Directed by Lew Landers (The Raven 1935,Crime Inc 1935)this mystery/horror yarn stars the caustic Erich von Stroheimas Diijon a magician and stage illusionist who studies the art of hypnosis. When his wife leaves him for a younger man and he attempts a comeback that ultimately results in his humiliation he becomes driven by his obsession for revenge and plots his master plan to hypnotizing people into committing murders in order to avenge himself.
The film also stars Jeanne Batesas Victoria, Edward Van Sloan, William Wright and Denise Vernac.
“Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.” – Ambrose Bierce
“Religious superstition consists in the belief that the sacrifices, often of human lives, made to the imaginary being are essential, and that men may and should be brought to that state of mind by all methods, not excluding violence.”- Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy
“Horror Hotel, next to the graveyard”
Horror Hotel (US) or The City of the Dead (British) (1960) is directed by John Llewellyn Moxeywho eventually emigrated to America and became in my opinion one of THE best directors of fantasy, horror and suspense films made for television. (The House That Would Not Die 1970, The Night Stalker 1972, A Taste of Evil 1971, Home For the Holidays 1972, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have All The People Gone 1974, Conspiracy of Terror 1975 once again about a secret cult of devil worshipers this time in the suburbs of California, Nightmare in Badham County 1976, Killjoy 1981 and Desire, The Vampire 1982 not to mention contributing to numerous outstanding television series, and other films too many to list here.)
With a screenplay by George Baxt(The Shadow of the Cat 1961, Strangler’s Web 1965, Vampire Circus 1972 (uncredited) and his really awful mess, Horror of Snape Island 1972) he was also the scenarist on Sidney Hayer’sCircus of Horrors (1959)Baxt went on to do another witchcraft themed film co-scripted with prolific writers Richard Matheson’s (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Trilogy of Terror 1975) and Charles Beaumont’s (The Intruder 1962 , Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death 1965) The other screenplay was based on Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife , which turned into yet another film directed by Sidney Hayer, and was an equally moody and unnerving piece in the trope of black magic themed films entitled Night of the Eagle or it’s alternative title best known as Burn Witch Burn (1961)
Horror Hotel or City of the Dead is also a story co-scripted by Milton Subotsky an American émigré who relocated to England and eventually took over as the head founder of Amicus the only true rival to Hammer Studios Gothic series of films at the time. Horror Hotel was their first film made by the company then called Vulcan Productions. Subotsky was also the uncredited producer on the film. Released in the states with the title Horror Hotel the film used the inane catch phrase “Just Ring For Doom Service” which is unfortunate as it downplays the truly profound artistic quality of the film’s visual narrative. The film also marks the first appearance of Christopher Lee in the Satanic Cinema genre. Then Lee appeared in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour‘s quite interesting occult themed sequence rather than Hitch’s usual mystery methodology, an episode entitled, The Sign of Satan(released May 8, 1964 from Season 2 episode 27) where Christopher Lee plays the mysterious foreign actor Karl Jorla in a episode that also dealt with devil worship.
Horror Hotel was filmed on a sound stage in England, with an all British cast, yet the plot was set in an obscure village in America’s provincial Massachusetts for it’s historical relationship to the Salem Witch Trials and the mystique of the witchcraft frenzy that was so pervasive during the Puritanical 17th Century.
With a haunting bit of cinematography by Desmond Dickinson (Olivier’s Hamlet 1948, Horrors of the Black Museum 1959, the noir classic The Frightened City 1961, A Study in Terror 1965, one of my guilty pleasures which is Beast in the Cellar 1970, Who Slew Auntie Roo 1972 with my one of my favs Shelley Winters and Beware My Brethren 1972) and art direction by John Blezard and Original music by Douglas Gamley.
The cast includes Christopher Lee as Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll, Dennis Lotis as Richard Barlow and Venetia Stevenson as avid student Nan Barlow. Interestingly enough, it’s quite shocking that the script actually kills off the supposed heroine Nan within the first 30 minutes of the film, much like Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’sPsycho 1960.
Patricia Jesselis the imposing Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs.Newlis an obvious anagram for the 300 year old witch much like name switcheroo used by Sidney Blackmer’s Roman Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Tom Naylor plays Bill Maitland Nan’s prowess boyfriend. Betta St. Johnis Patricia Russell the granddaughter of the blind Reverend Russell played by Norman Macowan. Ann Beach has an impish sort of Patty Duke like quality to her as the poor mute Lottie a slave under Mrs. Newlis’ iron grip and Valentine Dyall (love him as Dudley the caretaker ‘all you city people’ in Robert Wise’sThe Haunting ’62) plays Reverend Jethrow Keane also resurrected from those by gone days of witch burnings.
I’m not sure why this absolute gem has been so overlooked, when it’s still such a genuinely frightening and effectively creepy contribution to the classic horror genre. It’s moody and saturated with an unearthly fog that blankets the town and exudes an impending sense of doom and dread. The film is almost impressionistic with it’s tonality of the macabre which permeates the landscape with the undead specters walking amidst the fog soaked night, and we as spectators know of the looming arcane rites of the ritualistic blood sacrifices held by ambiguous figures in monkish robes.
The camera work is startling at times, and surprisingly cerebral for a low budget film, as in the opening sequence when they are executing Elizabeth Selwyn, the camera closes in tightly on several grotesquely puritanical, pious and unrelentingly exaggerated expressions of hostility and hypocrisy as the villagers call out with their blood lust to burn the witch, their fever for punishment, lacks any godliness, as they are framed more hideous than Elizabeth Selwyn who is tied to a stake and set on fire. Only a quick glance at a little girl’s face read in panic as Selwyn evokes the power of Satan and a darkness washes over the villagers like a paint stroke of black light. The use of shadow is almost reminiscent of Jacques Tourneur’s thoughtful psychological terror plays of the 40s, (Cat People 1942, I Walked With A Zombie 1943, noir classic Out of the Past 1947 and Curse of the Demon 1957) While not in the same league as the master of shadow and light the great Val Lewton or Tourneur, there are some elements with the added sphere of paranoia that creates an atmosphere filled with uncanny dread and unknowable spaces and devilish premeditation, that evokes some of the same type of moodiness.
Again, not being hindered by the restraints of a small budget, the film appears as a beautifully eerie Lovecraftian fable, filled with an entire village inhabited by listless cult followers dedicated to the worship of Satan. They haunt the streets swathed in ritual robes shrouded in shadows and fog, wandering through swirling mists, and an ominous sweep of fog that obscures these undead spirits of the night, soulless, dressed in robes or outdated clothing. The entire village is vexed by black magic reigned over by the resurrected witch Elizabeth Selwyn who was burned at the stake more than 300 years before in 1692. While it’s obvious that the degenerating, decomposing village of Whitewood is a sparsely designed set on a humble sound stage, John Llewellyn Moxey manages to infuse this little city of the dead with a very disquieting ambiance. Dickinson lights the inhabitants of Whitewood and the hazy mysterious village itself using very enigmatic black and white compositions.
The film opens as the fog shrouded village of Whitewood is at first an empty frame consumed within a smokey cloud of air except for a giant iron fire pit blazing to the left of screen. Like specters emerging through the deathly fog, several villagers move closer into focus until they are upon us in mid screen. They are thirsty for the blood of the declared witch Elizabeth Selwyn who has brought about the death of Abigail Adams. They decree that she should be put to death as a witch, and so they converge on her little cottage, dragging her out and tying her to a large wooden stake. As she faces her accusers it seems as if she is emitting a hissing sound like a serpent. A pilgrim woman slowly grinds out the words, “Wiittcch!!!!“ as Elizabeth Selwyn contemptuously spits on her.
