The Black Cat (1934) Poster

(1934)

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9/10
Honeymoon in Hungary
lugonian14 August 2001
"The Black Cat" (Universal, 1934), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, marks the first scream, or should I say, screen teaming of Boris ("Frankenstein") Karloff, billed in the credits only as KARLOFF, and Bela ("Dracula") Lugosi.

Suggested on the immortal story by Edgar Allan Poe, the plot, compliments of screenwriter Paul Ruric, set in Hungary, gets right down to business with Doctor Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) returning home by train after serving 15 long years in a military prison. He finds himself sharing a compartment with mystery writer Peter Allison (David Manners) and his wife, Joan (Jacqueline Wells), on their honeymoon. Vitus introduces himself to the Allisons, talks about himself and of his mission to visit a "very old friend." The couple later accompany Werdegast on a bus to their destination, which meets with an accident during a rainstorm, killing the driver. Vitus accompanies Peter by taking the injured Joan through the rain and winds until they reach the home of Hjalmar Poelzig (KARLOFF), an architect of his futuristic mansion. As Vitus treats the unconscious Joan, Hjalmar, who makes his grand entrance, immediately takes notice on the young girl with intentions that are not too honorable. As the story progresses, the viewer learns that Vitus had been betrayed by Hjalmar during the World War and left to die at a military prison, and for this, Vitus, who survived those long dark years, returns to seek revenge, but first must learn what has happened to his wife and daughter. Peter and Joan become house guests in the home of Poelzig, unaware that they are his prisoners, with Poelzig, who holds Black Masses in a devil's cult ceremony, intending on using Joan as his next subject and hold Peter in a dungeon below. Besides trying to learn the whereabouts of his wife and daughter, Vitus tries to set Joan free by playing a game of chess, or a "game of death," with Hjalmar. Tension builds up to a very suspenseful climax not to be missed.

What does this have to do with a black cat? Well, Vitus fears cats and finds himself being confronted with one in two separate scenes, compliments of Hjalmar, who has cats roaming about. Karloff and Lugosi are evenly matched here, and as bitter enemies, they must present themselves in a "gentlemanly manner" whenever confronted by the young guest or guests. Also presented in the cast are Lucille Lund as Karen Poelzig; the evil looking Harry Cording as Thalmar, Hjalmar's servant; and John Carradine as one of the members of the cult during the Black Mass sequence.

Although produced in Hollywood, "The Black Cat" looks very much like a European production with futuristic sets which features a digital clock, etc. Karloff, dressed in black garments with a feline haircut, is very creepy, especially using gestures with his evil eyes (which do everything but glow in the dark!); Lugosi, in a rare sympathetic role, is actually the stronger character, giving one of his best performances in his career, next to "Dracula" (1931). Fortunately, "The Black Cat" was released shortly before the Production Code took effect, otherwise the horror drama, with many scenes quite questionable then and now, would never have reached the theaters unless severely edited to a point of confusion. Chances are the movie itself was edited prior to release, but at 66 minutes, it's tight and fast-paced, never a dull moment. A big plus in this production is the underscoring montage of classical compositions by various composers, lavish sets and the teaming of two horror greats, Karloff and Lugosi.

Aside from Fright Nights on commercial television back in the 1960s and 70s, "The Black Cat" formerly played on the Sci-Fi Channel in the 1990s, and later on American Movie Classics from 2000 to 2001. To date, "The Black Cat" can be seen on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered on January 24, 2003, becoming one of this cable channel's most revived horror films. Probably by request. "The Black Cat" is also available on video cassette either as part of the double feature along with "The Raven" (1935), another Karloff and Lugosi thriller, or as a solo package. A gem for fans of this genre. (***)
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Karloff & Lugosi together for the first time
cdauten10 August 2002
THE BLACK CAT (1934) Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Julie Bishop Directed by Edgar Ulmer

The first film to feature both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE BLACK CAT was, and remains, innovative and strange. The opening credits claim the film was "suggested by" the Edgar Alan Poe story, but other than the title there is absolutely no connection.

Lugosi gets to play a good guy for a change and he handles it very well. In fact, I might venture to say that the role of Dr. Vitus Werdegast is Lugosi's finest performance, perhaps because it is so much of a departure from the role of Dracula. Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a Satanic architect with a really freaky hairdo. David Manners and Julie Bishop portray the Allisons, an American couple honeymooning in Hungary (doesn't everyone?).

The real star of this film, though, is the house. What an incredible set! The house, designed and built by Poelzig on the ruins of a WWI fort where thousands of soldiers are entombed, is an architectural marvel, even by today's standards. All glass and steel, the house consists of sharp angles that cast long, expressionistic shadows, which gives the film its extremely creepy atmosphere.

Werdegast (Lugosi) meets the Allisons on a train and later shares a cab with them. As they drive through a storm, he explains that he is going to visit an old friend after having spent 15 years as a prisoner of war. Not far from his friend's house the cab crashes, killing the driver and injuring Mrs. Allison. They carry her to Werdegast's friend's house. The friend, of course, is Poelzig (Karloff) and it soon becomes obvious that the term "friend" is applied very loosely. In fact, the men have become enemies due to the fact that Poelzig betrayed Werdegast during the war, which led to his long imprisonment. In the basement, Poelzig reunites Werdegast with his wife, now dead and whom Poelzig had married himself while Werdegast was in prison. The freaky architect has been keeping her preserved in some sort of suspended animation type thing. When Werdegast demands to know his daughter's whereabouts, Poelzig tells him that she, too, has died.

