It’s time to go old school and take a look at two classics from Universal, The Black Cat (1934) and The Raven (1935). These two movies were the first to star both legends of the silver screen, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Karloff had established himself with several films by this point, including Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932). For Lugosi, he had started strong with Dracula (1931) and continued with Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). Here, both stars are treated as equals on screen, despite Karloff receiving top billing in both.
In The Black Cat, Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a satanic worshipper living in Hungary. Lugosi is Dr. Vitus Werdegast, a man seeking revenge upon Poelzig for the death of his wife and disappearance of his daughter. An accompanying newlywed couple becomes wrapped up in this tale of revenge, filled with amazing visuals and a classical music soundtrack that runs throughout the background of the film, very rare at the time. No surprise that this movie was a huge hit, guaranteeing both men future box office success. It has topics very uncommon for the day, including necrophilia, torture and satanic worship. Highly recommended classic!
In The Raven, Lugosi stars as Dr. Richard Vollin, a surgeon who is quite obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, even recreating Poe’s torture devices in his own personal chamber of horrors. This was Lugosi’s movie but Karloff’s star power still had him being top-billed. Karloff plays a criminal who becomes Vollin’s tool of revenge upon the Thatcher family after his love for the lovely Jean was rebuffed. For 1935, the scenes of torture and revenge were not openly accepted by the movie audience and it did not do well at the box office (despite the same themes being well-received the previous year). In fact, this movie has been credited for the lull in horror movies in the late 30s. That said, it’s highly recommended as a truly grisly tale clocking in at just over an hour.
Both movies are available on DVD in The Bela Lugosi Collection. With three other movies and at a price of less than $25, it is well worth the investment. They are also available through the Universal Vault Series separately but the Lugosi box set is the way to go. Also, be sure to listen as Derek Koch discuss the Karloff and Lugosi films in episodes 34 and 35 of his Monster Kid Radio podcast. Derek and yours truly had a great time talking about these two horror legends.