The elders and the crowd of villagers scream out for her death. To burn the witch. The pyre is set on fire, but as she becomes engulfed in the purifying flames, she declares her devotion to Satan. Meanwhile Jethrow Keane secretly still an acolyte of Elizabeth pretends to deny that he has consorted with the witch, privately begging “Help her Lucifer, Help Her.” As the fevered villagers watch Elizabeth burn, she cackles and laughs her unspoken vow to come back and wreak revenge on the descendants of Whitewood. She has made a pact with the devil for eternal life in exchange for providing him with human sacrifices, which she manages to procure by luring unsuspecting visitors to her rustic Raven’s Inn.
It’s modern day… the village is now left in desolation and gripped in an eerie pal that hangs over everything with it’s deathly fog. Now 1960 Professor of Demonology Alan Driscoll is relating the story of Elizabeth Selwyn, demonstratively narrating to his class the lurid story, ending with the same chant the villagers had been shouting, “Burn Witch Burn, Burn Witch Burn…” An intense look occupies his deep and darkly riveting eyes. While most of the class is bored and distracted, Nan who is consumed with the legend of witchcraft and Elizabeth Selwyn’s legacy, stays after class to continue talking to Professor Driscoll, much to the dismay of her hunky boyfriend Bill.
Nan looking for some good material for her thesis asks Driscoll for some guidance. He informs Nan in a very grim manner that the myth of human sacrifice isn’t just a story, that it still exists, and that it is said that Elizabeth Selwyn still walks the murky streets of Whitewood. So Professor Driscoll sends Nan Barlow to Whitewood, Massachusetts to conduct her research about the local prevailing myth that witchcraft is alive and well and still being practiced by a coven in the decaying old New England village. Nan goes willingly to uncover the truth behind the rumors of sightings of Elizabeth Selwyn believed to have come back from the dead.
Professor Driscoll is not just an avid academic of the occult, he is also an ancestor of Whitewood and a practicing Warlock in cahoots with Elizabeth Selwyn now having taken the name of Mrs.Newlis who has in fact been resurrected from the grave and now runs the claustrophobic and infernal Raven’s Inn, equip with trap door that leads to the subterranean primitive altar where blood sacrifices are held, and shadowy figures come to dance cheek to cheek to smokey jazz music by the flickering light of the fireplace at the Raven’s Inn.
Of course Nan’s brother a scientist, is not thrilled with Nan going on a witch hunt, but thinks that she should be allowed to pursue her academic dream. However boyfriend Bill is not happy at all by the news that his girlfriend is about to take a road trip to some small village out of the way chasing ridiculous nonsensical theories.
Nan gets in the car and begins to drive. Passing by a gas station she asks if she’s headed in the right direction, and of course the attendant gives a worried look when she tells him that her destination is the town of Whitewood.
THE BLACK CAT (1934) U.S. (Universal) runs 65 minutes B&W, was the studio’s highest grossing picture in 1934. The film was also ranked #68 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movies. Directed byEdgar G. Ulmerand written for thescreen by Ulmer andPeter Ruric.
Also titled: House of Doom; The Vanishing Body (the alternative British title was used in it’s re-release in 1953 as a double bill with The Missing Head an alternative title for the “Inner Sanctum’s” offering Strange Confession.
With the success that Universal Studios garnered from Tod Browning’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’sDracula in 1931 starring Hungarian born actor Bela Lugosi, and the equally sensational popularity of Mary Shelley’s adapted Frankenstein1931 directed by James Whale starring Boris Karloff, it would seem only natural for the studio to harness the cult popularity of these two stars, creating horror vehicles to pair them together in. This is the first of the collaboration between Boris and Bela. Also both stars were equally billed in terms of their leading roles. In Lew Landers The Raven 1935, Lugosi dominated as Dr. Richard Vollin and in Lambert Hillyer’sThe Invisible Ray 1936, the emphasis was more on Karloff’s complex character Dr. Janos Rukh. The Black Cat was a huge success for Universal and opened up the flood gates for seven more films featuring the collaboration of Karloff and Lugosi;Gift of Gab (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Black Friday (1940), and You’ll Find Out (1940).
Although The Black Cat 1934 claims in it’s opening credits that the film is ‘suggested’ by Edgar Allan Poe’sstory from 1843 the film bares no resemblance to his short story, nor did Poe ever pen a single word about Satanism in all his volumes of the curiously macabre. The film does evoke the spirit of Poe’s fixation with morbid beauty, the preservation or perseverance of love after death, the suggestive ambiance, conflation of beauty and death and the unconscious dread of the uncanny. The architectural lines seem to also evoke the nihilistic sensibilities of Jean-PaulSartre‘s ‘No Exit’ or a Kafka-esque fantasy of entrapment, with a mood set forth of futility and hopelessness.
“Don’t pretend, Hjalmar. There was nothing spiritual in your eyes when you looked at that girl.”-Werdegast
Karloff’s character Poelzig is actually based on the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. Ulmer and Ruric were inspired by an odd news story circulating in the world press shortly before the making of the film. Stranger than fiction, it seems a naive young couple who were visiting a remote home of a magician, became entangled in the occult rituals involving an unfortunate animal sacrifice, a victimized black cat named Mischette. The magician was Aleister Crowley, and the isolated location was his Abbey of Thelema in Sicily. The press got wind of this when Crowley accused one of his writer friends Nina Hamnett of libel in a London Court. Hamnett had mentioned Crowley in her 1932 autobiographyLaughing Torso.
The passage that incited Crowley’s vengeful wrath was Hamnett’s description of his days at the Abbey of Thelema “He was supposed to practice Black Magic there, and one day a baby was said to have disappeared mysteriously, There was also a goat there. This all pointed to Black Magic, so people said, and the inhabitants of the village were frightened of him.” Crowley became known in the public’s perception as ‘the wickedest man in the world.” It was from this story that the seed of sensationalism gave rise to the idea for The Black Cat whichemerged as a tale of savagery and horror for Ulmer.
So, in actuality the title has nothing to do with Poe’s short story at all, as it merely alludes to Dr.Vitus Werdegast’s (Lugosi) all-consuming fear and dread of cats. A more faithful adaption would be The Living Dead (1934) directed by Thomas Bentley, and Tales of Terror (1962). The Black Cat (1941) starring Basil Rathbone was more of an old dark house mystery.
This mysterious and decadent tale was directed by Austrian born Auteur Edgar G.Ulmer’s who was part of the vast succession of émigrés of high-art who came to America, Ulmer passed away in 1972.
It is one of the darkest films of the 30s.The Black Cat is an effusive, atmospheric and brutal masterpiece of decadent horror among some of Ulmer’s other interesting contributions (People on Sunday 1930, Bluebeard 1944,film noir classicDetour 1945,and the wonderfully lyrical science fiction fantasyThe Man From Planet X 1951).
Influenced by the German Expressionist movement, the film lays out a sinister territory, strange and foreboding, unsavory and dangerous, clandestine and provocative. Ulmer worked for Fritz Lang in the early days living in Germany involved on films including Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). He also worked with F.W. Murnau on Sunrise (1927) Ulmer also worked with Max Reinhardt, Ernst Lubitsch in the 20s and Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnermann and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan,who was responsible for Metropolis’ miniature sky-scapes and vast edifices.
The Black Cat is considered to be Ulmer’s best film, though his career did start to maneuver it’s way downward into poverty row’s fabulous cinematic gutter toiling in low budget features, after beginning an affair with a script girl named Shirley Castle Alexander who was married at the time to one of Carl Laemmle’s favorite nephews. At the time Laemmle was head of Universal Studios, and so Ulmer was essentially blackballed by the mogul from Hollywood. Another factor might have been Ulmer’s unwillingness to sacrifice aesthetic sensibilities over commercial profits.
Ulmer and Shirley got married and wound up moving to New York City spending many of his years working on low-budget films. He began this part of his career by making bargain-basement westerns under the pseudonym John Warner directing a series of cheap ethnic-market movies incorporating groups like Ukrainian,Yiddish and African Americans, before he moved onto the more stylish low budget thrillers.
