The Black Cat
Run Time: 65 min. Rating: Not rated Release Year: 1934
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff
The first cinematic teaming of horror greats Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi is a bizarre, haunting, and relentlessly eerie film that was surprisingly morbid and perverse for its time. Peter (David Manners) and Joan Allison (Julie Bishop) are honeymooning in Budapest when they meet mysterious scientist Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Lugosi) aboard a train. When the trio’s bus from the train station gets into an accident, the young couple accompanies Verdegast to the castle of the spectral Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), an architect and the leader of a Satanic cult. Poelzig’s treachery in World War I caused the deaths of thousands of his and Verdegast’s countrymen, as well as Verdegast’s own internment as a prisoner of war. While Verdegast was detained, Poelzig married first his wife, who later died, then his daughter. Now Verdegast has come back for retribution, and the honeymooners are trapped in the two men’s horrifying battle of wits. Corpses preserved in glass cases, frightening Satanic rituals, and a climactic confrontation in which one of the characters is skinned alive add to the film’s pervasive sense of evil and doom, along with the stark black-and-white photography by John Mescall that makes Poelzig’s futuristic mountaintop mansion even more disturbing. Karloff and Lugosi are both excellent, with Lugosi doing a rare turn as a good guy, albeit one who has gone off the rails. Having little to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, The Black Cat has grown in stature over the years and is now widely regarded as the masterpiece of director Edgar G. Ulmer and one of the finest horror films ever made.
Horror Church is sponsored by the Barrymore Film Center and Fort Lee Film Commission