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The Curator of Schlock #293 by Jeff Shuster

The Black Cat

Lugosi + Karloff = Total Terror!

It’s October, and you know what that means! Your humble Curator of Schlock will transform into the vile Curator of Schlock! All month long, I will be watching some of the scariest motion pictures Tinsletown ever produced. Tonight’s picture is 1934’s The Black Cat from director Edgar G. Ulmer. It stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. This movie is Universal Studios biggest box office success from 1934. It made $236,000. I guess that was a lot back then. The Black Cat is also one of the earliest examples of psychological horror so those of you out there who hate horror movies might like this one.

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The title credits read The BLACK CAT SUGGESTED BY THE IMMORTAL EDGAR ALLEN POE CLASSIC. I remember reading “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe back in the second grade. A substitute had us read the short story, but she regretted it as the story revolves around a man torturing and killing a black cat over and over again. He evens cuts the cat’s eye out. Now see, this is what you give young boys to read if want to get them interested in reading. Not Johnny Tremain.

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This movie has nothing to do with Poe’s “The Black Cat.” It starts out with newlyweds Peter (David Manners) and Joan (Julie Bishop) on a train traveling to Hungary. They’re a good looking, yet boring couple. A mysterious man named Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) joins them in their train compartment. He’s a Hungarian psychiatrist fresh out of a fifteen-year stint in a Siberian prison camp after serving in World War I. When Joan falls to sleep in Peter’s arms, Dr. Werdegast reaches out and almost touches her hair. He begs Peter this indulgence as Joan looks like his late wife.

Weird.

They get in some kind of shuttle bus after the train stops, but it gets into an accident. Peter brings an unconscious Joan to the house of an old friend of Dr. Werdegast, Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Dr. Werdegast isn’t all that fond of Poelzig as his command resulted in the death of thousands of Austro-Hungarian soldiers to the Russians. Poelzig also told Dr. Werdegast’s beautiful wife that he died in the war. Poelzig then married Dr. Werdegast’s beautiful wife while he was stuck in a Siberian prison. Ouch! Some friend!

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Did I mention that Poelzig is a great Austrian architect? I guess he’s like the Frank Lloyd Wright of Austria. This is a weird house with sliding doors that adjoin each room. So much for privacy. Dr. Werdegast finally confronts Poelzig about his wife only to learn that she died many years ago. Poelzig kept her perfectly preserved in a glass case in his basement. Poelzig’s not lonely, though. He simply married Dr, Werdegast’s hot, young daughter. Dr. Werdegast  wants to shoot Poelzig, but he freezes in fear at a black cat that crosses his path.

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Did I mention that Poelzig is a Satanist? Yeah, he’s got a devil-worshipping cult coming over for a human sacrifice party.  They’ve got those black robes and everything. Who is the human sacrifice? Joan the newlywed, of course.

I’m not going to spoil the ending, but let’s just say it features a man getting skinned alive and a whole lot of dynamite.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.