By the 1940s Ulmer wound up back in Hollywood but had already resigned himself to making poverty row productions. All of which I find thoroughly enjoyable, such as his Bluebeard (1944) starring the ubiquitous John Carradine, Strange Illusion (1945) and film noir cult classic Detour (1945) starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage who’s battered and desolate characters actually fit the noir cannon with an authentic realism despite the anemic budget. I also love The Strange Woman (1946) and another great film noir Ruthless (1948) with Zachary Scott. Ulmer still remained a very productive director with PRC, even if it was one of Hollywood’s bastard children. Studio head Leon Fromkess never gave Ulmer enough money to fund his pictures, Ulmer wanted to produce high art films and first class effects as his origin had come from a place where he was such a ”visual artist as well as a filmmaker. The one good by-product of the deal was that it gave him creative license to run with what ever vision he had for a working project of his.
Director Ulmer also doubled as set designer on The Black Cat to create a work of visual stateliness, beautifully stylish and elaborate with its collection of modernist set pieces, working with the art direction and set design of Charles D. Hall and cinematographer John J. Mescall’s (The Bride of Frankenstein) vision of the striking, uniquely cold and Futuristic Modern Gothic art deco ‘castle fortress’ and it’s interior shots creating the arresting landscape of luxury belonging to the enigmatic Poelzig’s (Karloff) inner-sanctum.
The eclectically sharp and angular camerawork establishes a stylish Machine Age imagery and eerie symmetrical aestheticism. Mescall’s camerawork creates a very non-Hollywood and non-stereotypical horror film, filled with a sense of melancholy responsiveness from the heavily influenced authentic Eastern European films of the period. There’s also a quality of cinematic eroticism with Mescall’s use of muting the focus within the shot to create an added emphasis on suggestive sexuality, as the camera dances through various scenes.
The stark use of light and shadow, the well defined contrast of light and dark with it’s cold black spaces and diffuse whites constructing margins that pay homage to the expressionistic lighting used by German Expressionists film makers of the 1920s and early 30s. The atmosphere is oppressive as well as claustrophobic with an added air of perversity that effervesces within the elegant framework.
Ulmer co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Ruric (who used the pseudonym Paul Cain for his hard edged detective novelettes for pulp magazines, with screenplays such as–Grand Central Murder 1942 and Mademoiselle Fifi 1944). Their script for The Black Cat deals with a deadly game of chess, ailurophobia (fear of cats) rather taboo and provocative subjects such as war crimes, ‘Satan Worship’, human sacrifice, being flayed alive, drug addiction and the underlying perverse fetishism of necrophilia.
Heinz Roemheld’s blustering classical score, with the pervasive use of work from classical composers, all set the stage for a mélange of sadism, decadence, erotic symbolism, torture and hedonist themes of pleasure pain and death. The underscoring of this deliberate use of slow, solemn and imposing classical music emphasizes the atmosphere of entrapment and hopelessness.
Karloff’s character, Hjalmar Poelzig’s morbid and unwholesome preservation of his deceased wife whom he stole from Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), having manipulated Werdegast’s wife into marrying him telling her that her husband died in the war, ultimately murdering her and then forcibly marrying Werdegast’s daughter is all very salacious material. Werdegast’s wife’s body is kept in a state of suspended animation like a sleeping doll which is visually shocking and gruesome. He tells Werdegast that his daughter too is deceased but in actuality she is Poelzig’s new young bride. a drugged sexual slave. The film possesses so many strange and disturbing elements. The allusion to incest, sacrificial orgies and the heightened presence of music drawing heavily from Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B and Schumann’s Quintet in E Flat Major, op.44, Tschaikowsky and most notably for me, Beethoven’s movement no.7, a personal favorite of mine.
The film was made just prior to the strictly enforced production guidelines of The Hayes Commission that policed all the sin and immorality on the silver screen. Allegedly there were various edits to the production that Universal insisted upon, but the film still bares a very deviant and erotically depraved tenor to the narrative’s mise en scéne.
When Universal executives both Carl Laemmle Jr and Sr. screened the film they were horrified by Ulmer’s rough cut, they insisted that he edit the film and so they hacked it up and toned it down. And actually Bela Lugosi himself was unsettled at the thought of his protagonist showing lusty desires for the very young American girl Joan. Ulmer reluctantly went back and edited some of the harsher scenes out, including the infamous ‘skinning’ sequence, A comparison to the original script from the final version shows that many of the most disturbing elements, including a more unabashed orgy at the black mass, were quickly snipped away and scenes which were more violent and containing more suggestive elements were exorcized like the devil.
But in a subtle victory of wile, Ulmer added a few more scenes showing Karloff taking Lugosi through his historical dungeon artifacts of the encased suspended beautiful women in glass, the posed dead bodies in perpetual lifelike form as if by taxidermy, collecting them as his fetish, the idea of possessing them eternally as an ‘object’ in a state of death, the theme of necrophilia must have slipped by the Laemmles.
The subject of contemporary Satanism had only been dealt with on the screen once before by Lugosi in his supporting role in the long forgotten and believed to be lost The Devil Worshipper (1920 German) Die Teufelsanbete.
Universal’s marketing department downplayed the aspect of Satanism in the picture, nervous that the idea of devil worship might not be acceptable to the public theater goer as entertainment. So in actuality the original version must have really pushed the boundaries farther and been even more sinister. British censors found the film so offensive and unacceptable that the British print of the film, entitled House of Doom replaces any reference to black magic, using less disturbing references to ‘sun worshipper’, (silly) which essentially obliterates the entire transgressive significance and it’s impact.
Carl Laemmle had given Ulmer a free reign on the story’s content, but kept a close eye on the director in other respects. Ulmer had not been given the larger budgets that either Dracula or Frankenstein had been endowed with. He was also given a very short span of time to shoot the film, a mere fifteen days. This did not deter or side track Ulmer at all who was used to working with small budgets, and knew how to construct a film that looks as elegant as any largely budgeted project. He began imagining the story, scrapping many scripts that Universal had been collecting. Any pretext associating the picture with Poe’s short story was cast to the wind. And so he created an entirely new vision. At the core, the film works thematically as a revenge piece. But of course there is so much more bewitching the film’s narrative.
In the 1960s Peter Bogdanovich interviewed Ulmer in ‘The Devil Made Me Do It‘ who recalled another theme that influenced The Black Cat. He had been in Prague… and met novelist Gustav Meyrink the man who wrote The Golem as a novel. Like Kafka, Mayrink was a Prague jew who was tied up with the mysticism of the Talmud. They had a lot of discussions, contemplating a play based upon the Fortress Doumont which was a French fortress the Germans had destroyed with their shelling during World War I. There were some survivors who didn’t come out for years.The commander who ultimately went insane three years later was brought back to Paris, driven mad because he had literally walked on a mountain of bodies and bones. “The commander was a strange Euripides figure.” Ulmer told Bogdanovich. (Euripides being an archetypal figure as a representational mythical hero, an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Also Euripides voluntarily exiled himself, rather than be executed like his colleague Socrates who was put to death for his perceived dangerously intellectual influence.)
Much of the ambiance of this historic incident is reflected in Bela Lugosi’s dialogue in The Black Cat.
“And that hill yonder, where Engineer Poelzig now lives, was the site of Fort Marmorus. He built his home on it’s very foundations. Marmorus, the greatest graveyard in the world.” – Vitus Werdegast
Within The Black Cat is there an aesthetic tension between Expressionist Caligarism and The New Objectivity movement or Neue Sachlichkeit, which begin in Habsburg Central Europe at the dawn of the Nazi era? The New Objectivity espoused a new attitude of public life in Weimar Germany with it’s art, literature, music and architecture created to adapt to the changing mood of the culture. It was characterized by a practical engagement with the world, which was regarded by Germans to be an inherently American style or the cult of objectivity, functionalism, usefulness, essentially- Americanism. While the film injects a modern wholesome American couple into the plot, they are mired down in the decaying ghosts of the past atrocities and sins perpetrated not only on the land, but by presence of the vengeful and malignant atmosphere. An atmosphere represented within the framework of a very Caligarian milieu. This creates a friction or contrast by injecting the fresh American presence into the plot, surrounding them within an environment of an arcane and non-naturalist landscape.
