Theatrical Release: June 1956
Blu Ray Release: March 22, 2016
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Review by James Klein
Known as the last completed film in Bela Lugosi’s career, Kino’s release of The Black Sleep is a who’s who of horror icons minus Karloff and Lore (and if you don’t know these two giants by last name, just stop reading this review and go back to your CGI superhero movies).
Directed by the stylish Reginald Le Borg (The Mummy’s Ghost, Diary of a Madman) The Black Sleep stars Basil Rathbone as the mad scientist Sir Joel Cadman who brings back to life a wrongfully accused former doctor named Gordon Ramsey (no relation to the chef) who aids Cadman with his experiments regarding a sleeping powder called “the black sleep”. This powder can make the person who takes it appear dead almost as if under heavy anesthesia as the person lays still in a trance-like state until it wears off. Give someone too much of the powder and they may never wake up.
Cadman and Ramsey assist one another in what appears to be an experiment to bring back to life Cadman’s wife who appears to be in a coma due to a brain tumor. Much to Ramsey’s reluctance, Cadman experiments on the brains of other patients to try and figure out a way to bring his wife back. Once Ramsey finds out that these patients are not corpses but victims who were under the influence of “the black sleep”, he decides to go against the mad doctor until the crazed victims with the damaged brains turn the tables on Cadman.
The Black Sleep is simply a fun and strange little movie with a rather menacing but sympathetic performance by Rathbone. The film was marketed as an Expendables-like picture filled with the likes of horror icons but Lugosi, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, and Tor Johnson are given very little screen time or are given roles where they play mutes. Seems like such a waste and a major letdown for Lugosi (playing the mute butler) who passed away soon after the picture was released.
Strangely, the film has a rather odd but yet intriguing subplot revolving around Akim Tamiroff as Odo, an artist who works for Cadman and captures these poor victims into taking “the black sleep” before bringing their lifeless bodies to Cadman to butcher. During the audio commentary track by film historian Tom Weaver, the role of Odo was to have been played by Peter Lorre who turned it down for various reasons. It seems bizarre that the film breaks away from its central characters in the middle of the film to focus on this character.
Kino’s blu ray looks pretty damn good. Clear, crisp and sharp, this disc looked great to me. There is a little bit of print damage that only a nitpicker like myself would notice. Very minor complaint if any. The audio does have a bit of a hiss but seems like it could be the actual source material but I am not 100% sure. One can still hear the dialog and the music is loud and prominent. As I had previously mentioned, the audio commentary by Weaver is insightful and very detailed. There is a Trailers From Hell done by Joe Dante where he discusses the film during the movie’s theatrical trailer. Anything with Dante is always good so I liked this little added feature. There are also trailers for other Kino releases included as well.
Fans of old classic monster films and mad scientist films will no doubt enjoy The Black Sleep. It’s a great time waster and a fun little horror flick. Kino’s blu ray also does a fantastic job in restoring this thriller in HD.
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