The Black Cat - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Black Cat Reviews

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½ June 30, 2016
Karloff and Lugosi's first collaboration is one of the best horror film's of the 30's. A really odd film that's bizarre Art Deco sets and unsavory atmosphere remain unsettling to this day. David Manners is not a very interesting lead (When was he ever?), but Lugosi and Karloff are at their best. Lugosi is single-minded and obsessed. Karloff is sinister and insinuating. The film shows what Ulmer could achieve with a sizable budget. Although he made more good films and a couple more great films, it shows what a shame it is that he never made a big budget film again.
½ March 17, 2016
Could just be me, but I don't think games, satanists, and war survivors go well together.
July 13, 2015
The Black Cat captures a kind of creepiness, courtesy of sinister lighting and sets, but the confusing plot fade this dull satanic thriller into obscurity.
December 7, 2014
This bizarre, utterly irrational masterpiece, lasting little more than an hour, has images that bury themselves in the mind, and is essentially the creation of the legendary Viennese writer, designer, producer and director Edgar G Ulmer (1904-1972). He worked at various times with Max Reinhardt, Stroheim, Murnau, Lang, Wilder and Siodmak, but his own work, which included films in Yiddish and Ukrainian and quickies aimed at black audiences, was made on low budgets. His masterpieces are The Black Cat, People On Sunday (the classic silent precursor of neo-realism), and Detour, a 1945 film noir shot in six days for less than $20,000.
½ November 9, 2014
Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi team up for the first time in this loose adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name. By "loose" I mean it bears no resemblance to the story I read. It does have a team up of Universal's two biggest stars at the time, which is noteworthy in and of itself. The movie is a dark and pretty well executed horror film in it's own right, even if the plot doesn't adhere to the source, and there is imagery that is still pretty effective and scary.
½ July 31, 2014
The Black Cat is one of Universal's best early horror films. Lugosi and Karloff are top-notch in this picture, it has a fantastic story, a lot of interesting concepts, and a gradual buildup that naturally flows from unsettling to sadistic and climactic. Not to mention the use of famous symphonies is awesome.
Super Reviewer
April 8, 2014
The first cinematic meeting of Karloff and Lugosi should've been a lot better.
March 18, 2014
1931's Frankenstein And 1931's Dracula Are Two Of My Favorite Films.
½ October 23, 2013
The Black Cat is about a honeymooning couple that run into an oddball scientist (Bela Lugosi) and, through a bus accident, wind up in the castle of a Satanic cult leader (Boris Karloff). Although filled with brooding atmosphere, this movie stays with the viewer for the shockingly high level of morbid sadism it possesses. Karloff and Lugosi are both in peak form in their parts; their battle of wits (and whips) is the stuff that silver screen legends are made of. A somewhat marginalized product of 1930's horror cinema, The Black Cat is a solid choice for those looking for more after watching Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man.
½ October 20, 2013
"The Black Cat", vagamente inspirada en un cuento de Edgar Allan Poe, dura apenas una hora y presenta un concepto tan sencillo que parece más digno para un cortometraje. Su principal atractivo es ver el duelo de actuaciones entre Boris Karloff y Bela Lugosi (quienes, aparentemente, se detestaban). Lugosi sorprende en un rol muy alejado del Conde Dracula, el papel que lo convirtió en estrella (y que de cierta manera lo encasilló).
"The Black Cat" es una cinta efectiva sobre un hombre que busca a su esposa después de escapar de una prisión y el hombre que la tiene capturada. Recomendable.
September 8, 2013
Watchable, but completely bonkers movie! It's fun seeing Karloff and Lugosi together and the film is technically well made, but the story is pretty bizarre. At least it's short!
September 7, 2013
Fantastic and the remake too, Very enjoyable, but could have done without the bumbling sidekick, which tainted this horror story, basically a rich cat owner dies, and all her family wants her money, she leaves the home and cats the house, and the family only gets the money when they die, and people soon start to die, But who is the killer?
August 20, 2013
You'd be forgiven for getting your hopes up with Lugosi and Karloff together on screen but this is a real let down. A tedious story that never gets going is coupled with pedestrian performances, for a film just over an hour this feels so much longer.
August 17, 2013
"You sold Marmorus to the Russians. You scurried away in the night and left us to die. Is it to be wondered that you should choose this place to build your house? A masterpiece of construction built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction - a masterpiece of murder. The murderer of 10,000 men returns to the place of his crime. Those who died were fortunate. I was taken prisoner at Kurgaal. Kurgaal, where the soul is killed, slowly. Fifteen years I've rotted in the darkness. But not to kill you, but to kill your soul - slowly." Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi)

What a truly perverse beast this is. The phrase 'grand guignol' doesn't even begin to do justice to 'The Black Cat', the first of eight collaborations between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and Edgar Ulmer's sole contribution to the burgeoning horror craze of the 1930s (which was spearheaded, of course, by Universal Pictures, the studio behind this film). As a movie it is equal parts compelling and frustrating, but just hours after viewing it it's numerous limitations had already begun to dwindle in importance; what remained more strongly was an after-image reminiscent of a half-remembered nightmare, a gloomy haze punctuated by swathes of grotesque imagery - both florid and morbid - and a bloody finale that still packs a wallop.

Much of the imagery is conveyed not just through visuals, but also through the lurid dialogue - which practically fetishises death and decay - and the ideas that drive the macabre screenplay. The story is, after all, set in a house that has been built atop a mass grave housing 10,000 murdered prisoners-of-war, a house built by the man (Karloff's Hjalmar Poelzig) who helped facilitate each and every one of those deaths ("Herr Poelzig... is perhaps sentimental about this spot..."). And what a house it is - a brightly lit, Bauhaus-futurist playhouse, as far from the cobwebbed festooned Castle Dracula as it is possible to get. Until, perhaps, we are taken to the basement where the spectre of the German expressionist filmmakers loom large, and unspeakable deeds are performed by the villain and hero alike. (Hero? Hardly. Anti-villain?)

