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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

THE BLACK CAT (1934); THE RAVEN (1935)

These two co-starring vehicles for Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi, each ‘suggested’ by an Edgar Allen Poe story, are a lot alike: slow-moving fright-fests featuring mad doctors out for revenge, with victims trapped in some isolated setting on a dark & stormy night. Yet, they feel utterly different. RAVEN gives real attention to its storyline, nonsense about Lugosi’s retired doctor with a fixation on Poe and his last lovely patient. Enter Karloff, a villain by trade & looks, he's his unwilling henchman, selling obedience for an operation that will improve him inside and out. Instead, Lugosi turns him into a monster. (The make-up might be a trial run for Quasimodo.) Louis Friedlander (aka Lew Landers) brings a modicum of style & a rising pace for a climax loaded with Poe-inspired torture devices. It gets the job done.   Things move differently in the decidedly odd, architecturally splendid world of THE BLACK CAT. Here, only the decor needs to make sense. Plot points & characters wander around under a moody atmosphere of Bauhaus designs as Lugosi’s ‘good’ doctor seeks revenge against Karloff for past deeds. He finds a horror house of satanic rites, embalmed damsels (including his late wife) and the daughter he thought he had lost after the last war. All while a couple of clueless newlyweds claim medical attention after a road accident. (And it’s almost the same road accident that begins the other pic!) The director here was Edgar G. Ulmer, that eccentric master of zero-budget miracles & oddities in his sole major studio project, ignoring the conventional niceties of narrative cinema to concentrate on the physicality of his sets, decor (those table lamps!) & architectural details. It may be the least sensible of all the Universal horror classics. Yet, it’s also indispensable, and loaded with priceless dialogue --

Honeymooning Hubby: Sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney to me.
Lugosi: Supernatural, perhaps; . . . baloney, perhaps not.

DOUBLE-BILL:  Hey, this post already is a Double-Bill! 

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Particularly in BLACK CAT, nothing seems designed to add up, even the music suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, constantly morphing from one classical favorite to another: Liszt, Beethoven, Schubert & faux-Tchaikovsky, just another element to go ‘bump in the night.’ Too bad music arranger, Heinz Roemheld, hadn’t the balls (or the ‘rights’ budget) to use only Second Viennese School classics.

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