What do you get when you put Bela Lugosi (Dracula) and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) in one movie? You get a classic horror story filled with dark themes of terror and satanic rituals. Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat is when a couple faces a bus accident and must take refuge in a Hungarian psychiatrist’s home but the satanic plot of his villainous friend can put this couple in danger.
This is the most successful film done by Universal in 1934 and you can guess why. You have two well-known horror stars starring in the same film. It’s bound to bring a lot of box office dough. This partnership would continue on for many years to come. Bela Lugosi is back with his thick Hungarian accent and haunting facial features. Since he was tired of always playing a diabolical villain, reshoots were involved to write him in as the hero of the story. Boris Karloff instead is the diabolical master villain who looks like he arose from six feet under. This psycho lures women into his demonic activities and keeps their bodies in storage to more than drool over if you know what I mean. The plot at the time was considered hard to understand because of all of the reshoots that had to be done. For a Pre-Code film, there were a lot of adult themes such as necrophilia, pedophilia, satanism, twisted relationships, skinning alive, etc.
I like the risks this film takes to tell a real horror story- to keep audiences creeped out and terrified at the same time. After all, there’s nothing more scarier than psychological horror as it messes with your head with its demented twists and turns. To see a psychiatrist seek revenge on a friend who betrayed him in the war and to see that same friend sleep with his daughter! Even though it never explicitly says any of this in the film as well as having off-screen violence, the elements still come out as pretty disturbing. I also loved the music in this film. This happens to be one of the first films to have a musical score throughout the film with classical music such as Brahms, Bach, Schubert, Liszt, and Beethoven to name a few. These selections gave the film a chilling and suspenseful vibe. I’ll never hear the Romeo and Juliet Overture the same way again!
Watch one of Universal’s most successful horror films and comment your reactions: