The Black Cat (1934)

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.

6.5/10

The 9th Guest (1934)

9th Guest

Directed by Roy William Neill [Other horror films: The Menace (1932), Black Moon (1934), The Black Room (1935), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), The Scarlet Claw (1944), The Pearl of Death (1944), The House of Fear (1945)]

Based off a forgotten novel from 1930 written by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, The 9th Guest is an extraordinarily fun spiritual predecessor to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (also known as And There There Were None).

While the story is certainly more mystery than it is horror, there are many suspenseful sequences in the film. The deaths are pretty good for the time period, my favorite being a rather brutal electrocution, complete with a terrible shrieking. The characters are all pretty interesting also, and the fact that they know each other (as opposed to Christie’s later work) lends to additional suspicion and tension as the film goes on.

Given the film is just over an hour, it’s not that much an investment, but even so, it’s still a positive that most of the performances are pretty entertaining. Vince Barnett (unsurprisingly) was used purely for comedic effect, and didn’t add much to the story. Everyone else, though, did well, my favorites being Sidney Bracey, Samuel S. Hinds, Edward Ellis, and Hardie Albright. Albright in particular was pretty captivating in his role, especially toward the end.

I really do love the mystery feel of these early horror films – The Bat, The Cat and the Canary, The Monster Walks; all films that I really enjoy. And given the classic set-up of this one, plus the pretty entertaining story, this movie really lives up to it’s expectations. I rather enjoyed it the first time I saw it, and this time I still found it a rather fresh film.

8/10