Movie Review – The Black Sleep (1956)

1956’s The Black Sleep feels more like a 1940s Gothic monster mash than most of its contemporary films. Directed by Reginald Le Borg, who was known for his low-budget horrors from the 1940s, the film features an all-star cast of genre greats.

Basil Rathbone plays Sir Joel Cadman who puts victims into a death-like coma and operates on their brains. Rathbone is best remembered for his turns as Sherlock Holmes throughout the 1940s but found fame in various genres. Lon Chaney, Jr. (1941’s The Wolf Man) and Bela Lugosi (1931’s Dracula) once again reunite. They had been featured in movies together many times and this, unfortunately, would be Lugosi’s last feature film role – one in which he does not even have a speaking part. Lugosi’s career sputtered through the 1940s and 50s, being relegated to bit parts in poverty-row horror movies, and he would die the year of this movie’s release, being buried in his Dracula cape.

John Carradine, who took over Lugosi’s role of the Count in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), has a small part. The bald, hulking Swedish wrestler and micro-budget horror actor extraordinaire Tor Johnson also stars, looking much like he would in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and 1961’s The Beast of Yucca Flats, which even for schlock fans can be a test of endurance.

The Black Sleep takes its time and can occasionally lull, though Rathbone’s magnetic presence draws the audience in and makes even the most dialogue-heavy scenes engaging. The viewer feels his absence from the screen like an uncomfortable draft, save for Akim Tamaroff’s scene as Udu the Gypsy where he seduces a vain woman to her own demise. The finale, however, is entertaining, as it can only be when a woman is running through the halls with her back aflame.

Grade: C

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