The Black Cat

Edgar G Ulmer, USA, 1934, 65 minutes

Not at all based on the Poe short story this film has essentially no plot. Yet this merely highlights the expertise with which Ulmer directs The Black Cat, making this a classic horror movie. Ulmer is one of the lesser known pre-war German emigres who went to Hollywood - Lang, Wilder, Murnau, de Toth (whose work included the classic 3D horror movie, House of Wax). The film is heavily influenced by the tradition of German expressionist fantasy as characterised in Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The Black Cat describes the clash between two WWI enemies, played by Karloff and Lugosi. This is no ordinary grudge, however. It is a particularly evil, malignant sort of hatred. Karloff's character was apparently inspired by Aleister Crowley, the infamous occultist. Karloff lives in a futuristic mansion, built on the site of a concentration camp. It is here that the two do battle.

As is characteristic of much of the German expressionist work, the design in The Black Cat is of vital importance in creating the mood of the film. The smallest detail is picked up by Ulmer and used to add to the feeling of uneasiness and disquiet. The game of chess played by the two to vie for the life of the heroine is particularly memorable.

Review by Matthew Bull
Taken from EUFS Programme 1995-96