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Black Room, The - Columbia Print E-mail
User Rating: / 3
Written by Jay Creepy   
Thursday, 03 January 2013

The Black Room Poster on Severed Cinema
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Buy The Black Room from

AKA: Das schwarze Zimmer, Det sorte værelse, Horror en el cuarto negro, Il mistero della camera nera, Kara odanin esrari, Le baron Gregor, Mavro domatio, Svarta rummet, The Black Room Mystery

Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Henry Myers, Arthur Strawn
Produced by: Harry Cohn
Cinematography by: Allen Siegler
Editing by: Richard Cahoon
Music by: RH Bassett, Louis Silvers, Milan Rogers
Special Effects by: Jack Cosgrove, Roy Davidson
Cast: Boris Karloff, Robert Allen, Marian Marsh, Katherine DeMille, Thurston Hall, John Buckler
Year: 1935
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Black and White
Runtime: 1 h 10min

Distributor: Columbia

Old Black and white chillers are hopefully part of every horror fans education whilst growing up.  From the most well known Dracula's, Wolfman's, Frankenstein's and "White Zombie" to lesser known epics like "The Dark Eyes Of London," "The Face At The Window," "The Bodysnatcher"... the list is endless.  It's the lesser known productions, sometimes, which grab the best writers and the best stars.  Of course the star of this film is none other than Boris Karloff.

It's pointless of me to go into his career right here because I'm hopefully preaching to the converted.  On a personal note, what I admire about Mr. Karloff is his diverse talent (on show here especially) and in various interviews he stated that he was quite content with his horror moniker so long as his fans were happy.  A lot of great classic actors fought tooth and nail to get different roles in different genres and could be bitter under their exteriors.  Karloff was no different; he tried to get into other roles, however I suppose seeing the way his career was moving he resigned himself to its direction (and I guess the volume of paid work helped his attitude as well).

"The Black Room" is everything a classic golden age horror should be.  It doesn't include any monsters in make up, but a very sinister human monster.  In this kind of film the melodrama and intense facial expressions take over.

The whole story is built around a cursed noble family who are chained by the old knowledge that the newborn twins shall grow up to be doomed.  Apparently in their grounds there is a black room where legend has it the youngest twin (by a few minutes) shall slay the elder twin, as has happened before many years ago, and the family line shall end with them.  On top of it all, the youngest twin has been born with one paralysed arm so as the delivering doctor sums up, he may be bitter about life.  The family's decision is to brick up the entrance to the black room so to avoid any truth in the legend.

The years pass, the mother and father dies, the twins get older and older, overseen by family friend Colonel Hassel (Thurston Hall).  Terrified by the legends, the younger twin Anton has left the area for many years, leaving his older brother Gregor to rule over the land.  Gregor is a twisted sadistic maniac who is rumoured to be luring village girls to the estate and killing them though no concrete proof exists.  He is hated by the small population who are gradually plucking up the courage to rise up against him.

Receiving a pleading letter from Gregor, Anton returns with his faithful dog Tor at his side.  He is not a bitter person as summed up decades ago, but a kindly man, the total opposite to Gregor.  This is the best thing, since Boris Karloff plays both twins.  Cutaway shots, and a seamless split screen (awesome for its time) give his acting against himself such power that you end up believing there are two totally different actors in the room.  Gregor has wild hair and a broad sneer.  Anton has a smile, slick back hair and of course a paralysed arm forever pressed against his chest.

Of course it's all a cunning scheme.  Gregor shows Anton the new entrance to the black room.  Both twins enter, only one leaves.  Gregor now imitates Anton to gain the trust of the town and the Colonel and win the hand of the Colonel's niece, Thea.  Here's the money shot quality in the performance because now Boris Karloff is in fact playing a third character style as Gregor has to become Anton in manner and appearance.  Of course it is hard and Gregor does make mistakes, and has to resort to killing members of the cast and the climax takes the story full circle with a satisfying outcome.

Being from the thirties, it's fun to see the stage setting graveyards and village roads with only a few exterior shots.  The sets are well constructed, even the painted night skies.  The violence is mainly off camera and sometimes hard to figure out.  I mean, what does Gregor actually do to Colonel Hassel?  Stab him?  Choke him?  Fist him?  All we see is the Colonel's hand crunching up in agony as he stands by a fireplace.  Our imagination can run wild.  It's nice to see Tor the dog have a critical role in the film as well.

Of course Karloff dominates the proceedings but Marian Marsh plays her part very well and you can see her pure revulsion for Gregor and her torn loyalties for her true love (some geeky standard b/w hero type) and her uncle's wishes.

The plot is excellent and does take some unexpected jolts along the way, and of course some moments are cliché even for its era (revolting villagers storming the manor for example) but that's the fun part.

So far as I can see "The Black Room" is only available on DVD as part of The Icon's Of Horror: Boris Karloff  four film collection along with "The Man They Could Not Hang," "The Boogie Man Will Get You," and "Before I Hang" so it has a raw deal but at least it's a nice polished copy.  Karloff is someone who can easily be overlooked as just a monster actor or man in make up.  Think Boris and you think a square head maybe.  Away from his most famous creation are little gems like this, just ripe for rediscovery, since others like "Isle Of The Dead," "Bedlam" and "The Bodysnatcher" are being granted new releases.

The Black Room Lobby Card on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

The Black Room Screenshot on Severed Cinema

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John Stone  - Associate professor   | |2013-10-05 07:26:15
The Black Room is also available as a Zone 0 set from L'Atelier 13 of Spain: puerta-de-latelier-13/.
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