The Black Cat

Poster - Black Cat, The (1934)_02.jpg


Universal Pictures

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

Produced by E.M. Asher

Screenplay by Peter Ruric

Story by Edgar G. Ulmer/Peter Ruric 

You want to know how twisted 1934’s THE BLACK CAT is? Besides the Satanism cult, human sacrifice and necrophilia fetishism? Mollyfoggin’ Bela Lugosi is the hero of this movie. Seriously. When you’re a character in a movie and you have to depend on Bela Lugosi to save your ass then you know the situation has gotten so far out of control it ain’t even funny. But then again, considering that the bad guy in THE BLACK CAT is Boris Karloff, maybe it is appropriate that Bela be the one to come to your rescue.

Bela Lugosi actually did play the hero in the 12 chapter cliffhanger “The Return of Chandu” but it’s this movie that I always point to as his best performance in a heroic role and it’s a shame he didn’t get to do it more because Bela Lugosi plays a very sympathetic hero in THE BLACK CAT. But he also is able to project an air of menace that makes even the American couple he befriends shy away from him. He may be the good guy but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.


The American couple caught in the middle of the bizarre hijinks to come is newlyweds Peter and Joan Alison (David Manners and Julie Bishop). They’re on honeymoon in Hungary (was Hungary the honeymoon destination for American newlyweds in 1934?) and share their train compartment with the mysterious Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi.)

During a curiously touching moment where Werdegast lovingly strokes the hair of the sleeping Joan, he’s caught by Peter who sensing the despair in the older man says nothing and instead listens to his story of how he went to war, leaving his wife, who looked very much like Joan behind at home.  Werdegast has spent the last 15 years in a prison camp and is on his way to see his old friend, the brilliant architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Poelzig has built his futuristic Art Deco mansion on the ruins of Fort Marmorus which Poelzig commanded during the war and where Werdegast served.

After leaving the train, Werdegast, his servant and the Alisons share a bus which crashes and they all end up at Poelzig’s mansion. It’s here that the plot really kicks in as Werdegast informs Poelzig that he knows Poelzig betrayed the fort to the Russians and intends to avenge their dead comrades. If that wasn’t enough, Poelzig also stole Werdegast’s wife Karen while Werdegast was a prisoner of war. And it gets way kinkier than that. Karen Werdegast died two years after Poelzig married her, telling her that her husband was dead. Poelzig then raised her daughter, also named Karen (Lucille Lund) until she was of age and then he married her.


Werdegast informs Poelzig that he will wait until the Alisons have left and then they will settle their score. Poelzig offers his old friend a new game: they’ll play chess for Joan Alison. If Werdegast loses, she’ll become a human sacrifice for Poelzig’s Satanic cult. If Werdegast wins he can take the Alisons and Karen away with him. The two men sit down to play but the game will end in a conclusion far stranger and horrifying than either of them could ever imagine…


Even though this movie claims to be inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s; “The Black Cat” there’s absolutely nothing of that tale in here. Werdegast has a phobic horror of cats and no matter how many he kills (by my count he kills at least three) Poelzig always seems to have another prowling around. I remember watching this movie when I was a kid on PBS. Thank Odin there was somebody there in Programming who apparently loved Universal horror movies, “Dr. Who” and samurai movies. THE BLACK CAT had a profound effect on me because even though we never see anything truly horrifying, the aberrant behavior demonstrated throughout the film is disturbing enough. There’s a lot of dark, twisted psychological horror here, backed up with outstanding visual design and terrific B&W photography that looks even better in HD. I recently watched this movie on Turner Classic Movies and it was like watching a movie that had been made this year. The soundtrack is also memorable as it’s made up entirely of classic music selections, the most notable being the use of ‘Dies Irae’ during a scene where Poelzig leads Werdegast through the lower levels of his mansion and details the rules of the game they will play.


If you’ve never seen it before and you call yourself a horror movie fan then you need to see THE BLACK CAT at your earliest opportunity. It stars two true Icons of the genre and it teams them in one of the best horror movies ever made. It doesn’t have blood or gore but it has atmosphere, character and intense psychological fears and terrors that I really will believe will stay with you long after you finished watching it. THE BLACK CAT is a masterpiece of the genre. I’ve provided a link below you can check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Mad Monster Party


Embassy Pictures

Directed by Jules Bass

Produced by Joseph E. Levine

Written by Harvey Kurtzman and Len Koroban

Growing up in Brooklyn during the 70’s we didn’t have all the platforms available that we have now to watch movies whenever we want.  The concept of a DVR or Blu-Ray player/disc was considered science fiction back then. So that meant that if there were certain movies we wanted to see, we had to be home to watch them because if we missed them, it would be a whole year before we could see them again.  While I do greatly appreciate the convenience of being able to go to my DVD collection or turn on Netflix and see just about any movie I want any time I want, I do kinda miss the anticipation of waiting until the Christmas season to see the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials like “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” or “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” or Halloween to see MAD MONSTER PARTY.  Oh, sure…I’m adult enough to wait until the appropriate time to watch ‘em.  But I dunno…it’s always in the back of my mind that I can watch them any time I want.  Somehow it just seemed more special when I had no choice but to wait to see those specials and this movie we’re going to talk a little about right now.

MAD MONSTER PARTY is a stop-motion animated musical spoof of horror movies with an all-star monster cast: Baron von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) his Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, The Werewolf, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Bride of Frankenstein (voiced by Phyllis Diller).  Baron Frankenstein intends to retire and leave his castle, his experiments and all his secrets to his nerdy nephew Felix Flanken (voiced by Allen Swift) who sounds uncannily like Jimmy Stewart and even more uncannily resembles Rick Moranis.  He calls for a convention of all the monsters to his island in order to announce his decision.


This doesn’t go over well with Francesca (voiced by Gale Garnett) who thinks that as Frankenstein’s faithful assistant for years, she should be the successor to Frankenstein.  Francesca enlists Dracula and The Bride in a scheme to eliminate Felix and get The Baron’s secrets for themselves.  However, that scheme quickly gets scrooched when Francesca falls in love with Felix and is double-crossed by Dracula and The Bride who enlists the rest of the monsters to wipe out Frankenstein, Felix and Francesca and take Frankenstein’s secrets for themselves.

There’s a lot of respectable talent in this movie.  There’s Mr. Karloff, of course.  But Phyllis Diller can get on the last nerve with that trademark, shrill, drawn-out “ha-ha-ha” she feels the need to put on the end of every sentence.  Harvey Kurtzman, who co-wrote the screenplay created MAD Magazine and MAD cartoonist Jack Davis designed most of the characters.  As can be expected with those guys working on it, there’s a lot of dark humor aimed at adults that goes over the heads of most kids.  I was surprised at how many slightly saucy lines and in-jokes I caught when I watched this recently.  I was convinced that the movie wouldn’t be the same now that I’m thirty years older than when I last watched it but I was pleasantly surprised at my own enjoyment of the movie.


I appreciated how the likenesses of Baron Frankenstein and The Bride are designed to look like the actors voicing the characters.  I think it’s wild how Felix looks so much like “Ghostbusters”/”Little Shop of Horrors”-era Rick Moranis.  And the character of Francesca was based on Tina Louise who played Ginger Grant on “Gilligan’s Island” But to me she looks like a stop motion version of Christina Hendricks:

Francesca is voiced by Gale Garnett who won a Grammy for her 60’s folk song hit; “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” and she lends her distinctive vocal talents to a couple of songs: “It’s Our Time To Shine” and “Never Was A Love Like Mine” both of which are really good.  And even ol’ Boris gets to sing a rousing number; “One Step Ahead”

So should you see MAD MONSTER PARTY?  Some of you won’t no matter what I say because you’re too sophisticated and would sneer at what you perceive to be crude special effects, out-of-date movie making techniques and would find the movie “corny”. So you can feel free to leave the room.

For the rest of you who stayed; if you’re a fan of Tim Burton’s stop-motion work then by all means, give MAD MONSTER PARTY a viewing.  It’s a movie where you can plainly see the influences on his own work.  And besides, it’s simply a fun little movie whose only purpose to entertain and put a smile on your face for 95 minutes and I can think of no higher recommendation.  And for you parents: if you want to expose your kids to a form of animation other than computer generated, here’s a good one.  MAD MONSTER PARTY gets my recommendation for family viewing on Halloween.  Enjoy.