Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Julie Bishop
Director: Edgar G Ulmer
If you’ve read Edgar Allen Poe’s story The Black Cat, you’ll soon notice that it has nothing in common with this film but the title. But don’t let that put you off. This is the film that first put the great Bela Lugosi on screen with Boris Karloff, two of the great actors who famously played monsters and were said to have a bit of an off screen rivalry. It’s also a batshit crazy film, with wonderful visuals and sets up some tropes that would become horror mainstays.
It starts with a couple on honeymoon, in Hungary of course, who get caught in an accident and head to the nearest castle for help (sound familar? A lot like the opening of Rocky Horror). The castle is the lair of Poelzig (Karloff), who just happens to have built his Gothic mansion on the graveyard of people he betrayed during the war. Think that’s bad? He also engages in devil worship and has a basement full of glass cases containing his trophies: wax works of all his dead girlfriends.
One of the women in the glass cases is the former bride of Werdegast (Lugosi) who is hell bent on revenge, especially after he finds that since stealing his wife and murdering her, Poelzig is now in a relationship with Wergegasts daughter. The honeymooners find themselves right in the middle of the war between two powerful enemies.
It’s an incredible film. It manages to get a lot past the censors, and has everything from devil worship and revenge to necrophilia and someone being skinned alive. But ultimately, it’s one to watch to see two great horror actors go head to head. Karloff and Lugosi were HUGE, and yet both had very different sensibilities and careers. It’s fascinating to see them here, in one film, and one that has such incredible visuals and a plot that’s quite sensational.
Oh, and one of the main characters has a fear of black cats. Hence the title.
See It If: you love classic horror films, this one has two incredible performers chewing up the screen and one whopper of a plot!