What follows is a bizarre tale of two men who are opposite sides of the coin. They engage in a chess match (literally and figuratively) with the soul of the injured Mrs. Allison up for grabs. THE BLACK CAT is incredibly creepy and has some real suspenseful moments. It also has some very disturbing scenes, especially for a film made in 1934. The scene of Karloff reciting the black mass in Latin is especially ominous. One cannot, however, help noticing some gaping holes in the plot. Dr. Werdegast is supposed to be Hungary's leading doctors, and yet he has just been released from 15 years of imprisonment. Huh? Also, there is a cruel scene where Lugosi's character kills a black cat (he has a phobia) and nobody seems to think anything about it...even though it appears to have been a pet in the household. These minor points do not take away from the overall viewing experience, though. THE BLACK CAT still looks great after all these years and it still has the ability to make you shudder.
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More Enjoyable Than It Has Any Business Being
Doghouse-614 July 2004
Other commentaries will fill you in on the nearly-incomprehensible plot (if that's possible) but, as has been pointed out, you don't watch a film like this for plot.

Despite the story inconsistencies and implausibilities, everything here just seems to "jell:" the fabulous sets, elegant photography, evocative music (drawing heavily from Schubert, among others) and the downright creepy atmosphere woven from the themes of jealousy, lust, revenge, murder, sadism.....all sounds delightfully sick, doesn't it? Truly, it's nowhere near as threatening as it sounds; indeed, if Astaire and Rogers had ever made a spooky thriller, it might have looked and felt something like this one. THE BLACK CAT possesses a lyrical, rhythmic quality, upon which we drift through a sleek, ultra-modern nightmare world.

One of the reasons it all works is its ability to pull us into a sort of parallel universe which, though it looks more or less like reality as we know it, glides along on a barely-concealed undercurrent - an "atmosphere of death," as Lugosi's character puts it - where things happen that "could never actually happen" (an inside reference for those who know the film).

There are some wonderful set-pieces, such as Karloff's tour through a most unusual basement mausoleum/museum memorializing all of his dearly departed earlier "wives." And of course, Boris and Bela deliver, with their restrained but full-bodied performances. Karloff conveys menace just entering a room, and Lugosi has an all-too-rare opportunity to display some tenderness; notice the single tear that rolls down his face as he learns - and sees - what became of the wife that Karloff stole from him years before.

A very stylized - and stylish - film which grants us the unusual treat of seeing Lugosi play a (more or less) "good guy," and the unique one of hearing him pronounce the word "baloney," as only he could.
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Karloff and Lugosi go head to head
Made in 1934 by the then 30 year old Director Edgar Ulmer and with the stunning set design by Charles D. Hall the film paired Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the first time together on the screen. This was to cement the two icons together in a screen partnership that would last for several years.

Set in the modern house of Hjalmar Poelzig (no creepy old castle's here) whose home is one of the most stunning modern houses of our time this is a dark story about Devil worship. Poelzig has a room set aside for his evil black masses and has a penchant for the ladies, but only when they are being put to the devil's business. Into this walks a young couple who due to circumstances out of their control end up having to stay the night at his home. They arrive with Dr.Verdegast (Lugosi) who is returning after a absence of many years to settle some unfinished business with his old friend. This is the set up for an explosive encounter between the two into which the young honeymooning couple are thrown.

Truly a masterpiece it should be viewed over and over again.

Watch out for the finale Black Mass in which Karloff spout's authentic sounding incantation's to raise the Devil, he says Latin phrases "Cave Canium" (Beware of the Dog), "In Vito Veritas" (In Wine there if truth) and Cum Grano Salis (with a grain of salt). I could'nt put it better myself.
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10/10
Horror Buff's Dream
mmcclelland31 October 2000
The best of the collaborations between Karloff & Lugosi. The production values are high and Karloff's makeup is excellent. There is a lot going on it the script-- perhaps too much, as the script is a bit confusing and sometimes pointless. But the atmosphere is thick and the "aura" hangs over the movie like a dense mist. There is more horror implied than actually seen. This movie has black magic, a man skinned alive, treachery, phobia, and a chess game with lives at stake. Mostly, it has great performances by Karloff and Lugosi in their one and only film appearance as equals (without one dominating the other). Truly, this is one of the finest Universal horror classics and will deliver everything a fan of such fare could possibly want.
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Slick, spooky fun
catrandom18 September 2004
There's a lot of story to tell in about 65 minutes, so this movie could be considered perhaps a bit incoherent. But the larger themes -- revenge, lust and innocents caught in the grip of forces beyond their sheltered experience -- have been central themes in horror tales for centuries.

Karloff is a delight as usual, and there are many fine details to his performance -- including a brief but outrageously lustful stare at the half-dressed young wife of the innocent couple and the strangely gentle way his brutal character handles a cat. (Nice tall, dark and handsome kitty in the title role, for the cat people.)

