The Black Cat

1934

The Black Cat

Critics Consensus

Making the most of its Karloff-Lugosi star pairing and loads of creepy atmosphere, The Black Cat is an early classic in the Universal monster movie library.

88%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 32

70%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,582
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Movie Info

The first cinematic teaming of horror greats Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi is a bizarre, haunting, and relentlessly eerie film that was surprisingly morbid and perverse for its time. Peter (David Manners) and Joan Allison (Julie Bishop) are honeymooning in Budapest when they meet mysterious scientist Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Lugosi) aboard a train. When the trio's bus from the train station gets into an accident, the young couple accompanies Verdegast to the castle of the spectral Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), an architect and the leader of a Satanic cult. Poelzig's treachery in World War I caused the deaths of thousands of his and Verdegast's countrymen, as well as Verdegast's own internment as a prisoner of war. While Verdegast was detained, Poelzig married first his wife, who later died, then his daughter. Now Verdegast has come back for retribution, and the honeymooners are trapped in the two men's horrifying battle of wits. Corpses preserved in glass cases, frightening Satanic rituals, and a climactic confrontation in which one of the characters is skinned alive add to the film's pervasive sense of evil and doom, along with the stark black-and-white photography by John Mescall that makes Poelzig's futuristic mountaintop mansion even more disturbing. Karloff and Lugosi are both excellent, with Lugosi doing a rare turn as a good guy, albeit one who has gone off the rails. Having little to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, The Black Cat has grown in stature over the years and is now widely regarded as the masterpiece of director Edgar G. Ulmer and one of the finest horror films ever made. ~ Don Kaye, Rovi

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Cast

Boris Karloff
as Hjalmar Poelzig
Bela Lugosi
as Dr. Vitus Verdegast
Jacqueline Wells
as Joan Allison
David Manners
as Peter Allison
Julie Bishop
as Joan Allison
John Carradine
as Cult organist (uncredited)
Egon Brecher
as Majordomo
Henry Armetta
as Sergeant
Albert Conti
as Lieutenant
Herman Bing
as Car Steward
Andre Cheron
as Train Conductor
Luis Alberni
as Train Steward
George Davis
as Bus Driver
Tony Marlow
as Patrolman
Paul Weigel
as Stationmaster
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Critic Reviews for The Black Cat

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (6)

Audience Reviews for The Black Cat

  • May 16, 2012
    "The Black Cat" was the first film to pair the legendary stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and at just 65 minutes in length, it packs quite a bit of oddness into it's short running time. A young couple (David Manners and Julie Bishop) are honeymooning in Hungary (of all places). Traveling by train, they share a compartment with Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), a psychiatrist on his way to visit an old friend. This old friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) is an architect who has built a futuristic mansion on top of an old battlefield/graveyard. Poelzig betrayed Dr. Werdegast during WWI, and Werdegast spent several years in a prison there (he was betrayed possibly so Poelzig could steal his wife away), and now returning, Werdegast swears revenge. Throw some satanism into the works and there you have it. Karloff's Hjalmar Poelzig is quite a unique and sinister character, and Lugosi's doctor, with his bizarre cat phobia (whenever he sees a cat, he must either try to murder it or throw his hands over his eyes in terror) is equally odd. While the credits might acknowledge Edgar Allen Poe's original story, there is little here to resemble it. What we have is a strange and well, unique contribution to the horror genre of the 1930s.
    Devon B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 23, 2011
    Messy script and typically silly finalle. But Karloff's presence is marvellous, terrifying and convincing.
    George M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 03, 2010
    A very interesting old horror movie with two of the best old horror movie stars. A really cool movie.
    Aj V Super Reviewer
  • Aug 18, 2010
    So I decided to watch... well the next movie that came across my desk. I had never heard of this little gem before. This is a big deal movie too. One that you would of heard of right? One that would be deserving of a ride at Universal unlike Earthquake the movie. This is the first blockbuster for Universal Horror since Dracula! I mean you have two major Horror heavyweights. Frankensteins own Boris Karloff and Dracula himself Bela Lugosi, both act incredibly. The movie story is bizarre and loosely biased on a Edgar Allen Poe story. A couple meets a weird Doctor (Bela) on a train. They all get into an auto accident, where I assume the driver is killed, yet no one in the movie ever talks about him again. Then they all stumble conveniently to the Doctors destination. A House owned and built by Boris Karloff's character, a psychotic and satanic Architect. I guess that the Architect stole the Doctors lady during the war and put him in an internment camp. So Bela came to this place with these people to collect. This movie has a ton of versions released all with cuts. I guess that this movie has a pretty decent amount of early gore. There is even a skinning, though I haven't seen it yet. Unfortunately, I had to watch the condensed 59 minuet version. This version sucks, it had no amount of gore. It did however show things that were incredibly shocking for its time. One it showed Boris Karloff in the same bed as a woman, which is like uncalled for in Horror movies up until this point really. The movie also shows a woman being kissed on the neck, pretty passionately. This is a milestone movie, hell it was produced by Universal. A movie this memorable should be an attraction. It does have its flaws though there are problems with continuity, bodies moving, and the whole driver thing. Because of these things, the movie comes out to a 7 on my scale. I recommend this movie to black and white movie fans. It makes its way onto the 1001 movies list. "You Lose Vitus!" S!D
    Brandon S Super Reviewer

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