The Film (4/5)
When it came to the 1950s, science fiction and horror movies had an “anything goes” style of filmmaking, such as giant monsters, giant robots, man sized mutated monsters, and mad scientists. Some of these films were classics with a B level cast, while other genre films would be classified as a B movie or in some cases, a grade Z movie, but having an A-list cast. The Black Sleep falls in the latter category.
Set in the year 1872, The Black Sleep, also known as Dr. Cadman’s Secret, is about mad scientist Dr. Joel Cadman (the great Basil Rathbone from Son of Frankenstein, Love from A Stranger, The Scarlet Claw and many others) who is conducting brain experiments with assistant Dr. Ramsey. He needs to do these experiments, which he hopes that he will not fail when he performs the removal of a brain tumor from his wife. These experiments are his rehearsals as it were. His method of using living patients is by using an East Indian drug "nind andhera" which he has named it “The Black Sleep”. He uses the drug which renders his subjects to become unconscious and performs his experiments. All of his experiments were all failures and his subjects became either looney tunes, deaf mute, or both.
While not an all-time classic, The Black Sleep did have a lot going for it. It has a great atmosphere that nearly captures the aura of many of the classic horrors of the 1930s, and 1940s. Not since House of Dracula had there been such as ensemble of classic horror actors. And sadly, I felt that some of them were wasted in this film, despite the movie being really compelling to watch. Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Human Monster), in his last role, who looked like death to begin with in this movie, is Casimir, a servant. John Carradine (House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, Fallen Angel, The Grapes of Wrath) plays Borg aka Bohemond, who is more or less a nutcase spewing all kinds of blasphemy. With his long hair and beard, he looks about as silly as Ive ever seen him. He is chained to the one and only Tor Johnson (Plan Nine from Outer Space, The Beast of Yucca Flats) as Curry, a mindless looking character that seems to be the same as every other film he did. Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man, Man Made Monster, The Cyclops) is also wasted as Mungo, playing a mute maniac who wants to choke out his daughter for some reason. Nothing like a movie where both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr have absolutely NO lines of dialog to spew! Akim Tamiroff (The Vulture) plays Odo, also assisting Dr. Cadman with his crazy experiments, and has the second best role in the film. The best role goes to Basil Rathbone who as always gives a great elegant performance.
Kino’s release of The Black Sleep is just outstanding, better than what anyone had a right to think it would look. The film is presented in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in its original 1:85:1 widescreen ratio; the picture quality is nothing short of spectacular. This is as crisp and clear as I have ever seen it; the image boasts excellent detail, clarity with present grain. You can definitely retire the MGM MOD DVDr release. The English DTS-HD master audio 2.0 mono track is terrific. No issues to report. Dialog and music are loud and clear. In fact, it was so boomed I had to lower the volume to what I normally keep it at.
Kino has delivered a few good extras for The Black Sleep including an audio commentary by film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter. There is also “Trailers from Hell” hosted by Joe Dante, and trailers for Donovan's Brain, The Black Sleep, and The Magnetic Monster.
For a movie considered to be somewhere between a B movie and super schlock, The Black Sleep, for one thing, isn’t that bad a movie, especially if you are into these kinds of movies. And also, Kino has given this movie the royal treatment and as far as I am concerned, I can’t see any other label wanting or willing to give this movie this much care and treatment which it has been given with this release.