The concept of twin brothers, one good and one evil, is an age-old tale. In 1935, Boris Karloff brought it to life in one of my all-time favorite horror flicks, The Black Room. As with any story involving one actor playing dual roles, subtle changes in mannerisms and appearance can be quite effective for convincing the audience they are two different people. With Karloff, who in reality was quite a gentle person, the duality came quite easy and adds to overall believability of the story.
Twin sons are born into the de Berghmann family. Anton is born with a lame right arm while Gregor is strong and healthy. As time passes, Gregor becomes baron and rules over the kingdom with an iron fist while Anton travels the world. Upon Anton’s return, he is shocked to see what his brother has become and how much the people hate him. He cannot believe his brother Gregor is all that bad. When the villagers decide to rise up, Anton protects his brother while Gregor agrees to step down. Anton becomes baron but it’s only a matter of time before murder rears its ugly head. For in the black room is a pit where Gregor has disposed of many of his enemies and Anton is the only thing standing between him and the woman he desires.
Karloff did a few period films over his vast career and here, he was able to combine he gentle side with his menacing in a shroud of horror and mystery. I have fond memories of watching this film on a Saturday night in the early 80s when Crematia Mortem presented it on the Creature Feature. My dad and I stayed up late to watch it together and every time I’ve seen it since, it takes me back to simpler times. Karloff here is at his most wicked and The Black Room stands as one of his very best. It is one of four films on The Icons of Horror Collection, which is a fantastic set and well-worth tracking down as it is now out-of-print. Add it to your collection today!