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King Karloff Reigns Supreme!
BaronBl00d12 October 1999
This film, little known except amongst traditional horror fans, is a sparkling gem. It is an outstanding story about two twin brothers, one of them evil and the other benevolent, who grow up surrounded by a curse that says the older brother will die at the hands of the younger brother in the mysterious Black Room. Karloff plays both brothers and he is excellent, quipping evil commands and leering as the malevolent sibling and prancing and being overly solicitous as the good brother. Karloff breathes life in every pore of this film. He is the focal point of attention as he speaks each line. Few of his performances show so much of his range and few show him as such a twisted, ruthless individual. This is a must see for the Karloff fan, or any fan of good old-fashioned horror stories.
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Excellent, intelligent horror treat
James L.12 September 2000
Warning: Spoilers
The basic plot:There is a pair of twin brothers, one good, the other lecherous and dishonest. Due to a family legend , the bad brother murders the good brother in the black room ,impersonating the good brother, but he get's his comeuppance.....

The praise: In many ways this horror classic is really a clever, thrilling Grimm-like fairy tale with strong horror elements. The entire thing has the ornate , gothic look of a fairy tale anyway.Great sets, costumes, and lighting. Very moody and atmospheric , it also is suspensful and tightly structured , allowing the movie to pump in lots of decor and great acting.By Karloff , that is . This is a true gem for him, allowing him to play both brothers. He does this excellently , bringing in subtle shades of good and evil in two great performances that are different yet the same. He also plays the role with a kind of poetry , as well as deliciously expressive face expressions married with potent speech for some wicked lines. A must-see.
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One of Karloff's best performances
oyason19 August 2004
Boris Karloff only made a handful of movies that demonstrated he had some real range as an actor, and of that handful, THE BLACK ROOM has to rate as one of the best. In this work, Karloff plays twin brothers of a family of aristocrats. The older brother Gregor is a nasty piece of work. He is the titular head of the family of land barons, and has long developed a reputation for brutality in the region he governs. His estate is notorious for having disappeared several young women. Anton, the younger of the twins, is a cosmopolitan sort, has been away travelling and studying for many years. Both men are haunted by a family prophecy, in which the younger of the two twins is supposed to slay the older in order to complete a family curse, which apparently began in the "black room" of the film's title.

The room itself was ordered sealed shortly after the birth of the twins in order to avert a repeat of the tragedy. Unbeknownst to the villagers, Gregor has found a hidden passage into the black room, and it is the torture pit of the room where he disposes of the bodies of his victims.

Anton, the younger brother, returns home upon the urging of his brother Gregor, who has, after several attempts on his life, realized that he must step aside in order to calm the people down. Gregor has in mind a phoney abdication in which he seems to step aside in favor of his twin. His actual plan is to murder Anton, and to continue to reign in Anton's identity, in his own twist on the family curse. He falls over his own hubris for a number of personal reasons, but before film's end, he manages to indulge in a round of crafty Karloffian mayhem.

Karloff plays both the monstrous and benign brothers, but in addition, he portrays the nasty brother imitating the gentle one. That's what makes this piece fun. Seventy minutes of the grand old man of the gothics at his best. I've probably seen it about thirty times now, and it holds up well.
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8/10
Hei Xiazi
juliankennedy232 December 2006
The Black Room: 7 out of 10: In the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi complains about his rival Boris Karloff continuing to work even though he played Frankenstein which required only grunting under heavy make-up as opposed to accented seductive Dracula.

Well I hate to point this out to a long dead actor but Karloff can really act. The Black Room is a tour de force performance.

Karloff plays three roles (two twins and one twin pretending to be the other) and manages to give them such a distinctive nuanced performances I squinted at the screen to make sure it really was the same actor in the roles.

The story itself is quite a good set-up. With one brother a devilish tyrant with a taste for village girls and the other a slightly fey traveler with a birth defect. Hanging over their head is a family curse that states one brother will kill the other in the titular Black Room.

There are twists and turns and as many reviews have pointed out this is more a costume drama/mystery than straight horror film. The supporting cast is competent and the sets are well done but this is Karloff's show and he runs away with it.
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7/10
The Black Room (1935) ***
Bunuel19769 July 2005
Another film I had been reading about since childhood but up till now have had no opportunity to watch.

An interesting star vehicle for Boris Karloff allowing him to play two roles as contrasting twins; the fact that one of them is deformed may owe something to Lon Chaney and here Karloff demonstrates himself a most worthy successor to the Master's mantle. The period setting - its-folk-tale quality hearkens back to German Expressionism - serves the handsome production extremely well, especially when considering that Columbia Pictures at the time was just starting to pose a serious challenge (following the Oscar sweep of Frank Capra's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT [1934]) to the major studios. Director Roy William Neill handles the proceedings with great efficiency and style providing plenty of visual flourishes along the way.

