Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Sleep, The (1956)

...aka: Dr. Cadman's Secret

Directed by:
Reginald Le Borg

Usually the recipient of very negative reviews (nonsense!), this is great fun for classic horror fans and nowhere as bad as its reputed to be. Wrongly convicted of the murder of a money lender, Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley) awaits his death on the gallows. The day before his execution is to take place, aristocratic scientist Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone) offers Ramsay a second chance at life under a new identity via "the black death;" a dark powder from the West Indies that will cause just a temporary demise as long as an antidote is administered within twelve hours. With nothing to lose, Ramsay signs over burial arrangements to Cadman, agrees to assist him in his experiments upon his revival and takes the drug. After dying and being brought back, Ramsay accompanies Cadman to his secluded castle home and the two begin their brain experiments on cadavers. Helping the men are a pair of surgical nurses; older, dedicated Daphne (Phyllis Stanley) and younger Laurie (Patricia Blair), who always seems to be on edge. And it's no wonder she's a bit jumpy... Every time she's left alone, a grunting, limping mental defective named Mungo (Lon Chaney, Jr.), who Cadman allows to freely wander around, tries to strangle her!

Ramsay discovers that Cadman isn't actually using cadavers in the experiments, but living humans, who have been drugged, kidnapped and dropped off by gypsy tattooist Professor Odo (Akim Tamiroff, providing much welcome comic relief). He also discovers that Cadman's chief objective with his experiments is to gain knowledge that will help him revive his wife Angelina (Louanna Gardner), who's been in a coma for eight months. A secret panel hidden behind the fireplace holds another secret. Behind it is a long staircase. Up leads to the surgical room, but down leads to a torture chamber full of disfigured, deranged cast offs from Cadman's previous experiments.

Aside from Rathbone and Chaney, the film completes its awesome all-star cast with supporting roles for Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson and John Carradine. Lugosi (looking pretty feeble in his last role) plays mute butler Casimir, who has absolutely nothing to do other than stand in the background and open and close doors as people come and go. A blank-eyed Johnson has a small part as a basement dweller and, just like Lugosi and Chaney, is given no dialogue. Carradine fairs best in a brief, but hysterically funny role as Bohemund, a deranged profit. Looking like he just walked off the set of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in a long wig, long beard and robe, the actor spends his screen time ranting, raving and beating people over the head with his walking stick!

Rathbone and Tamiroff both give great performances, but the real surprise here is Hudley, who receives sixth billing to all the genre greats, yet easily manages to hold his own with a natural and appealing performance. It's too bad the actor would never appear in another genre film. The film is set in 1872, though the production isn't elaborate enough to ever stray from the cheap looking sets. The brain surgery sequence is very well done, though, and surprisingly grisly for the time, with Rathbone poking and prodding inside a victim's head. Cerebral fluid even gushes out at one point! The make-up designs on the basement mutants are minor but passable. The ending is hectic, rushed and sometimes unintentionally funny, but one thing it's not is boring.
All things considered, I can say with some certainty that most horror buffs will get a kick out of what they see here... granted they can find a copy. As of this writing, the film has never been released on video or DVD. Your best bet is checking the program guide for Turner Classic Movies, who air it every once in awhile.



CavedogRob said...

Great "all star" low budget horror film! It's a shame it's not on DVD for more people to see!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

This was surprisingly fun and should definitely be on DVD just for that cast alone!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...