SoH Reviews: The Black Cat (1934)

Oh it’s time for another review! I also sang that but you can’t hear that cos this is a Google docs and I am not inserting an audio file but believe me! I’ve been in a watching movie phase this year that was NOT present last year and it seems like each month is about 2-3 films and I have previously reviewed 3 films in one post (you can read that here) and I’m back again with the first movie of May.

This was very impromptu and I remember this movie being on the 100 Scariest Movie Moments on Bravo (it might still be on youtube) and I did not realize what the movie was truly about until I got further into it and things started to click.

I will be reviewing the Universal picture “The Black Cat” from 1934 and spoilers beware!


Um, first off, I loved seeing Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together on screen, constantly. And I just had big heart eyes at both of them. The plot is that we are following a couple, Peter and Joan Alison (played by David Manners and Jacqueline Wells respectively), on a train, who encounter Lugosi’s character (who is a psychiatrist named Dr. Vitus Werdegas) and the energy there is already weird. BUT after a terrible car crash (on purpose, maybe?) and they end up at the home of an architect played by Karloff (Hjalmar Poelzig) whom he and Lugosi’s character have a very interesting past with. theblackcat_3

In between all that tension is satanism, necrophilia, a game of chess, a beautiful black cat and some psychological horror mixed in. The main couple is in the middle of this intense rivalry and thankful they escape with their lives but you can tell that our main two male leads, there are games being played and the tension just builds and builds.

Karloff, to watch him play this kind of character, was a breath of fresh air. I think most people know of Frankenstein (or the voice of the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas) but as someone who has also seen Black Sabbath, The Terror, The Old Dark House, The Mummy, I think this role is one of my absolute favorites. He is a very cruel man, who is the head of a devil worshiping cult? High priest? I don’t know what that specific role is but he is charismatic and intense and intriguing. I never took my eyes off of him. Karloff had GREAT on screen presence. Now Lugosi was also great on screen, that same charismatic vibe that he has for Dracula but it felt more emotional because of his character wanting to find his loved ones and wanting to save Joan from Poelzig’s evil plan.

When Karloff came on screen, I went “oh” because then the story was coming more clear. Again, I did not read the actual summary or plot of the movie and once he was on screen, he looked evil.

Jacqueline Wells was good as Joan Alison and I like seeing female leads being proactive and using their smarts and wills in this early time in Hollywood. Yes, she is a “damsel in distress” but she holds her own and doesn’t appear weak. She is caught in the middle of 3 different men and thankfully 2 out of the 3 had her best interest even though I was still a bit suspicious of Lugosi, ha. theblackcat_2

The title really has nothing to do with Poe’s story of The Black Cat which I have recently read and I think it was just a choice of aesthetics and using a black cat that really had no big part but to startle Lugosi for a bit. Plus you know, old superstitions of black cats and being familiars or being “evil”, I bet that’s a reason why of the overall title.

I gave The Black Cat 4.5 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd and I’m going to keep it as is. This film stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Jacqueline Wells, David Manners, Lucille Lund and an uncredited appearance by John Carradine. There is also ANOTHER film with the same title ALSO starring Bela Lugosi but if there’s no Karloff also in it, that’s not the same movie. Maybe that one is about the Poe story.

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