Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Count Down: Day 2-The Black Cat (1934)

"Do you know what I am going to do to you now? No? Did you ever see an animal skinned, Hjalmar? Ha, ha, ha. That's what I'm going to do to you now — flay the skin from your body...slowly...bit by bit!"-Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi)

The Black Cat is one of those under appreciated films that falls through the cracks. I first saw it on channel 13 PBS when they aired their Kevin Conway hosted Cinema 13 Horror series that showed Universal horror movies from the 30's and 40's. Having nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe's story by the same name, it teams Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi together in a film written and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.

Karloff, looking weird in a widows peak hairdo, is the essence of what you'd think a Satan worshipper to be in 1930's. The character, who was based on Alister Crowley and director Fritz Lang, didn't divorce his wives, but kept their bodies preserved and hanging like statues in his mansion (for the record Crowley never did that...I can't speak of Lang though).

Even though Karloff got top billing, I really feel this is Lugois' movie. He plays the tragic Dr. Vitus Werdegast, who left his wife and daughter to fight in the war and was abandoned in a prison camp for the last fifteen years. When Werdegast speaks you can feel his pain. People forget that Lugosi was a World War One veteran having fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army and was wounded in battle. I think this gave him great insight into his character since they both shared a common background.

Universal made another Black Cat in 1941, a comedy horror film with even less to do with the Poe story. Lugosi was relegated to a small forgettable supporting role, another indignity in this great actor's life. Poor, poor, Bela.

Until Next Time, Stay Insane!

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