The Black Room is a slight, but effective little horror film that gives us the pleasure of seeing Boris Karloff as twin noblemen. When there are twins in the movies, one of two things will happen. Either both are really evil (like twins in real life) or there is one that’s evil and one that’s a pretty good guy. When you have one of each, it allows lots of cool stuff to go on, usually involving the bad twin impersonating the good twin so that he can do twice the bad things in half the time.
One twin Karloff plays is named Anton, which sounds like a guy who likes to write poetry and talk about fencing. We know he’s the good twin because his hair is combed, he dresses very dapper-like and his right arm is paralyzed.
We know the other twin, Gregor, is evil because he kills lots of young, pretty girls in his super-secret Black Room!
So what is the Black Room exactly? It all started back when the Berghman family first began and there were these twins and the younger one killed the older one. From then on somebody in marketing dreamed up the gimmick that the family would end as it began, with the younger twin killing the older twin and in …The Black Room!
So you can imagine the consternation of Gregor and Anton’s father when he finds out he’s got himself a brand new set of twins! The father wrings his hands, bemoaning his family’s fate, but recognized that at least it wouldn’t transpire until he was dead, so who really cares?
Some of the father’s pals are like, “come on, don’t believe some hokey old prophecy, even if it is engraved on the family crest.”
Then one of them comes up with this bright idea to foil the prophecy from coming true. Since the killing is supposed to occur in the Black Room, why not just wall up the Black Room so that the twins can’t get in there. Uh, yeah, I guess. I just might have painted it a different color and called it the Blue Room or something, but I guess you could wall it up, too.
This is the perfect plan except the contractors decide that in addition to walling it up, they’ll also throw in a secret entrance at no additional charge, thus allowing the teenage Gregor to hide his Playboys in there and the adult Gregor to hide the bodies of chicks in there.
Years go by, their parents die and Anton moves out leaving the older Gregor to live in the castle and torment the female residents of the local village .
Eventually, the kidnapping and murdering of their wives, girlfriends, and sisters wears thin on the populace and they start to demand that Gregor implement new programs, like not killing women.
So the chaps at the inn, who apparently don’t have jobs, sit around complaining about the Gregor and debating whether they should impeach him or form an angry mob and storm the castle when Anton comes back to town.
On his way to the castle someone shoots at him since they think he’s the evil twin. On the plus side of things, Anton has a faithful dog with mammoth balls! It’s like my grandpappy always said, you can put up with a lot of crap in life if you have the dog with the biggest nuts!
Karloff’s good performance in both roles highlight the remainder of the film. Aside from the physical differences (bad hair, clothes, crappy right arm) in the twins, he’s able to show us the differences in the men with the way he carries himself in each role.
Gregor slouches and scowls and has a smile that is one of obvious contempt, while Anton hold himself in an upright way, a pleasant chap with a winning face and good word for everyone in spite of the fact that he has to hold his right arm, bent at the elbow, up to his shoulder.
Gregor invites Anton into the Black Room. Like the goody-goody dunce he is, Anton goes in there and gets dumped down that hole and dies. Big Balls the dog is suspicious and barks a lot.
At one point during the movie, Gregor grabs a whip that is lying around the living room and whips Big Balls because he keeps barking at the Black Room and at Gregor. How he missed whacking those balls, I’ll never know!
Gregor assumes Anton’s identity and does what any of us would do if we were pretending to be our nice guy twin brother – frame a guy for murder and force a marriage on some chick who wants to marry the guy framed for murder! The murder of her dad!
But even the greatest schemes can be undone by the tiniest of details! In this case, those itty bitty details happen to be the basketball-sized gonads of that crazy dog, Big Balls!
It was fun watching Karloff play a good guy for a change and also fun to watch him chew scenery as the smugly deranged Gregor. His characters weren’t often in the same scene together so you weren’t really distracted by the tricks they had to use to get him to appear with himself. The one time we saw both simultaneously was handled very well with some trick photography and looked fine. The rest of the cast is fairly unmemorable, but they mainly exist to react to Gregor’s antics.
A Columbia release that’s often lost in the shuffle in the Universal-dominated horror genre of the 1930s, and one that you should seek out if you at all like Karloff, good horror movies, and well-endowed dogs.
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