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Forgotten: The Black Room (1935)

Ah, Boris Karloff. Frankenstein's Monster. Infamous in cinema, and yes, largely horror, Mr. Karloff will to many reign as a supreme icon of horror.

We all know him in one guise or another.

But The Black Room? Never heard of it?

When I was a young man, still living with my parents in a one VCR house - as many of us were - I was dashing out of the house for the evening. It was a Friday, I was meeting my friends for the usual evening of debauchery in the local ale house, when I remembered. There was a late night horror on that I would not be home to see - so, casually - on the way out, I asked my parents to video it. It was, after all, their recorder.

When I resurfaced - the next day - it was relayed to me that the film had been taped.

It was Body Bags. An anthology horror starring no less than Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame and David Naughton - a certain American Werewolf in London.

I was told: There was another scary movie on afterwards - an old one - we left the tape running.

Bedashed, I thought, for I would not want to see an old horror film.

The Black Room (1935)
Starring: Boris Karloff
Directed by: Roy William Neill

Roy William Neill - who you'll all remember as directing many Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies - does a stand out job with this little remembered, and hard to find odd little horror movie.

Karloff plays twin brothers Gregor and Anton. The premise of the film is simple - especially with its short running time (70min) - a power struggle between the two brothers/wanton misuse of power/call it what you will. Of course one is good and the other ostensibly evil. Oh, and there is a prophecy that one brother will kill the other. The usual.

The acting is stand out. Karloff's supporting players do a wonderful job and the man himself is amazing. It was one of my first looks at a master of horror. Playing two different people, with their differences is done by a master of cinema who proves in this near unheard of film that he could match any actor today.

He's also terrifying, and electrifying.

Gregor - the evil brother - is a typeset bad guy. He's a murderer, rapist, cad, bounder... and Karloff seems cast to play him with such glee and wonderful abandon, however, seems equally cast as the good natured and benign Anton.   

The story plays out in the imaginable way until - no spoilers here - about halfway through when the inexplicable happens. Literally, all pre-conceptions dive out of the window and the film becomes ten times more chilling.

Then there is the twist at the end.

Mind. Blown.

Leaving aside the amazing acting, direction and story telling involved, there is also one stand out thing that will always set this film apart in my mind.

Do you remember this, and the jaw-dropping amazement that came with it:

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Well here it is 63 years earlier, and may I say, flawlessly done.

The Black Room (1935)
The Black Room is a fun watch, for its time it is dark, terrifying and skillfully executed. You can buy it on region 1 DVD in the Boris Karloff Collection, Icons of Horror, here, or, if like me, you can always track it down on video. Good old VHS. Yes. I have a cardboard slip-cased video somewhere near as old as me.

See you in the lobby, film fans...

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