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Black Cat, The (1934)
Genre: Horror Thriller
Directed By: Edgar G. Ulmer (The Amazing Transparent Man • The Man from Planet X)
Overview: A couple honeymooning in Hungary meet Dr. Vitus Werdegast. When all three have a bad accident while travelling, they are taken to the castle of the nefarious architect Hjalmar Poelzig. The couple is there to rest up and heal. Dr. Vitus Werdegast is there for revenge.
With their respective successes in Frankenstein and Dracula in 1931, it seems like an obvious choice to have Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi starring in horror films together. Well that's exactly what happened in 1934, when Universal pictures decided to see what the duo would do for box offices, and they began with The Black Cat, with Edgar Allan Poe's short story credited. This was the first of the six films they would star in together, including The Raven in 1935, The Son of Frankenstein in '39, and The Body Snatcher in '45. Not only was The Black Cat a popular Horror film, but it was Universal's biggest box office money-maker for 1934. So either I have no contextual understanding of what's hot in 1934, or people coming off the Great Depression are really, really easy to please, because The Black Cat was nothing more than a rote B-Grade horror film that obviously milked what was hip at the time, and a film that can certainly be passed over in lieu of the other 1000 Movies You Might Wanna Check Out Before You Check Out.
- Psychiatry is totally hip this year, let's make Bela Lugosi's character a psychiatrist, but without actually including anything about his field.
- Edgar Allan Poe is perfect for this 'Horror Talkie' fad going on. So what if this story has absolutely nothing to do with the original tale. They'll never suspect a thing.
- Let's put in a couple of black cats, firstly, well, because it's called The Black Cat. Singular, I know, but we'll have a couple. Secondly, we'll sandwich the kitty bits into the plot so seamlessly that every scene the cats are in will be injections of pure awkwardness since our writers won't have any idea how to make the characters work around the obvious late addition of the kitty content in the script. It's ok, we'll just have the cast standing around wondering what the hell happened.
- Hey wait! Aleister Crowley is a freak people are talking about! Can we toss that cult-esque twist in there somewhere, somehow? Great!
Performance: 7 Cinematography: 6 Script: 5 Plot: 5 Mood: 5
Overall Rating: 56% (Paint It Black)
My favourite part of the film, as it certainly wasn't the Horror, was trying to figure out exactly what's kind of injury the woman was suffering from. Treated by the good doctor after a flipped carriage accident, clues to her condition included being passed out, receiving a bandage on her collarbone, walking around in a dazed and confused fugue state complete with memory loss. The doctor assures the husband that she should be fine to leave tomorrow. "All she needs is a good night's sleep." 1934, where concussions are treated with deadly sleep and are healed as quickly as 80s Television bullets in the shoulder. Just shake it off!