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PART OF ME so wanted to connect with this movie due to its strong placement in film history, pairing horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together for the first time.

They would do so again a further 8 times throughout their career.

Both Lugosi and Karloff would find fame through their roles in Dracula and Frankenstein respectively and each had a further outing of their own, with moderate success, so it was inevitable that these two powerhouses of their day would cross paths before too long.

It pains me to say that I really struggled with with watching this movie.

Loosely based on the short novel of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe, The Black Cat had all the hallmarks of a classic horror story.

Our central protagonists Peter and Joan find themselves as unwitting pawns in a game between psychiatrist Hjalmar Poelzig (Lugosi) and architect Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Karloff), both whom flirt with their own sanity throughout the proceedings, although Poelzig is marginally on the ‘right’ side of the tipping point.

He does at one point though try to plead for Peter and Joan’s freedom having been ensnared in Werdergasts abode, by playing a game of chess.

Werdergast certainly takes home the crazy awards though with his collection of dead women that he keeps in glass cases.

The history between these frenemies runs deep, turning all the more bitter when Poelzig is imprisoned during the war, during which time Werdergast settles down with Poelzig’s wife, who is now dead and has become a feature in one of the exhibits.

It’s something of a convoluted mess, with the drama wrenched up to the max that it feels strained and forced.

Both Karloff and Lugosi pull off all the stops as they race to the ultimate showdown between the two for the film’s climax, but by this point I’d gone past caring and simply wanted the movie to find it’s end note.

In fact, were it not for the performances from both its leads, The Black Cat wouldn’t have received the kind of recognition that fell its way upon its release.

This coupled with the music score keeps the audience barely onside and despite this being Universal’s biggest box office hit of the year, The Black Cat ends up looking more like a drowned cat than screeching for the high notes of hysteria and horror that it was clearly aiming for.

Ultimately, something of a disappointment.

  • Paul Farrell