“Be brave. No matter how hopeless it all seems.”
The 1930s could be seen as a tedious time for film. The Motion Picture Production Codes in the United States, which started being strictly enforced in 1934, really limited the amount of daring cinema that was produced. However, during the early 1930s and even onward into these more restrictive working conditions, horror movies managed to hit their stride. Hits such as Frankstein and Dracula created immense interest in talking pictures, and these scary movies were immensely popular. I find horror movies to be my favorite genre of this period, and some of these early works still hold strong cinematic value today.
The Black Cat is notable for being the first film to feature Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together. It’s clear that the movie really hedges its bets on the star power of these two actors, as the plot really just works itself into situations for Lugosi and Karloff to have at each other. This isn’t a bad strategy, as the both of them are talented actors, and it turns out they have strong chemistry together. The main appeal of the film is just seeing these two big names on screen together. It’s interesting how they both get to play villains, although the plot really lends itself to rooting for Lugosi, as he is portrayed as more of a victim with justified actions.
So this movie is pretty twisted. I’d say it definitely pushes the envelope further than Frankenstein or Dracula. In its run time of just over an hour, you’ll find Satanic worship, live human skinning, and good old necrophilia. The Black Cat feels more like a film built on sensationalism than a real scary narrative. It seems like something just made to sell tickets, which it certainly did, becoming Universal’s biggest hit of the year. It’s chilling, dramatic, and has the two biggest names in cinema for the time. I’m sure everyone wanted to catch this one.
I did enjoy the film, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite of mine. For someone looking to get into classic horror, I would definitely start with something a bit more grounded. The Black Cat feels empty when it comes down to it. There’s some conflict tossed in between Lugosi and Karloff, and the real protagonists don’t even seem that significant. It feels like it was just the norm in these films to have a clear good guy, so they included David Manners’ character without any real plot importance. The sensational elements mentioned above also seem to come out of left field for shock value. None of the characters feel particularly complex. At times, the movie is really just a cash-in.
There are still some neat things about the movie that will stick with me. The chess match between Lugosi and Karloff is a great scene, and it’s fun to see Lugosi playing the whole movie patiently and submissively until he gets that sweet revenge at the end. These movies undoubtedly lose a lot of their impact over time as film continues to advance, but I would say The Black Cat is one of the scariest movies I have seen to come out of the 1930s. The plot is dark and mysterious, and both lead actors keep the film suspenseful and engaging for its duration.
If you haven’t seen much early horror before, definitely put a hold on this one and watch some of the solidified classics. This movie is more of a treat for horror fans who admire the big names in the industry, almost like a sort of fan fiction. Let’s put everyone’s favorite actors opposite each other, crank up the scare factor, and see what happens. The end result is an interesting, twisted tale that is definitely worth a watch if you’ve got an hour to spare.
Movies Left to Watch: 974