Movie Review: The Black Cat

1934, USA, Edgar J. Ulmer

I attended a double feature of old horror movies at the La Salle Theatre last night. I’d seen them both before, but I can’t pass up a chance to see the good old good ones on the big screen. (One of my favorite things about Halloween is watching the old Universal monster movies on TV. And since AMC has totally sold out, and no longer shows them like they used to, choosing instead to air all 85 versions of “Halloween” continuously for a week, I have to find them elsewhere.) In this case, LaSalle fit the bill perfectly, and the audience, as always there, was way into it.

Like I said, I’ve seen The Black Cat before, but this time I enjoyed it much more than the first. Probably because my expectations were set accordingly. This is not your standard monster movie–in fact, there are no monsters in it at all. However, it’s a great pairing of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, as rivals with a long history between them. The story involves an unsuspecting couple on their honeymoon who accidentally stumble into the art deco laden lair of a satan worshipping architect (Karloff). Traveling with a doctor (Lugosi) when their bus crashes, they take refuge in the strange house where Karloff immediately sets his sights on making the bride his next sacrifice at “the dark of the moon.” Meanwhile, Lugosi takes his sweet time plotting to kill the man he believes is responsible for the death of his wife and daughter.

To say any more would spoil the fun. The movie was made on the cheap, but you could never tell, the way it was shot. The sets for the ultra-modern house were built on the backside of sets for another, big budget movie in production at the same time, and the way they’re incorporated is very clever.

Lugosi and Karloff are at their creepy best. There are a number of great lines, including this one that I made sure to remember. The set-up is that Lugosi’s character has an extreme phobia of cats. Karloff has a black cat, and the first time that Lugosi sees it, he completely freaks out–he screams, cringes, and then pull out a knife and nails the cat with it (off-screen, of course.) It’s completely unexpected. Later, the man whose wife, Joan, is soon to be a prisoner in the house, remarks to Lugosi, “That was strange about Joan. She had such a curiously strong reaction when you killed the cat.”

Here’s the Gist: A must see for fans of the dynamic duo of Universal’s monster movie heyday. For others, stick to Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman and the Mummy (and all their many variations and combinations) for more classic Halloween thrills. [***]

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