June 4th, 2009

THE BLACK ROOM (1935) ** ½

A baron’s wife gives birth to a set of twin boys.  Since there is a family prophecy that states the baron’s son will murder his twin in the titular room, the baron orders the room to be walled up.  Twenty five years later, the “bad” twin Gregor (Boris Karloff) is now in power and makes a habit of stealing his subjects’ womenfolk.  When the villagers threaten to lynch Gregor, he hands the throne to his “good” twin brother Anton (also Boris).  Really though, Gregor’s just plotting to kill his brother and take his place.


The Black Room is kinda like Tower of London (with parts of The Man in the Iron Mask sprinkled in) in that it’s not really a Boris Karloff horror film, but more of a costume drama about a devious, conniving murderer.  Like Tower of London, The Black Room gets a bit dull whenever Boris isn’t going batshit insane on someone.  Then again, you do get two Borises for the price of one with this flick, so it’s got that going for it.  While Boris is OK while portraying the aristocratic Anton,   he really gets to chew the scenery as the disheveled and crazed Gregor  The scenes where there are two Borises on the screen at the same time are quite well done (particularly for the time the film was made), and makes up for some of the flick’s miscellaneous shortcomings. 


While The Black Room is kinda light in the horror department, Karloff’s excellent performance(s) make it a breezy 70 minutes.  If anything, this flick is memorable for the climatic wedding scene.  You know the part in every wedding scene where the minister says, “Speak now or forever hold your peace” and someone inevitably intervenes?  Well, this is the first time in movie history I think where a dog steps in to stop the ceremony!  Unbelievable. 


Director Roy William Neill went on to helm the awesome Frankenstein Meets Wolf Man.


AKA:  The Black Room Mystery.

BEFORE I HANG (1940) **

Boris Karloff stars as Dr. Garth, the “Mercy Killer” who is on trial for assisting in the suicide of his patient (kinda like a prototype of Jack Kevorkian I guess).  While on death row, the court allows Garth to continue his experiments and he winds up creating a serum that restores his youth.  The serum also has a peculiar side effect:  it turns him into a wild-eyed murderer.  Pretty soon, Garth escapes from prison and goes on a killing spree.  


This cheapie sci-fi potboiler from Columbia has a promising premise but it takes far too long to get cooking.  Even though the flick runs a scant 62 minutes, Before I Hang really plods along at a lumbering pace and seemingly takes forever to arrive at its predictable conclusion.  Karloff does a solid job playing yet another variation on his Kindly Old Scientist Who is Actually a Homicidal Maniac role, yet his presence alone isn’t enough to save this lukewarm B picture.  Edward (Dracula) Van Sloan also puts in a decent turn as Boris’ ill-fated assistant.


Boris gets the best line of the flick when he says, “Your old age is a disease and I have the cure for it!”