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The Black Cat
The Vanishing Body / The House of Doom

USA 1934
produced by
Carl Laemmle jr for Universal
directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Jacqueline Wells (= Julie Bishop), Egon Brecher, Harry Cording, Lucille Lund, Henry Armetta, Albert Conti, Luis Alberni, John Carradine, André Cheron, George Davis, Paul Panzer, Michael Mark, Virginia Ainsworth
screenplay by Peter Ruric, based on a story by Edgar G. Ulmer, somehow based on Edgar Allan Poe

Universal horror cycle, Universal's Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Allan Poe's Black Cat

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Due to a car accident, honeymooners Peter & Joan Allison (David Manners, Jacqueline Wells) & Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) are forced to spend the night in Hjalmar Poelzig's (Boris Karloff) mansion somewhere in the Carpathian mountans ...

& even though the art deco mansion seems spooky enough all by itself, Poelzig at first seems the perfect host ... but soon things take a darker turn. Poelzig it turns out has actually built his mansion on hte grounds of a Russian POW camp from World War One, a camp that he commanded & where Werdegast was one of his prisoners. But not only that, Poelzig has also stolen Werdegast's wife & daughter.

Now, Werdegast wants revenge, but not simply by killing him, but by destroying his soul ... but at first, Werdegast doesn't seem to be too good at that, instead he has his own heart broken when he hears that his wife & his daugher are dead - a pain that is only intensified when Poelzig shows him the dead but perfectly preserved body of his wife ...

The next day, when Peter & Joan want to leave, Poelzig shows his true colours when he not simply prevents them from going but has Peter thrown into the dungeon while he locks Joan into her room ... & plans to make her a sacrifice in a black mass he, a head satanist besides everything else, pans to hold this night. Werdegast, always a gentleman, suggests to play a ganme of chess for Joan's soul - but loses.

In her room, Joan meets Karen (Lucille Lund), Werdegast's daughter who is not dead after all but is now Poelzig's wife, but Poelzig catches Karen talking to Joan & drags her off ...

At night, everything is prepared for Joan's sacrifice when Werdegast & his servant (Harry Cording), who pretended to be in Poelzig's services, manage to interrupt the proceedings, which ultimately leads to Poelzig dragging Joan off to his dungeon with Werdegast in hot pursuit ... & in the dungeon, Werdegast finds the body of his now dead daughter (the killihg happened off-screen), & somehow a fuse blows & he soon manages to chain up Poelzig & slowly skin him alive.

In the meantime, Peter ahs freed himself & made it to the part of the dungeon where Joan is held, but he shoots Werdegast under the (wrong) assumption that he is going to hurt his wife. With his dieing breath, Werdegast grants Peter & Joan barely enough tiem to save themselves, then he blows the place up using the dungeon's in-built self-destruct mechanism ...


Black Cat is probably the single most imaginative horror film of the 1930's (& hasn't lost any of its originality to this very day). Director Ulmer makes perfect use of the architecture of his sets (which he allegedly designed himself), which contrary to the traditional gothic horrors of its time are done in art deco-style & are fascinating & disquieting at the same time & contribute greatly to the film's atmosphere, as do the many macabre details Ulmer ahs worked into the plot. Of course, Karloff & Lugosi, in their first on-screen appearance together, are both great, & it has to be credited to Ulmer that neither of them tries to upstage the other.

With all that going for the film, it really doesn't matter all that much that the plot is a bit thin & not always logical, & has nothing to do whatsoever with the Poe-story it is supposed to be based on (true, a black cat has a few on-screen appearances, but nobody, least of all the cat, is walled up in this film), The Black Cat is simply a masterpiece in its own right.

... & wuite aside from that, bot Vitus Werdegast & Hjalmar Poelzig rang among my all-time favourite character-names.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD