The Black Cat (1934)

This is up there on the list of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen.

Inspired, but in no way based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, the Black Cat begins with a newly married couple meeting Bela Lugosi on a train to Hungary. The trio then get on a bus to their final destinations: for the married couple, a romantic valley honeymoon destination, and for Bela Lugosi, a modernist mansion owned by Boris Karloff and built on the ruins of a World War I battlefield. (there’s a complicated backstory here).

Long story short, the bus gets in an accident, and they’re trapped at Boris Karloff’s house, who is a devil worshipper, and somehow embalms women standing up, or conducts female taxidermy or something (see picture above). Boris Karloff wants to use the young wife as his next human sacrifice, but he’s foiled by Bela Lugosi. There’s a gruesome torture scene, brought on by more backstory, and then Bela Lugosi is killed by accident.

This film owes a lot to old German expressionist film – in general, one of the themes of this season’s Stanford Theater program is the impact of German cinematography and design on Universal films. Besides the ultra-modernist design and bizarre embalming techniques, the movie was unusual for having an almost constant musical score. I’m fairly certain it was the first movie to point out that Bach’s organ music is really spooky. (Correction: It was Phantom of the Opera)

The film also had a fairly gruesome torture scene, which seems to be a theme of the Edgar Allen Poe “inspired” movies – more on that later though.

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