I am both a fan of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi horror films as well as an ailulophile, so I figured this film would be right up my alley. My suspicions were correct. I liked this one a lot, even tough Lugosi‘s character, who suffers from a near paralyzing fear of cats, kills Karloff’s cat with a knife. Gruesome happenings for a 1934 film.
The interesting twist about this film, other than it bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the Edgar Allen Poe that supposedly inspired it, is that Lugosi is a good guy. He is a World War I veteran who has come to Europe to confront te mn who stole his wife. That would be Karloff, who is a brilliant architect and Satanist. Not necessarily in that order, of course.
While on a Lugosi meets an young American couple. They are the stereotypical innocents abroad. Their “aw, shucks” demeanor is annoying even for the time period. But they serve as a means to get us to like Lugosi. He is a charming fellow who befriends them both. He winds up reluctantly taking them to Karloff’s house when an accident injures the girl.
Karloff, as a High Priest of Satan, wants to sacrifice the girl as he did Lugosi’s wife, whom we discover as a corpse in the dungeon.. Lugosi does not get much credit for being a fine actor, but when he sees his dead wife, you can literally see his soul die. Having no soul is convenient, too, considering what he does to Karloff in revvege.
Lugosi does save the girl. He wagers her life on the outcome of a chess game. But that is irrelevant compared to what he does to Karloff. Lugosi makes a ritualistic sacrifice of Karloff. The deed is done mostly in the shadows, ut it is disturbingly sadistic even by today’s standards.
I love this movie. You can feel the tension between the two actors as their characters spar with one another. There I some dispute as to whether the pair had a friendly rivalry or truly did dislike one another. Whichever the case, the raw emotion helps make The Black Cat a classic.
Rating: ***** (out of 5)