The Expressionist Caligarism wasstarted by director Robert Wiene who’s surreal masterpiece Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari will always be remembered as the iconic ultra-expressionist watershed moment of the genre. ‘Caligarism’ Painters turned set designers Walter Röhring and Walter Reimann were responsible for the brilliant expressionist style which influenced other films with both the ornamental patterns transfixed in the dysmorphic repertoire of shapes and configurations that permeated the set designs for 20s science fiction films like Andrew Andrejew’s AELITA – Queen of Mars 1924.
The use of the color black or more accurately, the absence of light, can also been seen as part of the symbolism in The Black Cat: We are the voyeurs to this claustrophobic madness, as spectators we see the horror as highlighted by the stark blackness of the clothes, the black trees which are filmed in silhouette against a blackened sky. Poelzig is often silhouetted in distinctive blackness. This use of the color black or again more accurately in lighting it with the absence of any color or ‘light’, is used thematically as a way of installing a sadistic marker of the imagery.
Cast of Characters:
Boris Karloff is Hjalmar Poelzig
Bela Lugosi is Dr. Vitus Werdegast
David Manners is Peter Alison
Julie Bishop is Joan Alison (as Jacqueline Wells)
Egon Brecher is The Majordomo to Poelzig
Harry Cording is Thamal Werdegast’s faithful servant
Lucille Lund is Karen Werdegast
Henry Armetta is Police Sergeant
Albert Conti is Police Lieutenant
John Carradine plays the Organist (uncredited)
Boris Karloff playsHaljmar Poelzig who is perhaps one of his most impressively darker characterizations. His all black attire, strangely androgynous hair style, and exaggerated use of make-up accentuates his features giving him the appearance of extreme and austere wickedness. Karloff’s eyebrows arch, his eyes flare and the use of his black lipstick make him almost deathly. Jack Pierce (The Man Who Laughs 1928, Dracula 1931,Frankenstein 1931 White Zombie 1932, The Mummy 1932 Bride of Frankenstein 1935 ) was responsible for the subtle yet dramatic make-up.
Karloff’s voice, his wonderfully lilting voice is typically modulated within the drift of his dialogue. He is remarkable as the incarnation of profane evil, with his icy cold reserve and detachment from the world.
Both protagonists are enigmatic, Karloff’s Poelzig’s utter malevolence and Lugosi’s hero Dr. Vitus Werdegast who is sympathetic yet also damaged, callous and obsessed by his lust for revenge, make both these disparate figures, magnetic archetypes that are equally compelling.
The film takes place in Hungary, starting out with scurrying masses boarding the grandeur of the Orient Express. The Allison’s are on their way to Budapest,Visegrad for their honeymoon. American Newlyweds Peter a mystery writer and his new bride Joan Allison board the opulent train. David Manners who plays spare hero Peter Allison had portrayed Jonathan Harker in 1931’s Dracula opposite Lugosi, and again appeared as the leading man with Karloff in The Mummy 1932.Jacqueline Wells plays Joan. At first the young love birds have their compartment all to themselves until Dr. Vitus Werdegast, psychiatrist and veteran of World War I, a captive who has just been released from a prisoner of war camp after 15 years imprisonment, (Ulmer himself was a refugee of Hitler) enters the compartment due to a mix up needing a place to sleep. He tells the young couple that he is on his way to visit an ‘old friend.’
While Joan and Peter fall asleep the gentle yet peculiar Werdegast becomes fixated on her, stroking her hair while her husband Peter who is now awake watches silently for a moment. Werdegast explains that his wife and daughter were left behind when he was sent away to prison.
When the honeymooners get off the train, it is pouring rain… they agree to share a bus ride with Werdegast , but there is a storm and the desolate rain soaked roads are treacherous, causing the bus to crash. The bus driver dies, and Joan is injured in the wreck. Needing to seek shelter Dr. Werdegast recommends that they join him at his friend’s home, the Castle Poelzig, so he can take care of the young bride.Werdegast treats Joan’s injury, injecting her with a powerful hallucinogen called hyoscine.
The name Poelzig is an homage to Hans Poelzig set designer/architect of the 1920s who’s version of Der Golem was stunning. Real life Poelzig was responsible for the astonishing Prague set that underpinned the mythic mood of The Golem.
In Hans Poelzig’s own words, “The effect of architecture is magical.”And he meant that literally as he believed that every building was a living thing, had it’s own musical rhythm and a mystical sound that could be ‘heard’ by the those who were initiated into the world of magic. Though a very private man it was known that Poelzig dabbled in magical arts, holding spiritualist seances with his wife at their home and using their daughter as a medium.
According to Poelzig’s biographer, Theodor Heuss, his library was “filled with the works of mystics, the occult sciences and astrology” he was in the pursuit of the mysteries of eternal forms that he erected and revered through his sacred work constructing his grand style architectural designs as his ‘magic’ medium. Poelzig also found cinema to be an environment for his magical sensibilities, jotting in his notebook “Film… the magic of form-the form of magic… Devil’s Mass…”
Poelzig intrigued a lot of people with his mysterious persona. Director Max Reinhardt hired Engineer Hans Poelzig to build sets for his theatrical stages. Ulmer was one of the architect’s junior assistants who later worked on the set of The Golem as a silhouette cutter for Paul Wegeners monumental production. Ulmer had studied architecture in Vienna and so carried that knowledge with him which sheds light on his sense of set design.
Hans Poelzig had a grand imagination, a creative fortitude and a host of eccentricities, one of which was to be at times a very overpowering presence and domineering personality.
This left an impression on Ulmer, who took those memories from Germany to Hollywood and created a cinematic resurrection of designer Hans Poelzig’s persona in the image of Karloff’s shadowy devil worshiper Hjalmar Poelzig, creating the shades, shadows and the template for Ulmer’s mystical engineer sadist of The Black Cat’s.
F.W. Murnau’s Faust 1926 too, definitely bears it’s influence on Ulmer who worked as a crew member on the film. Faust, in terms of cinema of the Satanic, was a major studio production who’s main protagonist was the Devil and who was a complex character, and not merely a vehicle for a simple horror themed picture, it sprung from a confluence of intellectualism and metaphysical ponderings.
DEVILS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION IN CLASSICAL FILM
The Black Cat does seem to be one of the earliest illustrations of the Satantic cult film. While the era of Silent Film had a slew of films that dealt with the devil and black magic, (Dante’s Inferno 1911,The Student of Prague 1913, Henrik Galeen’sThe Golem 1914Thomas Edison’sThe Magic Skin 1915, The Black Crook 1916, The Devil’s Toy 1916,The Devil’s Bondswoman 1916, Conscience 1917,Murnau’sSatanas 1919, Der Golem 1920,The Devil Worshipper 1920, Dreyer’sLeaves of Satan’s Book 1920, and 1921’s Häxan, Nosferatu 1922. The Sorrows of Satan 1926 and F.W. Murnau’s Faust 1926) After the economic crash of 1929 these very recognized landmark films seem to disappear.The 30s had The Black Cat 1934 and The Student of Prague (1935), both these films might be the protracted essence of the Satanic Expressionism of 20s German cinema.
The ‘devil worship’ film or ‘Satanic’ cinema evokes our primal fears, paranoia and unconscious dread that is implicit toward the ‘Other’ As was in Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s brilliant portrayal of this very paranoia. Satanic films trigger our fears of the intrusion of an outsider who infiltrates society, or rather the comfortability of our moral landscape. It also sign posts our secret pleasures which are derivative or surrogate as catharsis by way of the horrors of satanic power. In the 40s the few offerings were, William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941,Maurice Tourneur’sCarnival of Sinners (1943) and Mark Robson/Val Lewton’s literate and intensely woven The Seventh Victim (1943) and Thorold Dickinson’s imaginative masterpiece The Queen of Spades 1949.
