October 15, 2013

Horror-A-Day: The Black Sleep

The chill has thus far been a tease. Evidence of the lack of real pre-Halloween chills can be found as close as me, the shorts have not yet been tucked away. Now, with that image seared into your brain (sorry), the horror-a-thon continues with yet another movie I have not seen. No matter how many you discover, there is always a steady flow filled with other sights to be discovered right behind. The one thing I need to try and figure out is how to parlay this horror run to the rest of the year. Thoughts for another time.

This time out I went a little older than most of my other choices this month. The movie is from 1956 and goes by the title The Black Sleep. I had never heard of it before, but I am pretty glad I stumbled across it on Netflix. It is a movie that does not seem to be very well regarded, but I am not sure why. No, it is not the most clever, dark, twisted, or original tale, but it is still rather entertaining and has a pretty neat collection of classic horror stars, the likes I was not expecting when I pressed play. More on that in a bit.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley). He is in prison, wrongly convicted of murdering a money lender and awaiting his execution. It's a rather grim way to meet our protagonist. He is visited by Sir Cadman, a former teacher and current friend. He comes and offers to help Ramsay lessen his pain by putting a dark powder into the doomed mans water.

Turns out, the powder induces something Cadman calls the Black Sleep (ah, now the title makes sense). It is an East Asian drug that creates a death-like state. Using this powder, Cadman manages to save Ramsay and give him a new life. He is not without his reasons, he needs him to assist with his brain experiments. Yes, Cadman is a mad scientist and he has a house littered with the remains of failed experiments, in the presence of mindless people in the basement, sad victims of a scientist mad plans.

So, the good Dr. Ramsay has to find a way to put a stop to Cadman's plans. It is actually pretty interesting as Cadman may be crazy, he believes to be altruistic. He doesn't believe in capitol punishment, but he does believe in sacrificing life in the name of medical science, even of they are not willing participants. You see, he uses the Black Sleep to get his patients ready for surgery. His end goal is to save his wife from a tumor in her brain.

Still, he was not a nice guy and made up his own rules with total disregard for those he operated on. No, it does not exactly get deep, but it has some meat there and is fun to watch.

Now, I mentioned a collection of horror stars, they are not all main parts, but it is great to see it. Starting at the top is Basil Rathbone, who stars as Sir Cadman. He clearly enjoys the villainous mad scientist and definitely sinks his teeth into the role. Moving down the cast you will find Bela Lugosi as a mute butler. A little further down you find Lon Chaney, Jr. as a former doctor and now crazed surgical victim with a desire to strangle a young nurse. Down in the surgical reject pit is Tor Johnson, probably best known for his turn in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Finally, John Carradine also appears as another surgical reject. Quite the collection, not to mention this was Lugosi's last active role.

Don't listen to naysayers, The Black Sleep is nice old school gothic mad scientist horror with a great, if underused, cast.


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