credits

Huge, informative and essential ... need I say more bout this excellent hardcopy companion?


Not sent for review.


Easily one of the discs of the year if not the decade this restoration of the eight essential Tod Slaughter horror melodramas is a must for any cineaste and / or horror buff with all eight fikms being hugely entertaining. Run as fast as you can to get a copy (well, proverbially so if buying online)! Image and sound is as good as can be for these films given the sources and for the 1080p24 format. Only 4K with HDR will be an improvement but that's unlikely to happen. Extras are plentiful and on point. Come the end of the year, if this set isn't on every serious, self respecting list of greats for 2023 then may the ghost of Slaughter boil them in oil ... bwaaaa haaa haaa ha!

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A


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