And this movie also shows once again that Bela Lugosi was a better actor than he ever got credit for. He handles his overwrought dialogue with taste and good cheer, and he's a marvel. And he even gets to speak a few rare lines of Hungarian here.
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10/10
"It all sounds like a lot of superstitious baloney to me."
bensonmum24 February 2005
The Black Cat is, quite simply, a horror masterpiece. Almost everything about this film is perfect. I'm not going to go into detail on the story, because if you haven't seen it, you should.

The acting is some of the best you'll ever see in a horror film. Lugosi is at the top of his game. His portrayal of Ygor in Son of Frankenstein may be Lugosi's only better performance. Karloff is wonderfully creepy and mysterious (and has some of the most bizarre hair I've ever seen). Seeing the two work together in The Black Cat is a real pleasure. Although Karloff gets top billing, this is Lugosi's film and he makes the most of it. David Manners and the rest of the cast are more than adequate.

The futuristic house in which the film is set is a departure from the more Gothic, Victorian settings of most of the Universal films. And it works. Thanks to some terrific set design, lighting, and cinematography, the modern house exudes as much atmosphere as any old castle, dungeon, tower, etc.

The Black Cat contains some of the most unsettling scenes of any classic Universal horror film. It is, IMO, the darkest of any of these films. I just wonder how it was viewed by audiences in 1934. Two scenes that immediately come to mind are the black mass performed by Karloff and the torture scene at the end of the film. These scenes are not typical of the Universal classics. They have the power to stick with you long after the movie is over.

But what I really like is the way the story unfolds. At the beginning, you know nothing of what's really going on. Bit by bit, the story unfolds. Many of the plot points are revealed by Lugosi. In fact, if it weren't for Lugosi's monologues, I wonder if anyone would have any idea of what was taking place.
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10/10
Pure classic...
MovieAddict201614 December 2003
When Edgar G. Ulmer's "The Black Cat" was released in 1934, it was the first film to feature famed Universal horror actors Bela Lugosi ("Dracula") and Boris Karloff ("Frankenstein") in the same film together, which may explain part of its continually fueled cult popularity today.

The film is dark and forthright and disturbing, even by today's standards. The bad guy character is a Satan worshiper who murders women as sacrifices and keeps their preserved bodies locked up in a dungeon beneath his creepy Hungarian mansion, situated on the remains of a battlefield where men under his command once fought.

The key of the film, and what surges us forward with exceeding momentum, is an American couple honeymooning in Hungary. While traveling via train, a mysterious man named Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Lugosi) shares their compartment and tells them of an old friend he plans on meeting after some 15 years of being held captive in a prisoner of war camp.

The American couple is comprised of Peter Alison (David Manners), a pulp mystery writer, and his newly wed bride, Joan (Julie Bishop, credited as Jacqueline Wells). They feel uncomfortable around the pleasant yet strange man, and are eager to continue their tour of Hungary, when tragedy befalls Joan and Peter in an automobile accident and Verdegast and Peter are both forced to take her to the residence of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), the very man Verdegast is expecting to drop in on.

Joan is put to bed and given rest after the fright of the accident, and Poelzig greets them all with warm hospitality. However, it does not last for long, because it is soon revealed that Verdegast has come back after 15 years to claim his wife and daughter from the clutches of Poelzig. Poelzig informs him that his family has passed, but Verdegast believes that Poelzig murdered them both and seeks vengeance on the Satan worshiper, who plans on making Joan his next sacrifice.

There were lots of Universal horror films made during the 30s and 40s, some better than the others. "The Black Cat" is still considered one of the best to this very day, and it has not dated nearly as much as some of the other horror stories. It is still as disturbing as it was in 1934, with its villain not only creepy but literally evil, right down to Boris Karloff's eerie first appearance.

To be dreadfully honest, the film's only flaw is that it is often too quick to follow in chronological order. The film is only 66 minutes long, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me it was even shorter. It flies by quickly. Good for repeated viewings, yes, but sometimes the cuts are too rapid and all over the place.

That's a single flaw. The rest is pieced together perfectly. It was one of Lugosi's few heroic roles, and as Verdegast we are never sure if he is a good guy or bad guy until the very end, when the two arch enemies have a climatic showdown, which is as poetic as justice can be.

Karloff, credited as simply that in the movie, is perfect as Poelzig, and this was one of Lugosi's highlights before he sunk deeper and deeper into drugs and alcohol and eventually died before Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s tragic film "Plan 9 from Outer Space" was released, which didn't stop Wood from using old footage of Lugosi filmed prior to the scriptwriting process for the film (often considered the worst ever made). Wood credited him in the title role, yet Lugosi didn't even technically star in the film at all.

The movie is visibly filmed with a low budget and many technical imperfections. But its director, Edgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972), was a man whose films were often flawed but nevertheless quite haunting. "Detour," often regarded as his finest moment, was shot in six days with a band of B-actors, yet it still remains a cult classic today, even finding a spot in Roger Ebert's Great Movies compilation.

Ulmer was a refugee from Hitler, and no, I am not related to him as far as I know. Ulmer was an assistant to F. Murnau Abraham on various films, and presented the German link between American cinema of the time and German cinema, which was much more exaggerated with its filming.

It's very evident in "The Black Cat," but I don't think I'd want it any other way. It was most assuredly a breakthrough in the art of fast-paced filmmaking, and even by today's standards it is incredibly short. "The Black Cat" is one of the quickest film experiences you will ever have, but also one of the most disturbing and enjoyable, too.

5/5 stars.

  • John Ulmer
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10/10
My All-Time Favorite
westerfield12 June 2012
This isn't the best film ever made - my vote goes to All About Eve - but it by far my favorite. The combination of favorite actors, wonderful music, excellent sets, good cinematography and excellent direction make it the best horror film ever made. Other reviewers are right: it doesn't make a lot of sense. I liken it to having a strange dream that is completely compelling at the time but upon awakening, seems unbelievable.

Many reviewers have described the plot so I'm not going to repeat it here. I want to take on some the interesting aspects that you may not have noticed. Much of the music is arranged for full orchestra that was originally for smaller pieces, piano quintets, concertos, etc. Heinz Reimheld is to be commended for seeing the possibilities in these thinner pieces. I've done my best to acquire original versions of all the works used. I find the chosen music and timing among the best in any film. Think of Karloff grabbing the statue during Shubert's Unfinished. In the recent restoration of The Magacian (1926)for Turner, the orchestration leaned heavily on The Black Cat music.

The coven is full of interesting actors besides John Carridine. Michael Mark (little Maria's father in Frankenstein) helps tie up the heroine. King Baggott was in films since about 1912 and did horror roles in early silents. And then there's John George, the hunchback dwarf who added interest to so many films: Prisoner of Zenda, The Bells, Don Juan, The Unknown, Mark of the Vampire, Bride of Frankenstein, Tower of London and Picture of Dorian Gray among many. You won't remember him because he's usually part of the scenery. But if you look for him he pops up in films like A Streetcar Named Desire, The Killing and Ocean's Eleven.

Some reviewers comment that the set is cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. In "the phone is dead" scene you can see a fully furnished dining room in the background that went unused in the film. Details like these make the set completely believable.

Some of the scenes were re-shot after Uncle Carl saw the finished product and had a fit. You can read the details in Gregory William Mank's: Karloff and Lugosi, A Haunted Collaboration. I have the 1990 edition. Mank expanded the work in a 2009 edition. I don't know if he added more to what is known of The Black Cat. Used 1990 editions may be had for about $17.00 at Amazon. During the re-shoot a costuming error is obvious. David Manners' jacket shoulder is ripped in some scenes but not in others.

Now for some personal remarks. Early in our marriage my wife and I adopted a puppy. We named him Koolgar so that when people asked about the name I could quote Bela: "Have you ever heard of Koolgar? It is a prison below Amsk....' We live in a modern house with an intercom system. When my wife calls me to dinner she says over the intercom, "Docter Vertigast has arrived." And finally, I've toured the so-called "Black Cat House" in the Hollywood hills. It is the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Ennis-Brown House. It has been used in many other horror and adventure films besides House on Haunted Hill. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer the exterior was used for Angel's hideout. The interiors were used in Rocketeer. Last I heard tours are held one Saturday a month by reservation only.

Now, I'm not a nut case over this film. I've visited many obscure movie sites. And I've tried to identify music used in other films. It's that this film is just so right; a pleasure to watch over and over.
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9/10
Visually stunning
pastier-120 March 2009
I won't comment about the acting or plot -- there's plenty of that here already. What I'd rather do is call attention to the visuals -- the cinematography, lighting, costuming, and especially the set design.

Normally, horror films take place in ancient settings -- crude medieval fortresses and rustic castles that are dark, cluttered and gloomy. But this one is set in a perversely utopian sci-fi fantasy -- the clean lined, impeccably detailed, generously glazed modernistic and (usually) radiantly lit white-and-silver upper floor interiors of the house.

The lower floor is an expressionistic prison, also clean lined, but still dungeon-like with its windowless walls of exposed board-formed concrete. An elegant steel spiral staircase connects the two, and the angular expressionism reaches its culmination in the chamber used for the black mass.

Karloff's costumes recall Oskar Schemmer's Bauhaus-produced work -- angular, broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted and elegant. Even the haircut of this man of the future in sharp and angular. His character is an engineer and architect and is given the name -- Poelzig -- of a famous expressionist German architect and film set designer of the time, who was a colleague of the director on an earlier film. The elegant futurism in carried down to the detail level, including a digital night-table clock and an abstract chess set. Much of the genius of this movie is that it breaks the horror-movie visual mold, and floods it with light, creating a fascinating tension between plot and setting.
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More about atmosphere and performance than plot
bob the moo21 December 2003
Travelling across Eastern Europe, Peter and Joan Allison meet Dr Werdegast on the train. When the bus taking them to their destination crashes, the Allisons go with Werdegast and stay with him at the foreboding castle of Hjalmar Poelzig. However the Allisons find themselves in danger when it becomes apparent that Werdegast and Poelzig have a deadly history with each other.

Although it carries the title of his book and a credit for him on the titles, this film has little to do with Poe's work. In fact, in terms of plotting, it owes very little to anybody because, aside from the actual set up, the plot just goes all to hell very quickly. The set up is interesting and I wanted to know more about the history between these two men, then there is the thing about the black cat and Werdegast, not to mention the fact that Poelzig seems to be very interested in reading about satanic cults! However, none of this is really fully explained - this is partly due to the short run time and so much material, but it must also be blamed on the film not having a strong focus other than atmosphere.

