May 5, 2011

The Black Cat (1934)



"American honeymooners in Hungary are trapped in the home of a Satan-worshipping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident."

Well, I think it's about time to get back to this blog after working on the other one which I'm sure you all know about. If you don't then the title of this movie will give it away. Yes, I've been watching a lot of films with cats in them lately.

Anyway, I don't think I ever watched this particular version of "The Black Cat" all the way through before. I remember starting to watch it on Channel Four many years ago but switched it off for being boring beyond belief. Having watched it entirely now, I stick by that original opinion and I'll also add that it was complete crap too.

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi have always been classed as "horror gods" by aficionados of the genre but I've never really been all that keen on either of them. While I can happily admit that Karloff was great as the Frankenstein monster, everything else that I've ever seen him in left me cold. Bela Lugosi was really only famous for a very stagey version of Dracula which I didn't see until long after Christopher Lee became the famous vampire in my mind. Together in one movie, it's hard to tell where the overacting and melodrama even begins or ends with each of them.

Make no mistake about it, "The Black Cat" is a terrible movie even for the time. Not only is it horribly dated but the plot is full of what I can only describe as "WTF moments". One minute, it's all romance with an annoyingly recognisable classical piece of music in the background, the next, a dead daughter who isn't really dead appears from nowhere with minimal explanation as to who she is or why, in Hungary, she can speak perfect English.

Add to this all the stuff about Karloff's unpronounceable character, Hjalmar Poelzig, being some kind of general in the Hungarian army who is now a world famous architect and a Satanic priest, and you soon start to wonder what exactly whoever made this stuff up was drinking.

Obviously the biggest let down for me was that the black cat of the title didn't really do anything except let himself be carried around by Karloff a lot in a "James Bond villain" kind of way. Cat-phobic Bela Lugosi threw what I think was a scalpel at the poor creature at one point and everybody thought the cat was dead but, after a small lesson from Karloff about how according to mythology black cats are immortal, the beast was back unscathed.

I have to give the film some credit for mixing as many stupid ideas together as possible though. There aren't many films from this era that contain a futuristic house, a perfectly preserved dead wife kept in a glass box in the basement, and the threat of someone being flayed alive.

Blowing the aforementioned house to pieces with a self-destruct mechanism that set off a load of dynamite probably should have come sooner in the plot though as making it all the way to the end of "The Black Cat" was absolute torture. Not only was there some ridiculous comic relief in the middle with two Carpathian cops which killed any attempt at seriousness in the whole film completely but the ending was so rushed that you wonder why the first half-hour tried to build up so much mystery.

I really didn't get this film at all. Obviously it was done on the cheap starring at least two overrated actors who should have retired after the silent era and the others didn't really go on to do anything that we'd remember either. I suppose I can't really slam them for their acting ability as it was probably perfectly acceptable for the time but I can certainly mention the awful dialogue that came out of their mouths and the way they delivered it.

Having looked this up on the IMDb, it's actually quite horrifying that "The Black Cat" has scored 7.2 out of 10. Even if I was feeling charitable, which I'm not, I'd only give it 2 out of 10 and that would be for the set.

If you ever see this movie as a standalone DVD, I suggest that you avoid it like the plague. It may only be 65 minutes long but it's so slow and uneventful that you'll feel like you've been watching it for days. It's not a horror film and can barely be described as a thriller since it has no scares or thrills whatsoever.

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