While Universal had successes with both Dracula and Frankenstein, The Black Cat is a more intensely layered film with it’s hidden and not so implicit meanings. It has a depth that explores the undercurrent of the 1920s aestheticism and fascination with magic. There are heterogeneous elements that run through both compelling performances by Karloff and Lugosi’s characterizations.
Werdegast“You sold Marmorus to the Russians… scurried away in the night and left us to die. Is it to be wondered at, that you should choose this place to be your house. A masterpiece of construction built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction… the masterpiece of murder. (he laughs) the murderer of ten thousand men returns to the place of his crime. Those who died were fortunate. I was taken a prisoner to Kurgaal, Kurgaal, where the soul is killed… slowly. Fifteen years I rotted in the darkness. Waited… not to kill you, to kill your soul… slowly. Where is my wife Karen and my daughter?!!!!”
Poelzig– “Karen? Why what do you mean?”
Werdegast –“I mean you told Karen I had been killed, I found out that much in Budapest. I mean you always wanted her in the days at Salzberg before the war, always, from the first time you saw her. I mean that after you saved your own hide and left us all to die in Marmorus, you took Karen and induced her to go to America with you. I traced the two of you there.And to Spain and to South America and finally here. Where is she?”
The film is also powerful in it’s evoking of the horrors of World War I, which was still a very haunting specter in the public psyche. Most Universal films offered escapism, in contrast The Black Cat confronts the viewer with a bit of historic retelling of the nightmares of war, more penetrating than the usual concocted monsters the studio was proffering.
Karloff’s aloof and restrained malevolence guided by the subtle intonations of his melodious voice tethered to Lugosi’s sympathetic and often poignant performance as the broken Vitus Werdegast, in particular the scene when he first sees his dead wife Karen exhibited as if in a museum, suspended in death, evoking authentic tears, “Why is she like this?” All set to the maudlin Ludwig Van Beethoven’s ‘Symphony no. 7: Second Movement.’
Beethovin’s symphony no. 7 often used in films and a most powerfully contemplative piece underscores Karloff’s soliloquy as the camera glides through the dark and dank dungeon of Marmorus taking us on a tour of the decaying deathly oxygen of the place.
Poelzig leads Werdegast through the subterranean enclosures of Marmorus. It is here that Werdegast sees his wife who had died two years after he was in prison, and that his Karen (Lucille Lund) is now encased in glass.
Poelzig reveals the perfectly preserved body of his wife in necrophilic stasis, that he’s encased in glass like an immoral specimen of his unholy fetishism. This might be the only other reference to Poe and his morbid preoccupation with beauty in death. He reveals the dead body of ‘their’ beautifully angelic wife, encased in her crypt like glass vessel. Poelzig lies to Werdegast telling him that his daughter is also dead.
Werdegast is devastated and demands retribution but Poelzig insists that fate must wait until the ‘outsiders’ are gone. Of course Poelzig intends to kill the Americans, sacrificing Joan, but forces Werdegast to play a diabolical game of chess the outcome for which the lives of the young couple hinges upon. Werdegast loses and Joan is then taken to another room to await Poelzig, as she is to be his next sacrifice at the black mass ritual during the dark of the moon, in his Bauhaus ceremonial inner sanctum of worship, his sepulcher of debauchery, his sadistic sanctuary, the archaic shrine to the devil.
The essence of which makes the film as disturbing and queasy as any in this contemporary age of violent horror films. Ulmer convinced Laemmle Jr to let him make a film in the European Caligari style, surreal, post modern and artistic. The one condition was that he use Poe’s title for the picture. The story line is hallucinatory, dream like and nightmarish, framed within the architecture of a set that becomes part of the character of the plot. Poelzig it is revealed is the High Priest of a Satanic Cult, there is a scene where we catch sight of him reading a book entitled The Rites of Lucifer, which promotes the customary sacrifice of virgin blood while Werdegast’s beautiful blonde daughter Karen believed to be dead, sleeps next to him most likely kept in a drug induced cataleptic state, to maintain her appearance of a morbid deathly slumber in order to feed Poelzig’s penchant for conflating sexuality with death.
Hjalmar Poelzig owner, engineer and designer of the castle is an intense and eccentric man who’s castle rests upon the bloody ruins and remains of Fortress Marmorus and the slew of graves where the dead betrayed soldiers, victims of his treason during World War I are buried. Poelzig is as removed from his treacherous past as is his Modern castle which denies it’s bloody legacy.
Werdegast accuses Poelzig of betraying the Hungarians to the Russians, while he was the commanding officer of the Fort during the war. Telling him that he was responsible for leaving him and the other soldiers to die or be captured. He also believes that Poelzig stole his wife and child when he was sent to prison, and that they must still be in the fortress somewhere. Poelzig has a room secretly hidden especially for his satanic black masses. As the conflict unfolds, the young couple become the unwitting hostages of these two men.
One of these men is an unorthodox heretic who is consumed with power, death, sublimation and perverse sensuality. The other is blinded by revenge and hatred for the man who destroyed his life. He also has an all consuming fear of cats, and early on in the film kills Poelzig’s black cat, although Poelzig is seen carrying around a black cat with him while he glides around his house as he revisits the women he has encased in glass.
We are first introduced to Poelzig as he is laying on a bed with his young wife Karen, a quite provocative image by 1934 Hollywood standards. The vision is sterile and hypothermic, surrounded by glass, chrome and steel. As the camera moves into Poelzig’s bedroom lair, we see him as he rises up from a prone position emerging in silhouette like a wraith.
Once Joan enters the castle Poelzig is drawn to her, as she is young and attractive possibly baring a resemblance to his dead wife. As the narrative progresses, it becomes even more strange and uncanny, as Poelzig’s dead wife is revealed to have been married to Werdegast, who believed he died during the battle of Marmorus. She marries Poelzig but he murders her soon afterwards, raising their daughter and then in an imbroglio of incestuous lust, marries the ethereal young girl, it’s so creepy and blasphemous.
Werdegast tells Joan “Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the devil of evil? Herr Poelzig is the great modern priest of the ancient cult. And tonight at the dark of the moon, the rites of Lucifer are recited. And if I’m not mistaken, he intends you to play a part in that ritual. a very important part. There child, be brave, no matter how hopeless it seems. Be brave it is your only chance.”
When Poelzig wins the chess game, Peter Allison is chained up and locked away in the dungeon below. Werdegast is spiraling into madness now and has his loyal servant Thamal merely pretend to be loyal to Poelzig in order to help his true master Werdegast. Joan meets Werdegast’s daughter Karen who wanders into her room like a lithe spirit. She introduces herself as Madam Poelzig. Joan tells her that her father is actually alive and in the castle waiting to rescue her. When Poelzig finds out he brutally kills Karen and leads Werdegast to find her body in order to torture him further.
Poelzig’s ascends the grand staircase as his cult guests begin to gather around him. the image is pictorial and impressive. as they ready themselves for the Satanic ritual. The soulless expressions on their faces is quite chilling.
Poelzig begins his intonations to the dark master as Joan is led towards the alter.
Karloff improvises giving a compelling invocation to Satan yet actually consisting of a few harmless latin non- sequesters, phrases he used from his college latin, like Vino Veritas which basically means ‘In wine there is truth’. Cave Canum, ‘Beware of the dog’ and Cum grano salis which is ‘With a grain of salt.’
Werdegast and his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) stop the ceremony, interrupting the sacrifice and eventually avenge his wife’s death and the plundering and despoiling of his beautiful daughter. They rush Joan away from the ceremony and hide her from Poelzig.
This is when Joan tells him that his daughter is quite alive and now been forced to marry Poelzig. Joan’s screams alert Peter who can not enter the barred room. He thinks Werdegast is assaulting her when he is trying to help her find the key to the door and so Peter shoots him, but he lets them escape.