The film still works well as the plot crumbles, but it is a little unsatisfying as it leaves so many half stories and unanswered questions. What it does do well though is atmosphere, the direction is cheap but effective and the lighting works wonders in a cheap set! The cast also contribute to this focus on atmosphere (or style) over plot (or substance). Karloff overdoes things, but he overdoes them very well! There is no real need for him to be as ominous as he is at the start but it is what we have come to expect from him. Lugosi may have tarnished his reputation towards the end of his career, but he is good here. It's hard not to laugh when seeing him convulsed with fear over the cat but he plays it well for the most part. Manners and Wells are both OK but are very much the onscreen representation of the audience and simply have to act shocked by everything and run away lots!

Overall this is a good film but only because of the atmosphere and the influence of two legendary stars in the cast. The plot had potential but not enough time is allowed for it to be explored and the focus is more on the atmosphere than the construction.
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7/10
Lugosi + Karloff = Fireworks!
Boba_Fett113819 December 2003
I can't imaging how this movie would have been without both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, probably very very bad. The chemistry between the two is amazing.

This is one of those movies in which the story absolutely doesn't matter. The story is totally absurd and very simple (The black cat storyline has absolutely nothing to do with the movie and serves no purpose at all) but yet that is what maybe makes this movie extremely fun and easy to watch.

Watching this movie made me realize something; Bela Lugosi actually was a very good actor that was ahead of his time. The way he delivers his lines and his eye for details shows that acting was a great passion for him. Yes I think I can now be considered one of his fans.

Another great thing were the sets that were wonderful and even now 70 years later they still look very modern.

Don't expect a movie with ghouls and monsters, it rather is more fun to watch then it is scary and the Lugosi/Karloff combination is what makes this movie a real classic.

7/10

http://bobafett1138.blogspot.com/
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9/10
Not gory, but somehow ghastly, all the same
Matti-Man11 March 2007
This is one of my all-time favourite horror movies (right up there with Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE and EVIL DEAD). Even though it's old and creaky, even though it's mannered and any violence happens discretely off-camera, THE BLACK CAT somehow has the power to make me feel uneasy.

Even though it has some weird stuff happening, like Lugosi telling his loyal servant to obey Karloff (does he REALLY switch sides, or is he only pretending as Lugosi told him to?) and Lugosi not just shooting Karloff when he has the chance, the creepiest thing in the whole movie is that after marrying Lugosi's wife, Karloff now sleeps with his step-daughter. Now THAT is messed up!

Other highlights are the skin-flaying scene (really nasty) and the oddball black mass (where did all those people come from and how did they get to the mansion when the innocent young couple found it impossible to leave?)

THE BLACK CAT is an odd and uneasy treat and if you enjoy it based on this recommendation, try BLACK Friday which can be found in the same Lugosi box set.
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10/10
One of the All-time Greats
Der_Vampyr18 February 2002
`The phone is dead. Do you hear that Vitus? Even the phone is dead.' What a great line!

This is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff playing chess and fighting it out over old wounds and new ones.

The entire supporting cast is splendid as is the direction Edgar G. Ulmer. Yet could we expect less from a story (loosely adapted as it was) by Edgar Allan Poe and this cast? See for yourself and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Many aspects of this film remind me of `Old Dark House' and I like it just as much. If you know me you would realize what a ringing endorsement that truly is.

I think you'll be refreshingly surprised at Lugosi playing the sympathetic character, even though it's not entirely clear early on in the movie.

One of the scenes that has always stood out in my mind since first watching this film is the one near the end when Lugosi ties up Karloff. There is no blood and yet it is more gruesome than many of today's graphic moments. It goes to show that there is more to great horror than having to show every detail.

Keep an eye out for the title of the book Karloff reads in bed….Very creepy stuff.

I rate this movie a 9+ in the category of horror classics. To me it's not Frankenstein or Dracula but not that far below.
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10/10
A Horror Tale for the 20th century.
redryan649 August 2001
This one works on several levels, that may not all be apparent to the casual viewer. It delves into the sci-fi area of the fear and apprehension of the new and strange unfamiliar technologies that did, do and always will cause mankind to shudder to think of just what our role will be in the future. This parallels the then current political idea of a society that would be best ruled by scientists, engineers and the like. Known as 'TECHNOCRACY', this system neither had much room nor any sympathy for the human side of things, too inefficient.

Secondly, the inclusion of the Satanist cult is both a throw back to old Gothic type horror tales of witches, ghosts and the supernatural. This is a link to the vampire and werewolf, and is a horror that cannot be more universal (not Universal!). Fear of the occult.

Thirdly, the element of the story that is perhaps the most pertinent to our 'modern' world. The Mansion,which serves as the setting for most of the film, is built on the sight of a great World War I battle, in which countless thousands lost their lives. This in the end is probably the most horrifying (and truthful) element. When combined with the blood-letting and cruelties of man to fellow man that are portrayed as the climax to the film, the movie sounds both a condemnation of what has transpired in the previous part of the 20th century, WWI, and the unthinkable atrocities that were to come.
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10/10
This is highly entertaining
plato-111 January 2000
Lugosi and Karloff are perfect together. There are three movies that these two have important roles, but this is the only one where their roles are of equal importance. (In The Invisible Ray Karloff dominates; in The Raven it is Lugosi.)

