“The black cat is deathless — deathless as evil!”
While honeymooning in Prague, Americans Joan and Peter Allison (David Manners and Julie Bishop) meet strange Dr. Verdegast (Bela Lugosi), who brings them to the home of Satanic architect Hjamlar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Eventually, the couple realizes that Verdegast and Poelzig are old rivals out to kill each other, and that their own lives are in grave danger as well.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Bela Lugosi Films
- Black Comedy
- Boris Karloff Films
- Edgar G. Ulmer Films
- Old Dark House
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “high-camp horror film” — based in name only on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story — features a “delightfully preposterous storyline”, “witty dialogue, fine performances, amusing characters, bizarre sets, inventive direction, and some of the most peculiar scenes in horror-movie history.”
At only 65 minutes long, the story moves quickly, yet is often incoherent — most likely as a result of Universal Studios cutting the film drastically. Nonetheless, the film is so oddly conceived and visually compelling that it’s hard not to watch even when you’re not quite sure what’s going on.
While reviewers at the time of its release were dismissive, today The Black Cat is regarded as pulp director Edgar Ulmer’s masterpiece — and for all its fans (though I’ll admit I’m not one of them), it remains “morbid, tasteless, and lots of fun.”
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bela Lugosi — in what is considered by many to be his finest role — as Dr. Vitus Werdegast
- Boris Karloff’s firmly tongue-in-cheek performance as the lisping, strangely coiffed Hjalmar Poelzig (modeled after famed Satanist Aleister Crowley)
- Spooky, atmospheric cinematography
- Truly baroque set designs
- Effective use of classical music in the score
Yes. This odd cult film remains B-level director Edgar Ulmer’s finest achievement. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 3 (1988).
- Cult Movie
- Important Director
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)