The Black Sleep

Pitiful DVD cover, no? It's a shame that we have to settle for such haphazard packaging, but we live in an age where major studios don't see the point in nursing catalogue titles back to prestigious repute. Companies like MGM and Warner Brothers have taken the willy-nilly "burn on demand" approach to their libraries. Remember how excited you were when a new line of Midnite Movies was announced? Those days are over, my friend. Hell, if you don't check specific websites on a regular basis, you would never know that certain obscure films are available upon request. It's a miracle that I spotted The Black Sleep on Netflix.

This is a standard "creepy castle" flick from 1956. Ordinarily, it wouldn't goad much of a reaction from the horror community, but it didn't hit DVD until just recently. It's my understanding that it didn't even find a home on video. Another thing that sets The Black Sleep apart from equipollent black-and-white chillers is an all-star cast that includes Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine and Tor Johnson. Let's talk about these dudes for a minute. Chaney is wasted in a thankless role as a profane brute named Mungo. Johnson does his "stumbling oaf" act, and to be fair, he does it well.

Lugosi? Poor, poor Bela. This was his penultimate gig before dying in the summer (Plan 9 From Outer Space holds the distinction of being the last picture that Lugosi appeared in). Of course, he is given the most humiliating part imaginable, that of a mute servant. No lines, no purpose, no dignity...wow, what a sad paragraph. Out of all of the luminaries headlining the bill, Rathbone is the clear victor. I don't mean to suggest that it was a competition, but if it were, ol' Basil made everyone his bitch. He turns in a grounded, puissant performance as Sir Cadman, a mad scientist who damages a few brains in his quest to bring his wife out of a coma.

The title refers to a potion that Cadman uses to anesthetize his patients. "The Black Sleep" disarms your vital signs. For all intents and purposes, you become a corpse, but only temporarily. It's comparable to the voodoo cordial in The Serpent and the Rainbow. The victims in The Black Sleep aren't quite zombies, though. It's semantics anyway. I haven't said enough about the quality of this b-movie (or lack thereof). The storyline is engrossing, and director Reginald Le Borg has the atmosphere cranked up to eleven (Nigel Tufnel would be proud). Obviously, Rathbone is fun to watch, as is Herbert Rudley as the doctor's reluctant assistant.

So why the mediocre rating? Well, I won't remember The Black Sleep a couple of weeks down the road. It's patently generic. If you've seen a great deal of "mad scientist" flicks, this one is going to taste familiar. You won't spit it out, but you won't reach into the cookie jar for a second helping. God, where is this analogy heading? What I'm trying to say is that The Black Sleep is dull. Good-natured, but dull. If it weren't for the talents of Basil Rathbone, I would have a hard time recommending it. Robert Z'Dar says, "I was disappointed. I thought it would be an hour's worth of a black guy sleeping. Where is my refund?"

1 comment:

  1. Can't argue much with this review. It's a decent enough time waster, and any movie with that many horror icons in it is worth watching for me, but in the end it's pretty forgettable.