Wild! Weird! Wicked!

The Black Cat (1934)

The first in our new series Wild, Weird, Wicked: Films from Before the Code, celebrating the best and wildest films of Hollywood’s pre-code era, 1929-1934.

The Black Cat is one of the freakiest of the Universal horror films, and it’s the first (and arguably the best) to feature both Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff, with the studio whipping up anticipation for the first on-screen meeting of the horror heavyweights with taglines like “Karloff and Lugosi together!” and “the monster of ‘Frankenstein’ plus the monster of ‘Dracula’!” It was also the first (and last) studio production of the great Edgar G. Ulmer, whose unwillingness “to be ground up in the Hollywood hash machine” (plus an affair with a studio exec’s wife) may have kept him in B pictures – many of which, like Detour and The Man from Planet X, are fantastic – for the rest of his career. In what quickly becomes the honeymoon from hell, a young couple survives a horrific car crash along with a mysterious fellow passenger named Dr. Vitus (a psychiatrist played by Lugosi), and shelter in a nearby Bauhaus-style mansion to recuperate. Turns out not only does the mansion belong to a Satan-worshiping architect (Karloff at his sexiest, it must be said), but he served in the war with Vitus, and they are decidedly not old buddies. In Ulmer’s capable hands, what might have easily been a laughable and crude revenge film becomes a melancholy expressionist portrait of two genteel men willing to inflict untold emotional and physical horrors on each other. And in only 66 minutes! But don’t worry, you’ll have your fun too. It has some of the greatest bathrobes ever printed to celluloid, and as J. Hoberman writes, “The Black Cat somehow eluded the moral enforcers of the Production Code despite its allusions to incest, necrophilia and human sacrifice, not to mention a black Mass staged beneath a stylized crooked cross.” (Chicago Film Society)

1h 5m
Edgar G. Ulmer
First Showing
May 14, 2024


Wednesday, May 22, 2024 6:30 PM
Location Little Roxie

Note films start right at the listed showtime.
Free or discounted for members.

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