Thamal has been wounded by Poelzig’s servant but rushes to help his master. The two men strap Poelzig to his Art Deco inspired contraption, embalming rack that looks like an angular cruciform, while Werdegast rips away Poelzig’s shirt, grabbing a scalpel he begins to skin his adversary alive.
I’ll leave it here. It’s enough that you’ve seen Poelzig flayed alive. The film deserves a fresh re-viewing. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little overview of this striking masterpiece of Gothic horror featuring two of the most iconic genre stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Please let me know what you think, and please… be kind to black cats…
Davis plays kindly, attentive Nanny who is in charge of looking after precocious 10-year-old Joey Fane (William Dix-Tommy Stubbins in Doctor Dolittle), who has just been released from a hospital for emotionally disturbed children. It is believed that Joey was responsible for the bathtub drowning death of his little sister.
The film works so well fielding paranoia as Joey persecutes Nanny, trying to get his family to believe that it was Nanny who was the one who killed his sister and now looking to do him in. Once his mother Virgie Fane (Wendy Craig) becomes poisoned, a very tautly wound game of cat and mouse ensues as he enlists the help of the girl Bobbie who lives upstairs played by the wonderfulPamela Franklin. The film also stars Jill Bennett as Aunt Pen, James Villiers as Joey’s father Bill, and Maurice Denhamas Dr. Beamaster. Bette Davis is purely marvelous as the very emotionally destructive older woman who has a few secrets that haunt her…
No one straddles the Grande Dame Guignol trope quite like the inimitable, the superb Bette Davis.
I’ll be doing a more extensive post about this film, as well as Dead Ringer 1964, as I just can’t get enough of those eyes – that voice…
Walter Brandi(The Playgirls and The Vampire 1960,Bloody Pit of Horror 1965) plays Albert Kovac an attorney who arrives at a strange desolate castle to settle the estate of the recently deceased Dr. Hauff. Starring the magnificent icon Barbara Steele who plays Cleo Hauff, the young widow who is having an affair. Riccardo Garrone plays Joseph Morgan and Mirella Maravidi plays Hauff’s daughter Corinne. Alfredo Rizzo plays Dr Nemek, and Luciano Pigozzi is the trusted servant Kurt. The history of the castle has been haunted by a curse, furthermore Dr Hauff used to dabble in the black arts and claimed to be able to summon the spirits of the dead victims of the plague to wreak vengeance on those he felt betrayed him.“The water will save you.”
In this atmospheric Gothic Italian horror film from the 60s, there are several creepy and classical effective moments of morbidity and gruesome death scenes. And disembodied hands are always sort of yucky.
Truthfully, I could watch anything that Barbara Steele was in, she has such a splendid kind of sensuality that just oozes off the screen, and those darkly fervent eyes that mesmerize. (wow didn’t really mean to rhyme there)and while this isn’t really a stand out vehicle for her in any way as compared to her other work, the film is not a bad little romp through some vintage Euro chills for it’s 87 minutes, even without the Italian version’s brief gratuitous breast shot. Directed byMassimo Pupillo (Bloody Pit of Horror 1965 with Mickey Hargitay, La Vendetta di Lady Morgan 1965 with Erica Blanc and Barbara Nelli as Lady Susan Morgan and Django Kills Softly 1967) Cinematography by Carlo Di Palmi who worked on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966’s masterpiece Blow Up.
See ya round the snack bar, no butter on mine thanks-MonsterGirl
Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) (British) is director/producer Otto Preminger’spsychological thriller, considered to be part of the noir cannon or Post-Noir yet embraces the suspense thriller sub-genre. A thriller about a little girl who may or may not exist! The film deals with the dread of losing yourself, not being believed, childhood nightmares which are rooted in the sense of lack of safety in the environment where they should be protected.
Starring Carol Lynley (The Cardinal 1963, Shock Treatment 1964,The Shuttered Room 1967) as Ann Lake and Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, Black Christmas 1974) as brother Stephen Lake, the Americans who relocate to London and exude a mysteriously emotionless manner even when they act frenzied, enraged or frantically distressed.
The film also stars Laurence Olivier as Superintendent Newhouse, Martita Huntas retired head schoolmistress Ada Ford, Anna Massey as the uptight Elvira Smollett, Clive Revillas Sergeant Andrews, playwright Noel Coward as Horatio Wilson, the lewd, drunken, seedy and lecherous Landlord who is creepy and inappropriate as he carries his little dog Samantha around with him everywhere. He’s also got a wicked whip collection… one which was once owned by the ‘master himself’ the Marquis de Sade.
Preminger filmed Bunny Lake Is Missing in stunning black & white using a widescreen format on location in London, hiring Director of Photography and cameraman Denys Coop (The Third Man 1949, Saint Joan 1957, Lolita 1962 and Billy Lair 1963) and Production Designer Don Ashton.
The story is based on the mystery novel by Marryam Modell using the pseudonym Evelyn Piper (who also wrote the novel,The Nanny 1965 brilliantly adapted to the screen starring Bette Davis as a very sympathetic yet disturbed nanny) With a screenplay by John and Penelope Mortimer, Preminger adapted Piper’s original novel and re oriented the story taking it out of New York and placing it in heart of London.
The incredibly striking, simplistic and evocative score was composed by Paul Glass (Lady in a Cage 1964) and used not only in the opening titles designed effectively by the great Saul Bass but the theme is used frequently as a childlike refrain, poignant and moving. The British group The Zombiesalso appear in a television broadcast, featuring three of their songs, “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.”
Hope Bryce (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, Exodus 1960, Advise and Consent 1962) was responsible for the Costume design.
A standout performance is Martita Hunt, the wonderful British character actress who was in Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode as the batty aunt Celia Sommerville in The Last of The Summervilles. Here, she plays the school’s eccentric retired old headmistress Ada Ford who listens incessantly to recordings of little children who tell their nightmares and dreams recorded on her reel to reel tape machine.
Columbia Pictures actually wanted Otto Preminger to cast Jane Fonda as Ann Lake, and Fonda was very anxious to play the role, but Preminger insisted on using Carol Lynley.
Much like the hype of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, audiences were not allowed to tell the film’s ending. The film’s poster promoted a tagline “No One Admitted While the Clock is Ticking” I will also choose not to reveal the film’s coda in this post, so as not to give away the culmination of the film’s secrets or it’s finale.
Within the film’s openness, and it’s various environments, it appears that several of the frames are cluttered with visual odds and ends and bits and pieces, the sequence with the unbroken view of dolls, Wilson’s African masks and whips all evidence of the film’s sense of Fetishism.
Bunny Lake is Missing has a visual openness and fluidity which gives the film a striking dimension. The sweeping camerawork is familiar from the noir days of Preminger’s epic Laura (1944), although here it breaks away more completely from the enclosed environs of the 40s noir film.
Denys Coop’s diligent camera seems to peek into corners, moving through doors and up and down those iconographicSTAIRS becoming part of the film’s fretful and apprehensive rhythm. Coop uses peculiar camera angles and lights his subjects from below in order to distort the mood, and throw odd uncomfortable shadows on their faces.
BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING: THE SYNOPSIS
A single American mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley relocates to London England to live with her journalist brother Stephen (Keir Dullea), Ann drops off her four year old daughter Felicia nicknamed ‘Bunny’ on the first day at her new nursery school “The Little People’s Garden.” When Ann returns to see how Bunny is getting on in school, she can not find a teacher or administrator present, except for a cranky German cook who is complaining about serving Junket (which is essentially gruel) played by Lucie Mannheim. Ann is forced to leave Bunny unsupervised in the building’s ‘first day’ room under the promise by the cranky cook that she will look after the child. Ann must rush to meet the movers who are awaiting her at the new apartment. When Ann returns in the afternoon to pick up her little girl, the cook has quit, and she becomes distressed when Bunny is no where to be found and the school’s employees Elvira Smollett (Anna Massey) and Dorothy (Adrienne Corri) who are left in charge fervently obstruct Ann’s attempts at locating Bunny even denying that the little girl was ever at the school in the first place. No one remembers having seen her. This creates a mood of distrust and paranoia.
