The Black Cat (1934) Review

18-The-Black-Cat-Universal--1934-swedish-poster
It’s time for a big team up between the big horror actors of the old days, Karloff and Lugosi. Although in the actual movie they are going up against each other with two travelers being caught in the crossfire. Suffice it to say, we’re in for another old school horror film where the main characters are terrible and the villains spend more time bantering than actually doing anything. We’re definitely at the right film.

So the film starts off with Peter and Joan taking a train for their honeymoon. It’s all going well until a mysterious man shows up and asks if he can share the room. Peter already gives off some red flags since he isn’t intelligent enough to refuse. Once the couple appears to be asleep this man, Vitus, attempts to get a little too comfortable with Joan. Peter wakes up and glares at Vitus but doesn’t do anything reasonable like kicking this guy out of the car or even becoming big time enemies. Instead he decides to forgive and forget. One thing leads to another and the couple follows Vitus to the mansion of Hjalmar. The old man is a big time enemy of Vitus since he stole the guy’s daughter and murdered his wife. Vitus has come here to get revenge while Hjalmar wants to take Joan since she is the reincarnation of the late wife and he aims to use her vessel as a way to bring her back. It’s all pretty twisted and clearly we are watching two villains go at it. It’s hard to pick any one of them to root for.

This film is fairly dark and not in a natural atmospheric way, but in an artificial gritty sense. Characters are tortured both on screen and off screen. Vitus’ family certainly gets the short end of the stick since they are all murdered by Hjalmar. The ending is even someone getting skinned alive. You can tell that while this is an older film, it’s not one of the classier ones. It’s going for the shock value scenes and it takes away from everything else.

Alas, it wouldn’t be a terrible horror film without an animal showing up in some capacity right? Well, Vitus is afraid of cats so the other villain always uses this against him. Vitus will destroy the cat but it just comes back for more since it has 9 lives. As a result, not only is the scene terrible but it’s pointless. The cat phobia never actually does much and at the end of the day it’s just a random excuse for the film to bump off a cat. Pretty disgraceful if you ask me.

I suppose the writing is decent although you will have to stretch your disbelief to its absolute limit. The whole point of Vitus coming over is to murder Hjalmar and he has dozens of opportunities to do so. In fact, his subordinate is an inside agent working for Hjalmar. He is Hjalmar’s only minion so the two of them can beat the old guy easily. Instead Vitus is constantly content to simply watch things play out and just go with the flow. There’s no narrative reason for Vitus to totally disregard his actual mission for 90% of the film.

As for Hjalmar, he is just as bad. He already murdered the first two people he was with so now he wants Joan even though it’ll probably just be to murder her at some point. Considering that he never poisoned them or anything the same question about waiting rears its head. Why not just destroy them right away or in the dead of night? It’s his house and the main characters are gullible enough to actually go to sleep at night. They’d be easy pickings.

We also can’t forget to talk about Paul and how terrible he is. He gets knocked out several times and never puts much of an effort. The only time he is finally able to air up the nerve to do something he manages to shoot the guy who was trying to help Joan. Clearly he isn’t good at reading body language but I can’t honestly say that I was too broken up about the whole thing since Vitus is basically still a villain in my book. Paul just comes off as really incompetent. Even after seeing how shady everyone is he decides to leave Joan by herself while he sleeps in a room way down the hall. He was just accepting this until Vitus came over to switch rooms. What this means is Vitus would have been in the room next to Joan and since the connector isn’t locked he could have gone to her room whenever he liked. Did I mention that Paul was terrible yet? You get the idea of why this guy was so bad. He doesn’t even understand a threat when it’s being blatantly said right in front of him.

Unfortunately Joan is no better. Not only is she fainting too much, but she gets possessed rather easily. I can’t blame her for falling off the rails after this since Paul lets the villains inject her with something while she asleep. Joan just never seems like a real character during this adventure. She ends up being in a state of shock throughout the movie instead and lets everyone else make decisions for her.

While the premise of someone going to get revenge may sound good on paper it’s clear that the execution is just off from start to finish. Subtle banter between the villains is a decent concept even if they are really trying to destroy each other. At the same time, it just gets unrealistic if it goes on for too long. We could have also been given a motivation for why these two are to be locked in combat without going full tragedy. Considering that Vitus basically knows for a fact that the other guy is guilty you’d think he would make a move of some sort before he is put in a bad position. You just end up questioning the characters quite a bit here. The highlight would be the Chess game. I definitely wasn’t expecting such high stakes for a mere board game, but if that had to be the case then Chess is naturally the perfect pick.

Overall, This definitely isn’t a good film and the other Black Cat films I’ve seen seem to have had more quality. The actual Black Cat in this film certainly doesn’t get the respect he deserves. What really buries this film in the long run is the fact that it is too dark at times and there is nobody to root for. The main characters certainly aren’t very smart and make all of the wrong choices while even the villains don’t seem to think things through. The polite banter that I like from these films only hurts it in this case since these characters should be doing something as opposed to doing nothing.

Overall 1/10

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