The script seems to be storyboarded to take advantage of their accents. One time, when the rather ingenuous romantic lead, David Manners (UH!), dismisses a morbid theory as "superstitious baloney" to which Lugosi- breaking up an ordinary line into an orchestration of musical syllables- replies, "Superstitious, perhaps. Baloney, perhaps not." - each of the five words underlined by a little shift in facial expression.

In the same sequence, Karloff, explaining the fear that has caused Lugosi to throw a knife at (and kill) a cat, delivers a beautifully spoken monologue about the "extreme form" of the phobia, ended it by saying that Lugosi suffers from "...an all-consuming horror---of cats." His perfect diction adds to the effectiveness of the lines; the word "horror" is emphasized, given a menacing intonation, while a pause, and a lift of the eyes upwards in a mock-religious expression, a slight hissing in the final sound, gives the ordinary phrase "of cats" a genuinely frightening connotation.

This is one of the best horror movies of the early thirties. Karloff is evil, yet magnetic, and Lugosi's hero is sympathetic and well-intentioned, but also callous and overtaken by some far less admirable traits. 10/10
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10/10
Best Looking House in Movie History
poindexter_mellon3 November 2012
I'd be giving it a 10 even if it had nothing but an empty house with no people, no script, no plot, no nothing but that incredibly amazing house which I plan on reverse engineering into my own dream house in the near future as soon as I win the lottery. Of course most people would rather live in flowery country cottage surrounded by bowls of wax fruit, so they see Karloff's pad as sterile, cold, and creepy...proof that there's no accounting for taste among the general population.

But the movie, yeah, it's a good one. Wasn't exactly sure who were the women encased in blocks of Lucite but it seemed like a fine idea, a pretty cool display of the ladies. Bela "the world's greatest psychiatrist" Lugosi lacked bedside manner but what would you expect. Boris was top notch, hair cut like a freaky arrow and his clothes were a cross between Star Trek and the KKK with upholstered accoutrements.
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A good horror movie is worth repeating
TigerMann13 April 2006
For me, Universal's 1934 film, "The Black Cat," starring big-screen titans Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, totally personifies what an effective horror movie is supposed to be. Though we're led to believe that it is inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's fictional story, there's really nothing to relate to it at all, except of course for a black cat that occasionally appears on screen.

Co-written and directed by poverty-row filmmaker genius, Edgar G. Ulmer, what we're presented with is a macabre tale of revenge, human sacrifice, vivisection, and outright satanism. By 1934's standards, it's really a miracle that this film was even made.

Lugosi stars as Dr. Vitus Werdegast, who travels to the home of an well-know acquaintance, Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff), who has built his art-deco dwelling on top of what was a particularly gory battleground. Along with Werdegast are two blissfully innocent American travelers who were the victims of a near-fatal car accident. They seek shelter inside Poelzig's home until the morning. But there's something slightly amiss within these walls. Perhaps it is the appearance of Werdegast's long-dead daughter. Or maybe it's the chants of the well-dressed satanist disciples, who downstairs take part in some sort of black mass ritual.

Everything about this movie should induce cold sweats and elevated heartbeats. Ulmer (who also helmed the noir classic, "Detour) makes perfect use of some artfully decorated sets and modest lighting schemes to establish a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Down to its core, that's what throws "The Black Cat" over the top. For an hour and a few minutes, we're thrust into this pitch black world that is immediately threatening. Though I'm in total love with Universal's more classic monster movies, like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein," they're over-hyped to such an extreme that it's difficult to glean any kind foreboding atmosphere. "The Black Cat," though it brought in truckloads of cash for Universal, is relatively unknown by most standards today. The casual horror movie fan that subsists on the "Saw" and "Scream" movies probably isn't aware of "The Black Cat." That's a low-down, dirty shame, too. Though I doubt I'll make any new friends by saying this ... I believe "The Black Cat" to be infinitely superior to the classic Universal monster iconography. Lugosi, I think, had a difficult time shaking off his over-exaggerated stage presence ... but he's still Lugosi. I'm convinced that he was born to play these kinds of roles. As for Boris Karloff ... I don't know what to tell you. He was frightening as Frankenstein's monster ... but here, sans pasty movie make up, he's bone-chillingly gruesome. From the moment the camera reveals him in "The Black Cat," my heart rate did not settle or relax for an instant.

I think with a lot of older horror films, you hear this statement used ad nausim: "It isn't what you see ... it's what you DON'T see." It's a pretty tepid statement ... we all know this to be true, usually. But in "The Black Cat," it takes on an entirely new meaning. Though I'd love to go into detail about this, I'd hate to ruin the surprise for anyone. Needless to say, what you do not see is very, very disturbing. In fact, you'll probably swear that you DID see it.

Thankfully, someone at Universal Studios had the bright idea of releasing this visionary film on DVD. It's sandwiched in between a few other Lugosi-Karloff team-ups that are fairly worthwhile, also. One can only hope that a generation of popcorn-eating, Red Bull-swilling teenagers will somehow discover this film and unearth an entirely new dimension of horror that they never even imagined existed. It's true, anyone on a quest for spurting gore and/or outrageous nudity will walk away feeling pretty cheated. There's none of that, here. But it's okay. That sort of excess has no home in this kind of horror film. What we get in "The Black Cat" is the very essence of horror. A movie, much like Hitchcock's "Psycho," that blankets us in an appropriately sinister atmosphere. The rest should come only naturally.