Okay, here's where I have to call a spade a spade. 'The Black Cat' is notorious for the post-production tinkering that went on when Universal realised that Ulmer had delivered (in their opinion) an unreleasable film. The tinkering shows through loud and clear. Some major on-screen action is rendered incoherent by choppy editing (Werdegast's killing of the cat is not only over-the-top, but also incomprehensible without a later verbal confirmation of what actually transpired) and certain plot points are obfuscated to the point of being impenetrable. Not all of the film's mis-steps can't be laid at the feet of hackwork editing (the unwelcome intrusion of two comic-relief constables is a particularly egregious error, especially as neither are remotely funny and contribute exactly nothing to the story) but the damage is obvious and hugely unfortunate.

But for every fumble, 'The Black Cat' gives us a reason to forgive it and give it another chance. Bela Lugosi encapsulates this dynamic perfectly, giving a full-blooded performance as only he can - hammy, preposterous and seemingly more interested in delivering 'dramatic pauses' than actual dialogue. But he is also compulsively watchable and charismatic in that peculiarly idiosyncratic way of his - with emphasis on the peculiar - dominating the film and even radiating a substantial measure of leading-man x-factor (his looks are occasionally reminiscent of Timothy Dalton as James Bond no less!). His performance becomes a microcosm of the film as a whole - fascinating, compelling, odd and weirdly disjointed. Boris Karloff, on the other hand, is content to underplay his role and not seek our attention so overtly; perhaps since his character is an architectural genius / satanic cultist / human taxidermist he might have figured there was no need to lay it on too thickly. He is, as usual, a tremendously likeable screen presence; interestingly this contributes to our relationship with the characters becoming hopelessly confused. The script tells us that Poelzig is completely evil, but because it's Karloff it's very hard to root against him fully. I mean, is Lugosi's Werdegast supposed to be the good guy in this or not? There is certainly every reason for us to feel sympathetic towards his goals, yet Ulmer gives him a number of bizarre and off-putting traits, including a borderline ridiculous - certainly camp - aversion to cats, alluded to in one nutso scene in which he skewers one with a letter opener; this phobia has no bearing on any aspect of the plot and thus ends up being a bizarrely hysterical red herring. And this flighty weirdo's climactic act is to string up Poelzig and skin him alive. So if he's not the bad guy, who is? David Manner's wet noodle of a tourist? Pffft. On the one hand it feels free-wheeling and energetic, and on the other more than a little scattershot.

But still. But still. The film, ramshackle as it can be, is chock-a-block with haunting, beautiful, moments - the 'glide' through Poelzig's basement and his accompanying voiceover is a particular highlight. And it's unwillingness to play by the rules, while sometimes counter-intuitive and off-putting, is also refreshing and lends the film a vibrance that is lacking in many of its contemporaries. I recently watched James Whale's 'The Old Dark House', released two years previously, just as Karloff's star was beginning to shine for the first time. That film has a far greater sense of fluidity, a far greater sense of a director being in control of his material, a far greater confidence that it can wrest the weirdness into a coherent shape. 'The Black Cat' lacks that confidence and polish, but Ulmer makes up for the relative lack of craft with guts, vision and intensity. This is dark, bewitching stuff that contains a genuine sense of human depravity and many unsettling suggestions of even greater horrors taking place off-screen. Hunt it down and give it a chance - it might just be able to work it's old-fashioned black magic on you.

"Come, Vitus, are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures? You say your soul was killed and that you have been dead all these years. And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmorus fifteen years ago? Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder? Are we not both the living dead? And now you come to me, playing at being an avenging angel - childishly thirsty for my blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death, if you like." Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff)
August 7, 2013
The Black Cat is a chilling experience that no horror movie fan should miss out on. What makes The Black Cat so scary is the fact that the villain, Hjalmar Poelzig is not a fictional creature, but a human being. There is nothing special about him, he is just a mortal, twisted, human. While Karloff steals the show as Poelzig, Lugosi turns in a well done performance as Vitus Verdegast. The side characters however, are bland and over-acted. I honestly didn't care weather they escaped Poelzig or not. The cinematography on the other hand, is what made this movie. Ulmer uses darkness to his advantage in this movie. You can tell he focused very heavily on shadows and light contrast when he directed this movie. The greatest example of this is the infamous scene at the end. You'll know it when you see it. I highly recommend this movie to horror movie fans and movie buffs in general. If you are a casual movie fan, i would stay away from this one, as you might find it weird and unsettling.
June 11, 2013
The Black Cat has its weaknesses, (how could the initial king of the B movie, Mr. Edgar G. Ulmer, not have them?) namely the arbitrary presence of the American characters, but there's no denying the fact that several elements brought together in this film create an unusually (for the time period) terrifying miasma of unease and brutal revenge. Most surprising to me was that Bela Legosi's iconically fierce, gleaming eyes could be utilized empathetically, as they were here. There's a bitter hopelessness hidden by gleeful insanity in his every facial expression, and what results is a classic and dynamic performance worth the utmost praise. Also electrifying was the expressionistic set design which painted Karloff's house as an abysmally gray and unadorned house where only horrors are possible.
½ January 11, 2013
Lugosi gives one of his most soulful and tormented performances and that he's stuck in a battle of wills with Boris Karloff makes it that much better. Fantastic final act.
½ January 6, 2013
Campy low budget oddity with delightfully (or excruciatingly) mannered performances.
November 12, 2012
What does the cat have to do with anything?
November 10, 2012
Pits Bela Lugosi against Boris Karloff and has a few chills to offer.
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