Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Black Cat (1934)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Black Cat (1934)

In Edgar Ulmer's dark horror film (suggested by an Edgar Allan Poe story), with surrealistic, moody cinematography and bizarre sets:

  • the most memorable and key sequence - Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) (who had suffered during the war as a POW, and was held for 15 years in Siberia by the Russians) was taken on a tour of a tomb-like mausoleum in the dark cellar of his host - the treacherous but famed architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff); Poelzig had built his Central European home in Hungary on the very foundations of Fort Marmorus during WWI; Werdegast was shown the perfectly-embalmed body of his beloved ex-wife Karen (Lucille Lund) who had been stolen away by Poelzig after he had allegedly betrayed Werdegast to the enemy; Poelzig had kept a transparent glass-encased display of her body (among many others), positioned upright and floating or in suspended animation within the sarcophagus; he boasted that he had preserved her for all eternity: "Now you see, Vitus, I have cared for her tenderly and well. You will find her almost as beautiful as when you last saw her. She died two years after the war...Is she not beautiful? I wanted to have her beauty - always. I loved her too, Vitus"
  • completely devastated by the sight, Werdegast's intentions were to immediately kill Poelzig with a drawn revolver - for lying and for murdering his wife Karen, but the cat-phobic Werdegast was halted by the frightening appearance of a black cat
  • then, at the end of this superb long sequence, as they both started to go back towards the spiral iron staircase, the subjective camera became Poelzig and followed his slow and gliding path; Poelzig gently talked to the broken doctor in a memorable, world-weary monologue with a ponderous voice, comparing them both to living ghosts of the war: "Come, Vitus. Are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures? You say your soul was killed and that you have been dead all these years. And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmorus fifteen years ago? Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder? Are we not both the living dead? And now you come to me, playing at being an avenging angel - childishly thirsty for my blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death, if you like. But under any circumstances, we shall have to wait until these people have gone, until we are alone"
  • the expressionistic scene of devil-cult priest-worshipper Poelzig holding a ritualistic Black Mass for fellow Satanists; Poelzig stood on a simple altar behind a sideways double cross, where he was about to perform a human sacrifice of house guest Joan Alison (Julie Bishop as Jacqueline Wells) to the Devil, but she was saved
  • the conclusion featured the terrible torture-revenge of Werdegast skinning his victim Poelzig alive with a scalpel on an embalming torture rack (the victim's manacled hands were seen in dark silhouette on the wall): "Do you know what I am going to do to you now? No? Did you ever see an animal skinned, Hjalmar? Ha, ha, ha. That's what I'm going to do to you now - flay/tear the skin from your body...slowly...bit by bit!...How does it feel to hang on your own embalming rack, Hjalmar?"
Torture/Revenge - Poelzig Skinned Alive by Dr. Werdegast
  • at the last moment, Werdegast proposed to destroy both of them by detonating explosives left over from the war by throwing a switch: "It's the red switch, isn't it, Hjalmar? The red switch ignites the dynamite. (He activated one of the large switches) Five minutes and Marmaros, you and I, and your rotten cult will be no more...It has been a good game" - Poelzig's house was reduced to rubble and the two of them perished inside

Dr. Werdegast's Embalmed Wife Karen

Werdegast vs. Poelzig

Black Cat

Poelzig to Werdegast: "Are we not both the living dead?"

Devil Cult Worship - Poelzig Led Black Mass

Destructive Explosion of Poelzig's Home


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