"The Black Cat" deserves to be watched again and again. It deserves study ... not only by the casual viewer, but most assuredly by a modern generation of filmmakers.

As a footnote, this film has no connection whatsoever to Universal's 1941 comedy-horror film, "The Black Cat," other than its star, Lugosi. Basil Rathbone and Lugosi give fine performances, but one has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
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10/10
Boris & Bela & A Black Cat, Oh My!
Ron Oliver21 January 2000
Would you spend the night, following a traffic accident, in a bizarre futuristic home built atop the ruins of a fortress perched over a horrific World War One battlefield? What if the doctor who took you there was an increasingly odd Bela Lugosi and the host awaiting you was a most peculiar Boris Karloff? Pity poor David Manners & Julie Bishop, who find themselves in just such a predicament.

THE BLACK CAT is the best of the Karloff/Lugosi teamings of the 1930's. They play hated antagonists who finally get the opportunity to revenge themselves upon each other, once and for all. Add a virulent fear of black cats, a well-equipped torture chamber & a wicked band of Satanists and you have all the elements for a dandy little thriller. (Except for the title, there is no connection whatsoever with the Poe story).

Karloff & Lugosi are both spooky and their scenes together are full of menace. Mr. Manners & Miss Bishop are good; they look stalwart or scared convincingly. That's John Carradine playing the organ, by the way.

Some attention should be paid to the set design. Instead of taking place in a creepy old house, the plot unwinds in a modernistic mansion, all rounded corners & curving walls. One could almost call this a science-fiction story - Ming the Merciless would be quite at home here.
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8/10
Horror icons go head-to-head in this mildly confusing yet taut and atmospheric horror
RomanJamesHoffman8 January 2013
Edward G. Ulmer's 'The Black Cat' is an odd little number. Sure, the film was always going to go down in horror history as the first teaming up of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but the film itself seems to have many things going against it. And yet, such is the tense discomfort of the atmosphere it succeeds in establishing so quickly, the pace as it races through its 66 minute running time, and the strangeness of the various plot twists (which, upon consideration, make no sense at all) that the viewer is just kind of swept up into the flow of events much like the Honeymooning couple who have the misfortune to stumble into the dark and bitter rivalry of the two horror icons.

The film kicks off on a train to Hungary where a mix up forces honeymooning couple Peter and Joan Allison (David Manners and Jacqueline Wells) to share their carriage with a certain doctor Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) who informs them that he is an established psychiatrist returning home to visit an "old friend". Whilst certainly exuding an exotic, charismatic charm, Werdegast strikes the couple as rather odd in his tales of war, death, and loss. After all disembarking at the same station the trio are involved in a coach accident and Werdegast takes the couple to the nearby house of his "old friend", an esteemed architect by the name of Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) whose house, of his own design, is a futuristic mansion-cum-labyrinthine mausoleum in which Peter and Joan become unwitting prisoners as the two horror icons go head to head in their obsessive and consuming game of death.

From here plot twists abound as all manner of secrets and past transgressions of the twisted mindsets of Werdegast and Hjalmar are revealed leaving the viewer asking "what the…?" for the remainder of the film. If looked at with a cold eye, the plot twists which go nowhere (Werdesgast's daughter, the whole Satanic thing, the title of the film itself), the plot holes (Werdesgast as psychiatrist, the fact that Werdegast takes so long to enact his revenge) and the ending which is really, really(!) hokey should mean that this is a rubbish film. But there's something about the pace, the short running-time, the performances of Karloff and Lugosi, and the genuinely macabre vibe of the film which redeems it and makes it deserving of repeat viewings as long as you set out to experience it rather than understand it.
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9/10
Completely bonkers
jonathan-57727 December 2006
I think this is the ONLY time Ulmer ever had a budget to work with, fresh off the boat from Weimar, and what does he do with it? Hires Karloff AND Lugosi, buttresses them with a couple pug-ugly manservants and a truly goofy romantic-interest duo, and puts them to work: running through this outrageous modernist mansion built on a WWI bunker (they have electric clocks!), performing satanic rites and playing the organ, murdering (and stuffing) wives and daughters, settling ownership of virgins with a nice game of chess, fainting a lot, flaying each other alive, listening to stupid ass cops with feathers argue over whose home town is prettier, plus a line that EVERYONE should have implanted in their brains: "Supernatural - perhaps. Baloney - perhaps not." The denouement, in which the goofy male love interest reads a review exhorting him to be 'more realistic,' is out-of-left-field and perfection itself, like the rest of the movie. This is what cinema is all about folks! It's as if John Landis has been trying to remake this his entire life. Plus it was Universal's top money maker of 1934!!
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7/10
Pretty good horror piece.
lost-in-limbo11 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A couple Peter and Joan Allison are joined by Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Bela Lugosi) who are on their way to a hotel, but suddenly their bus crashes during a storm. Dr Verdegast suggests they seek refuge in Hjalmar Poelzig's (Borris Karloff) house, who is an old acquaintance of his and he's secretly seeking revenge against him for the death of his wife and betraying his country by slaughtering his entire army when it was sacrificed to Satan during WW1. Dr Verdegast discovers that Poelzig has the same idea for Joan, which saw him kill his wife. So to help them escape Dr. Verdegast challenges Poelzig to a game of chess and if he wins they are free and if he doesn't their doom.