Ann desperately calls her brother Stephen for help. Ann and Stephen were raised without a father, and Ann never married the man who got her pregnant. She and Bunny have depended on Stephen to take care of them. Brother Stephen becomes enraged by the carelessness of the school’s staff, but Scotland Yard begins to investigate the matter. In walks police superintendent Newhouse acted thoughtfully by Laurence Olivier assisted by Sergeant Andrews played by Clive Revill. Newhouse begins searching through the Lake’s belongings and the details of their lives trying to uncover what seems to be a mystery as to whether the child ever existed at all. He discovers that Ann once had an imaginary childhood daughter named Bunny, but even more odd is that there seems to be no presence of Bunny’s belongings at the Lake’s residence.
There are several red herrings which are inserted into the plot to divert us away from the truth. One such red herring involves retired headmistress, the eccentric Ada Ford played by the marvelous Martita Hunt who seems to have an odd sensibility about children and an acute understanding of childhood motivations which is quickly picked up on by the plasticine yet cold-blooded Stephen Lake.Yet another odd character in the mix is the lecherous landlord Horatio Wilson an aging writer and radio actor played by Noel Coward who revels in his African Fertility Masks and let’s himself into the Lakes apartment at will, in a perpetual state of inebriation lurking about making lewd gestures and propositions to Ann. He also has a collection of whips, exhibiting signs of his sadomasochistic proclivities.
All these strange characters give Inspector Newhouse a lot to digest, as he tries to eliminate all the possible suspects while trying to find a trace of Bunny that proves she actually does exist, not discounting the idea that Ann Lake is a delusional hysterical woman.
Ann and Stephen tell Inspector Newhouse that Bunny’s passport and all her belongings have also gone missing, assumed stolen during the mysterious burglary in the apartment. Another odd detail which doesn’t support Ann’s truly having raised this missing child, is that the school’s authorities claim that they never received a tuition check for a Bunny Lake.
Ann finally remembers that she has a ticket for the Doll Hospital where she took Bunny’s doll. She remembers this during a scene where Stephen is taking a bath, and brother and sister are both just smoking and talking like a married couple. The film constantly hints at traces of a very incestuous relationship, creepily manifested in several scenes, Stephens physical contact with Ann when he tries to comfort her and one other such overt scene while Stephen is taking his bath…
One of William Castle’stautly macabre psycho thrillers written by the prolific Robert Bloch (Psycho). Robert Bloch went on to write the surreal story The Night Walker (1964) starring Barbara Stanwyck. This frenetic yet subtle Grande Dame Guignol style flick in the spirit of Robert Aldrich’sHush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), stars the inimitable Joan Crawford as Lucy Harbin, who after 20 years in an asylum for the double axe-murder of her cheating husband and his lover, returns home to stay with her daughter Carol (Diane Baker) where the tension starts to boils over. As Lucy’s daughter Carol prepares to get married, the bodies start piling up, or I should say the heads start to roll once more. Has Lucy become an axe-wielding murderess again?
Also co-starring Lief Erickson, Howard St John and George Kennedy.
Crawford replaced Joan Blondell in the role of Lucy Harbin after Blondell was injured and couldn’t finish the film. Also Ann Helm had originally been picked to play the role of Carol, but Crawford insisted on them using Diane Baker. There was a lot of product placement of Pepsi-cola as Joan Crawford was on the Board of Directors of the soft drink empire.
Director Arthur Lubin’s quirky horror flick starring the wonderful Gale Sondergaard as the wickedly delicious Miss Zenobia Dollard… Brenda Joyce plays Jean Kingsley the young woman who goes to work as a caretaker for the creepy eccentric Zenobia, not realizing that the woman is draining her blood each night so she can feed her very beloved plant! Also featuring Rondo Hatton(The Brute Man, House of Horrors 1946) as Mario the Monster Man.
Directed by Lee Madden (Angel Unchained 1970, The Manhandlers 1975) he offers us another cult hippie psycho drama feeding off the unsettling vibe and turbulence of the Charles Manson hysteria.
No matter how often I think I’ve uncovered the most obscure cult thriller there’s always another lurking under a rock somewhere for me to feast my wide eyed stare upon, mouth agape and mind working over time to integrate the confluence of cultural debris that emerges like the dregs when you roil the sediment secretly settled on the bottom of the cinematic barrel. This is one such obscure film.
Starring screen beauty Jeanne Crain (Leave Her To Heaven (1945), Pinky (1949) A Letter to Three Wives (1949). The Tattered Dress (1957)
who probably would have rather been given a better role and script, plays the frail and persecuted Fanny Pierce. Alex Nicol plays Fanny’s husband the man in search of his own prosperous church in a better neighborhood. Preacher Willis Pierce (How could we ever forget Nicol’s wonderfully grimy, pathetic and bizarre character Mickey in 1958s The Screaming Skull, or his dizzying performance as the drunken loser husband Jay Fowler in Look in Any Window 1961) No… he’s gotten to play a man’s man plenty , but he is sort of a victim magnet.
Dan Spellingplays the bourgeois Judge Coogan’s son, and irritatingly preppie Peter.Barbara Hancockplays sister Nancy Coogan, Dawn Cleary plays sister Sharon and very busy actor and stuntman Gary Morgan plays little brother Jimmy.
The Night God Screamed opens with a foreboding shape floating as if gliding on top of water, through the eerie sylvan landscape wearing a monk’s robe, his large draped cowl like hood is obscuring the man’s face altogether. He grips an arcane cruciform staff. He approaches a small pond inhabited by the frolicking free love rejects, society’s much reviled flower children of 60s & 70s sub subculture. In other words, as South Park’s irreverent and outrageous Eric Cartman would say ‘dirty hippies’ having lots of random sex and getting high.
The pervasive cut-off tone reveals that they belong to a Manson-esque cult,who is lead by the vitriolic Billy Joe Harlan, a fanatical cult leader who baptizes a few followers and then proceeds to spout a trippy fire and brimstone rant, his own distorted anti-socially virulent version of the Gospel. Much like Manson, his rhetoric engenders a lot of animosity toward the establishment, law enforcement or if you will ‘pigs’ , citizens squares, and anybody who doesn’t see the world through Billy Joe’s lens.
Billy Joe is a violent socio-path who commands his fledgling minions to destroy any phony preachers, combat pigs and try and bring his new version of the Gospel to the youth of America.
Hung up on how Christ was betrayed, he riles his flock of murderous flower children to manifest the power to punish those who do not follow his gospel. To make an example of the dangers of dissension and betrayal he chooses a young girl who has refused to be baptized. And so he gives the word to his faceless hooded angel of death named ‘The Atoner’ to drown her in front of the flock.
“They was all just a bunch of sinners, Lord, fighting and bothering each other…but I saved them, Lord! I showed them that using dope was the way to turn on to You!”
“We got trouble! The Heat won’t leave us alone! They want to bust us for being hooked on You! Them pigs is watching us, Lord…they don’t dig our kinda thing!”
As this soldier of God, known as THE ATONER executes the young girl in front of the mindless youth, the rest of the nasty flock watches without doing a single thing to help the poor girl as she is submerged under the baptismal waters, causing her to drown.
The film cuts away, to a scene where wife and good christian Fanny Pierce (Jeanne Crain) is bringing groceries to the mission where her preacher husband (Alex Nicol) is feeding a hungry collection of bums and down and outers. Right before she can make it inside with her bag of groceries, a very unsavory bum with quite an unattractive tongue, mugs her for the brown paper bag of food, leaving her standing ironically empty handed and assaulted right outside the very soup kitchen where she and her husband have been trying to bring the good works of Jesus to these poor destitute men.
