Plot: Peter (David Manners) and Joan (Julie Bishop) are newlyweds en route to Hungary, to enjoy their honeymoon and of course, bask in the splendor of fresh, new love that has blossomed in their lives. On the train ride, the couple meets Dr. Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) and learn about his tragic past, as well as his journey to return to the town he once fought to defend in the war. He was imprisoned in a gulag for nearly two decades, so he has no idea what became of his wife and daughter, let alone if there is a life of any kind for him back home. But the trek for Peter and Joan is put off course thanks to a bus accident after the train ride, one that leaves Joan injured. Now the couple seeks refuge at a local mansion, the same location that Dr. Werdegast has traveled to, where his old rival now resides. What secrets lurk within this mysterious mansion and will Peter and Joan be caught in the middle of a plot for vengeance?
Entertainment Value: The Black Cat is a quite a movie, with horror icons, unsettling atmosphere, weirdness, and the occult, so it is packed with old school horror magic from top to bottom. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff shine in excellent performances, while there is just a unique vibe about this one, an eerie and offbeat texture that permeates almost every sequence. The narrative seems like one we’ve seen before, but The Black Cat puts a wealth of new twists on the old, dark house formula and this never feels like a retread, even for a minute. The tone is downbeat, even dark and cold, with creative and lush visuals that are quite memorable. The women in the glasses cases alone would make the movie impossible to forget, but there’s a lot of visual spark and style on showcase here, which helps bolster the creepy, unstable atmosphere. Throw in Lugosi and Karloff in off the deep end performances and The Black Cat is one wild ride, much more surreal and off kilter than you might assume. I also appreciate how efficient the film is with time, delivering all this goodness in under 70 minutes, a brisk pace to be sure, but never rushed in the least. I think The Black Cat is a genre classic, as it has all you could want and more from an old school chiller, so anyone interested in Karloff, Lugosi, or classic horror should give it a spin.
If you’re a fan of horror legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, The Black Cat needs to be on your list, as both turn in remarkable performances here. I would rank this as one of Lugosi’s finest efforts, as he is given an interesting character and he wrings every drop of potential out of the role. His shifts from likable and kind to unsettling and barely veiled menace are superb, he is able to blend in and out of these moods with ease, making Dr. Werdegast an unforgettable character. Plus, how often do you get to hear Lugosi talk about baloney, right? Not to be outdone, Karloff also shows up to tear the house down in a super creepy, memorable performance. His look alone is enough to make you never forget his presence in The Black Cat, but he also just radiates unstable vibes, like you never know what his character might be capable of. His role is dead serious and loaded with eerie menace, simply a fantastic effort. And watching Lugosi and Karloff at the top of their craft is a true pleasure, two cinematic titans going for broke and giving the fans an experience to remember. The cast also includes David Manners, Julie Bishop, and Harry Cording, while Edgar G. Ulmer directs.
The Disc: The Black Cat reaches Blu-ray from Scream Factory, as part of their Universal Horror Collection: Volume 1. The movie looks fine, but doesn’t seem to be a new master or restoration, so the visuals are still rough here. The print shows frequent scratches and debris, not always to a distraction level, but time has taken a toll on these elements and it shows throughout. The sharpness is a step above the versions I’ve seen, but aside from a few remarkable stretches, isn’t going to dazzle. So in the end, this is a decent treatment, but not likely the ones fans wished to have. As for extras, we have A Good Game, a look at the film’s production that runs just over 20 minutes, while Dreams Within a Dream runs about an hour and offers an overview of the cinema based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. A short, but interesting promotional piece features children showing off their own black cats, while the extras also include audio commentaries from two authors, as well as some still photos.