Incredibly complex and odd assortments of novelties ranging from Sadism, Superstition to Satan worship fill this stylish yet confusing film. I wasn't particularly gob smacked or incredibly impressed by the film after reading a lot good things about it, but it's the performances and the look of the film that kept me glued and amazed. The plot had an engrossing set up, but the story just didn't compliment it, as it could have been far more interesting than it was. It jumps here to there without real cohesion and becomes rather thin in detail, but there are some surprising revelations along the way. The dialogue on the other hand was rather fine, if too much of it. There was a lot of conversations than actual action or lively scenes. The distinction between Dr Verdegast and Poelzig is pretty even in power and determination to rid each other. With them tossing back and forth sharp and intense dialogue to get the upper hand. All of this mayhem between them leads to a greatly energetic tussle between the two stars.

The set-up is a slow-grinder to begin with, though there are interesting ideas that pop up throughout the film. The reasonably slow dramatic 45-minutes suddenly picks up the pace and energy levels for the last thrilling and involving 15-minutes, which alone is good reason to watch it. This is when Satanists and sacrificial ceremonies fill the story. There is a brilliant climax involving a skinning that is implied to great effect and a big explosion to end it all. The ironic ending was fairly convincing and enjoyable in tying up the film.

It's definitely Lugosi's best performance that I've seen along with ''White zombie''. Though, I've yet to see "Dracula". It was a good change to see him playing a good guy and a much more controlled and subtle character than his eccentric roles. Borris Karloff comes across rather menacing and quite callous in appearance. His body language is impressively noticeable and imposing in creating terror. From his dead looking facials and soft spoken voice really added to the unease. Julie Bishop and David Manners as the couple were fine in their performances.

This is impressively atmospheric and holds such a great awe to it all. The modernistic cold domain of Poelzig's castle truly stands out, with the spiral staircase, sliding doors, the dark dungeon and curvy interior. There is such great composition with lighting and solid camera-work captures the elegance and style of the scenery beautifully. The soaring score takes hold and sometimes it got rather distracting for me. As I kept trying to figure out where I heard the score from before.

Overall, "The Black Cat" is a very good mood piece and holds such great performances. Not as great as I thought it would be, but still it's highly entertaining.
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7/10
unique, ingenious, and still worthy of discovery
tayandbay27 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Although it is certainly dated today, "The Black Cat" was sublimely ahead of it's time in 1934. Conseqently, it was derided by critics and enjoyed only middling success considering the star power involved. Many people, including some in Universal Studio's hierarchy, regarded the film as a nihilistic study in murder, Satan worship, sadism and even necrophilia.

Of course, what struck the masses as impudent seventy years ago seems audacious today. In many ways "The Black Cat" is a bold, striking piece of work that captures two of horror film's greatest players at the top of their game. Boris Karloff, with his new-wave hairstyle and snake-like eyes, personifies irredeemable evil. He fails to convince only when his character is forced into mock-congeniality. His most effective moments are not when he casts his sinister glare at Bela Lugosi or Jacqueline Wells, but when he plays the organ or stands outside amidst the windswept trees, enraptured by his thoughts of the Black Mass to come. Meanwhile, Lugosi, blessed with a sympathetic, almost heroic role, contributes one of his all-time best performances, an exquisitely measured portrait of a man determined to do right by the young couple he is forced by circumstance to protect, but doomed to die in the house of his most hated foe.

Fine camera-work and art direction, guided by Edgar G. Ulmer's helming, make this film striking to look at and brisk to sit through. The only real demerits are the obligatory romantic couple, peopled here by David Manners and the aforementioned Ms. Wells. Their acting and dialogue somehow strain credulity more than Boris and Bela's motivations ever could. Also, the weak comic relief provided by two quarrelsome policemen is brittle at best (although it's interesting to hear Lugosi speak in his native Hungarian in the scene), but both elements were, no doubt, concessions to the taste of 1930's audiences.

Like almost all of the early 30's horror films, "The Black Cat" is imperfect and antiquated. But, also like almost all of the early 30's horror films, it is unique, ingenious in it's way, and still worthy of discovery by a new generation.
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A Memorable Duel Between Lugosi & Karloff
Snow Leopard26 October 2004
This suspenseful classic combines horror and psychology, and features a memorable duel between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as two well-matched opponents. Nothing against the rest of the cast, but here both they and their fates are pretty much in the hands of the two leading characters. The tense story works as long as it is not analyzed too closely, and as long as you aren't waiting for a Poe connection - the title is more to set the atmosphere than anything else.

Boris and Bela work very well together, not only because both are highly skilled in the genre, but because even their acting styles make for an interesting contrast. In "The Black Cat", they are evenly matched adversaries who both have plenty of resources at their command. The psychological aspect of their confrontations is just as interesting as the battle of tactics between the two. There are several significant themes that are either stated or implied, giving the story some depth.

The story is also set off quite well by the settings and the musical score. The house in which Karloff's character lives is an interesting and well-chosen setting, with the modernistic home sitting atop the ruins of an older building with significance to both of the main characters. Despite the fairly obvious lack of a big budget, it looks pretty good, and the possibilities are used well in the story.

Everything fits together, and it all makes for an interesting, well-crafted horror feature that is well worth seeing.
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