Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer [Other horror films: Bluebeard (1944), The Man from Planet X (1951), Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)]
This is another of those classics of the genre that I wished I liked more. Having seen The Black Cat twice now, while I admit the film has solid tension, along with a good atmosphere, and even better potential, I’ve felt lukewarm toward this both times the credits have started rolling.
What is it about this movie that causes that?
A somewhat big reason is the Satanic aspect which pops up out of nowhere with about 15 minutes left in the movie. I don’t really think the addition was at all necessary, nor did it add that much in any sense (aside from explain why Boris Karloff was adamant on refusing the couple their leave). The Satanic cult also don’t do anything, and the whole plot just seemed shoehorned in there at the end, which I’ve found disappointing both times I’ve seen this.
Of course, the presence of both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi can’t be denied, and they really work well off each other here. Both possess a deep intensity, and their conversations, though they never devolve into shouting, certainly are tense and rather filled with hatred. Personally, I was on Lugosi’s side throughout the film (his backstory is definitely more sympathetic), and the dark ending was very solid.
David Manners (Dracula, The Mummy, and Mystery of Edwin Drood being the rest of his horror output) and Julie Bishop (also in Torture Ship) composed themselves well here, but when you’re in a movie that co-stars both Lugosi and Karloff, you don’t really have much of a chance to stand out. I did enjoy Manners’ heroics, but I can’t truthfully say either of these two really struck me as that memorable. Great honeymoon, though.
Had the movie left out the Satanic aspect and just focused on the tension and atmosphere already present in the relationship between Lugosi and Karloff’s characters, I think I would have liked this movie quite a bit more. I just can’t help but feel that conclusion could have been tightened up. The torture scene was fantastic (though obviously not much was shown, it maintained a certain brutality), and I just wish the rest of the finale had the same effect.