Sunday, October 17, 2010


        Edgar G Ulmer's "THE BLACK CAT" is in many ways, a slow film. A film of mostly dialogue. There is virtually no action until the climax, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The film is a showcase for both Karloff and Lugosi and is essentially a metaphor for their rival careers. The film features many scenes of the two arguing, in deep discussion or brooding around Karloff's Bauhaus-style home. Sounds a little boring, uneventful I know. It's anything but. The Black Cat is a superior film to even Lugosi's Dracula and ranks among the best of all Universal horror.

We open the film with a young couple, Joan and Peter Allison who are onboard a train in Eastern Europe (Hungary I believe). Their isolated train compartment is soon entered by Dr. Werdegast (Lugosi) who is traveling in the same area and on his way to "see an old friend". In most contrived fashion (it was the 30's), Peter and Joan join Weredegast for his journey to Herr Poelzig's (Karloff) gothic home (see below), which features some of Cinema's greatest scenery.
Poelzig's eerie gothic home

Dr. Werdegast's mission is to confront Herr Poelzig for stealing his wife, daughter and betraying 10,000 men to the Russians in the first world war. As long as we see a Karloff/Lugosi confrontation, I'll take any back story.

Herr Poelzig, as we come to learn, heads the black mass and reads Satanic manuscripts before he retires for the evening. He keeps embalmed corpses around his home which to some might suggest necrophillia. Poelzig reveals Werdegast's wife is dead and he keeps her on display. He shows Werdegast who loses all emotional control.

But Poelzig has sinister plans. First of which is to sacrifice Joan Allison as he performs the last rites of lucifer. His Satanic Church is quite a nice setpiece. The entire film we know how badly Karloff and Lugosi want to kill each other. It's all a wait to the end and along the way, only a retard Avatar fan could be dissapointed. It is Film Nori-ish and Poelzig's castle/home is a treat to any fan of cinematic architecture.

To clarify, this story has NOTHING to do with Edgar Allen Poe. The Black Cat in the title refers to Lugosi's "all consuming horror of cats", having nothing to do with Poe's shocker. Even more shocking was how this movie, with all it's satanic content, made it past the censors in 1934! This film along with the Raven, are hugely responsible the creation of the film rating code. Sadly, for one to buy it on DVD, it must be purchased along with 4 other titles (3 of which are good) on the BELA LUGOSI collection. The $35 price tag is more than worth it for 30's treats. FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE.

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