Fanny starts to have her own a crisis of faith, and becomes disillusioned with her husband and his mission. Preacher Willis Pierce appears more worried about the loss of the groceries than concern for his own wife’s safety. He possesses a resolute patriarchal hubris with his grandiose dreams of bringing the gospel to his people, much like Billy Joe, yet not imbued with the vengeful and malevolent fortitude.
Willis wants to build a sizable church in ‘better areas of town’,that would mean more money, more offerings and more notoriety to his name. This is the kind of man Billy Joe despises and is on a crusade to annihilate with his cult of venomous sycophants.
Fanny tells Willis- “God isn’t going to make our house payment!”
In a ridiculous gesture, Willis’ scheme is to erect his new mammoth wooden cross at the revival meeting he plans on holding later on that night. He believes that this will help bring in enough cash of ‘offerings’ to start up his new church. So, without consulting Fanny, Willis spends an enormous amount of money on the large, ludicrously enormous artifact that symbolizes Jesus’ sacrifice but smacks of Preacher Willis’ own egoism. He has used all their savings on this religious ‘manstrosity’, that he will erect in the revival hall which he has rented in a more affluent part of town.
As they haul the large wooden totem across the countryside on top of their old truck , the tension between Fanny and Willis grows. Fanny tells Willis that she’s sacrificed over twenty five years of her life in service to his cause. Willis tries to convince her that the giant cross will be their ‘meal ticket.’
While stopping at a gas station, Billy Joe and one of his religious biker culties Izzy (Richard SmedleyBrain of Blood, The Abductors 1972,The Naughty Stewardesses 1975 ) espy the Pierces and their truck with the cross tied on top and pull in along side them with their motorcycle. It’s here that sets forth the moment of confrontation with fate, and the narrative’s tragic and violent relinquishment of faith sparks.
Billy Joe begins to question Preacher Willis, fascinated with his sizable wooden cross and wants to know what he plans to do with it, asking about the plans for the revival meeting.
It is a moment that points out the deliberate contrary notions of religion, while simultaneously forging an ironic relationship between the extreme zeal, the unfettered fanaticism of the two very self styled evangelists.
Willis prideful and avid enthusiastically offers his fund-raising motivations for his ‘mission’. Billy Joe begins to formulate his vexation, and sets out to dispense Willis with his wrath for his being a false and ‘plastic prophet’. And so as the Pierces continue on their road trip to the revival meeting, Billy Joe summons his nefarious apostles and unleashes his craving to destroy Preacher Willis.
“We’re going to a revival meeting tonight… We’re going on a crusade! Just you, and me Izzy… And the Atoner!”
At the College Lecture Hall, Preacher Willis gives his sermon. Unfortunately it does not bestow upon him the funds needed for his plans to build up his church in a ‘good’ neighborhood. After the sermon, Fanny and Willis’ assistant Paul go outside, leaving Willis by himself in the revival hall.
In a scene that is quite disturbing as the events happen mostly in an utter bluish darkness or diverted to the realm off camera, the cult attacks Willis. They are draped in shadow. Billy Joe begins to persecute Willis, pronouncing him as a ‘ false prophet’ demanding that he be put to death. And so while Billy Joe’s followers restrain and torture poor Willis, the Atoner slowly and painfully nails Willis to his own mundanely magnificent cross.
Fanny is startled by the screams of her husbands who is crying out in agony. She comes back inside the hall, but shrouds herself in the darkness, afraid for her own life, As he cries “Fanny Help me For God’s sake Help me.’ She remains motionless, doing nothing to help him… he is left to die alone now himself a Christ-figure of the film.
The scene switches to a court room, where Billy Joe and his cult followers are all on trial for the murder of Willis Pierce. Judge Coogan pronounces a death sentence on the hippie messiah. Billy Joe explodes into a tirade.
“You son of a bitch! You DUMB son of a bitch! YOU’RE MAKING ME A MARTYR! AHAHAHAHAHA!”
While Billy Joe is convicted and sentenced to death, the remaining cult members encircle and besiege Fanny vowing revenge for Billy Joe. Fanny who was already starting to devolve in her encumbered world, now anguished with guilt for not having helped her husband Willis in his moment of horrific need, wanders away in a somnolent haze.
She remains in this state of disassociation for the rest of the film. The judge hires Fanny as a sort of matron to help with his two sons and teenage daughters who need to be kept in line, shown morals and keep them from acting too wild while their parents go away on a weekend vacation. The Judge grounds the kids and makes them stay in the house with Fanny who is still wholly uptight and out of her mind with guilt over her husbands brutal death.
This breathes even more agitation into the film which is saturated with male hubris and female hysteria, the archetypal hysterical woman lives once again in the embodiment of Fanny Pierce.
On the way to bringing Fanny to his house for the weekend, the Judge dismisses her worries about the two hippies on motorcycles who seem to be following them, and then goes on to instill some social relevance in the bigger picture. “Those kids, like the ones who murdered your husband… they come from broken homes… poor education… they’re just dropouts! Not like ‘my’ kids!”
Of course we are to understand that this is a cue of foreboding irony, reflexive and dilating, as Fanny is charged to take care of the Judges adult teens, who inadvertently become mixed up in the nightmare, as the Atoner and remaining worshipers take siege of the household and terrorize Fanny and the teenagers. Fanny becomes even more unhinged, amidst an ensemble of entitled youths who are the binary figures of the film’s contemporary youth culture. One set of outliers rebelling against a system that reviles them, and the other just as combative and anti-social, yet given the opportunities to reflex their personal freedoms because of affluence, and social capital. Dan Spelling as Peter Coogan, the judges eldest son, is a bit of a social superior, a quiet sociopathic teen who’s poison is brewing under the surface of his perfectly pressed pants and yuppie tennis sweater.
One of the truly great classic horror films packed with atmosphere and a Gothic undercurrent of sensuality Dracula’s Daughter directed by Lambert Hillyer(The Invisible Ray 1936, Convict’s Code 1939) stars Gloria Holden as the imposing Contessa Marya Zeleska and Edward Van Sloan who reprises his role as Professor Van Helsing. Irving Pichel plays the menacing Sandor and Otto Kruger is Doctor Jeffrey Garth, Marguerite Churchill is Janet Blake, and Nan Grey is the bewildered Lili, also co-starring Hedda Hopper as Lady Esme Hammond. Jack P. Pierce did the special make up effects and Vera West was responsible for the fabulous wardrobe.
Based on Bram Stoker’s story, ‘Dracula’s Guest’ this film is an unsung sequel to the 1931 Universal classic starring Bela Lugosi.
Dracula’s Daughter takes up where Dracula ends off, opening within the walls of the dark and somber mansion.
The mysterious Countess Marya Zaleska is indeed Dracula’s daughter, she is faithfully accompanied by her attendant Sandor. They burn her vampiric father’s body during a Black Mass. Though Dracula has been reduced to ashes, Zaleska is is still not free of her father’s curse. She is still bewitched with his blood lust, and a sexual longing, which is only hinted at as an artistic murmur, yet the story never quite rhapsodizes the true nature of her sapphic proclivities.
At first her gaze is set on the beautiful blonde streetwalker Lily, who is hired as a model, but soon after Lili discovers the secret of this curious and enigmatic woman who wants the young girl to do more than merely pose for her. The scene where Zaleska hypnotizes Lili is enthralling. ‘Do you like jewels Lili? These are very old and very beautiful.’
Zaleska reaches out for help from a psychoanalyst Doctor Jeffrey Garth who she feels might be able to help with her unholy cravings. Zaleska becomes obsessed with Garth, and she eventually kidnaps his assistant and fiancée Janet Blake who is taken to Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania where she is held hostage as bait to get Garth to come to her.
Holden who has a dark, unearthly and stunningly swarthy looks, works well as the believable bloodline to Lugosi’s eastern European mannerisms that imbued the classic character of Universal’s Dracula. Dracula’s Daughter is quite an unsung classic, and should be seen by all fans of the genre, it’s a jewel, very old and very beautiful!