I teased you with the movie version of The Black Cat that you weren’t looking for, the 1941 semi-comedy and barely entertaining one from Universal. But no teasing this time. Universal’s 1934 movie The Black Cat is a stone-cold, brutal classic of early horror cinema—and it features the first and best pairing of legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.
The first Universal horror cycle had already used Poe for material with a loose adaptation of Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1932, which starred Bela Lugosi as a mad doctor with a killer ape. Director Robert Florey, who was originally slated to helm Frankenstein (along with Lugosi as the monster), give Murders in the Rue Morgue plenty of expressionist visual flair, but it’s only a tiny scratch compared what Austrian director Edgar G. Ulmer pulls off in The Black Cat.
The screenplay for The Black Cat takes even less material from its Poe-source than Murders in the Rue Morgue. As in “pretty much nothing at all.” Aside from the occasional appearances of a black feline to justify the title, the movie has no connection to Poe’s 1934 short story about a man who murders his wife in a fit of madness and has his crime revealed through a possibly supernatural house cat. But if the Poe’s story doesn’t show up on screen, plenty of Poe’s themes—necrophilia, torture, burial alive, revenge—certainly do. It contains much more Poe than many films that adapt his material more directly.
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