The only criticism one can level at the film regards a couple of slightly contrived plot points: the evil Karloff, who has done away with his benign but paralyzed sibling and whom he impersonates in order to win the girl he loves, is rather stupidly caught by the girl's father when he is spotted in a mirror using his 'lame' hand to sign the marriage contract; Karloff's come-uppance is brought about by his dead brother's faithful mastiff which hates his guts - it's implausible to think that the dog has kept away from Karloff for days (by which time the girl's lover has been convicted for her father's murder) only to conveniently reappear on his wedding day! However, the ironic climax - which allows the prophecy tied with Karloff's family name to be fulfilled - is a splendid one.

All in all, along with THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) and THE WALKING DEAD (1936; see below), THE BLACK ROOM is Karloff's best vehicle of the 1930s which wasn't produced by the studio which made his name, Universal.
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8/10
Great film
Panamint18 March 2015
Well-written and acted, this is a gem of a movie. Discover it and you will realize once again that Karloff truly was a great actor (in a dual role here as a cruel Baron and his kindly twin). The twin angle is played for tension and creepiness and really works in the hands of a great but under recognized director, Roy William Neill. Check out more of Neill's work- most often in the b-movie category but always superbly crafted. Neill's films are always a cut above the average and I believe that his gifts are nowadays finally being noticed and receiving well-deserved recognition.

Marion Marsh hits just the right note in a fine youthful performance as the stunningly beautiful daughter of a local official, committed by family to potential lifetime unhappiness and depravity at the hands of the despicable Baron. Ms. Marsh was one of the most beautiful women ever in the long history of film, but is unaffected by her looks and is almost always natural and effective in her roles. Probably the best word to describe her is simply that she is likable- a good trait for a movie star but too often lacking in many of them.

This film moves along energetically in juggernaut fashion and is marvelously entertaining, totally without any padding or slowness. Its a winner.
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8/10
Great horror melodrama with a terrific performance from Karloff.
capkronos29 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A prophecy states that the younger of twin sons born into the wealthy de Bergmann family will go on to murder the older son in the castle's black room. Trying to make sure the prophecy doesn't come true, the room is sealed off by a brick wall and the family goes about their business. Over the course of the next forty or so years, both parents pass away, leaving eldest son Gregor (Boris Karloff) living all alone in the castle. Gregor has developed quite the bad reputation about town. Not only a ruthless, devious and cruel tyrant, he's also suspected of murdering various women in the village and hiding their bodies. As suspicion is riling the villagers against him, Gregor decides to invite his long-absent twin Anton (Karloff again) back home for a stay. Anton is about the polar opposite of his brother; polite, kind, trusting and gentle, not to mention crippled with a paralyzed arm. Why is Gregor suddenly interested in rekindling a relationship with his estranged brother? It has something to do with an identity switch and winning a young woman's hand in marriage, but the less said about the plot the better.

Much like Jeremy Irons would do in David Cronenberg's 1988 thriller DEAD RINGERS, Karloff manages to completely separate the two roles he plays here; adding distinct mannerisms/facial expressions and subtle changes in the delivery of his lines that totally set the two characters he's playing apart. Not only that, but he also has to play one twin struggling to pretend to be the other, which adds an entirely different dimension to the already challenging role. Karloff manages to pull it all off in one his most impressive performances, instilling Gregor with a kind of arrogant, confident swagger and Anton with a certain good-heartedness and innocence that makes you wonder how the prophecy will manage to play out. Through editing trickery and the use of doubles (quite sophisticated for the time), you get to see both Karloff's interacting in the same scene. There are also good contributions from Thurston Hall as a colonel who despises Gregor but takes a liking to Anton, and the lovely Marian Marsh (the object of John Barrymore's obsession in 1931's SVENGALI) as his daughter, who's in love with a young lieutenant (Robert Allen) but may end up being the wife of a sadistic baron if Gregor can have his way. The rest of the performances are also adequate.

Not only well acted, this is a extremely handsome production with an almost fairy-tale like quality to it. It's well directed by Roy William Neill (best known for his Sherlock Holmes films) and well written by Arthur Strawn and also boasts good cinematography, costumes, period detail and production design. The "Black Room" itself, which we learn can still be accessed through a secret entrance, is a great Gothic design full of chains, cobwebs and even a deep pit. Kudos to Sony for putting out a remastered print of this horror classic, which was becoming hard to find on video before they decided to include it on their two-disc "Icons of Fright" collection. The set also comes with the Karloff vehicles THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939), BEFORE I HANG (1940) and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU (1942). I haven't watched any of those yet, but I'm looking forward to them based on the quality of this production.
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10/10
A barnstorming little Film.
davidlemon197327 August 2003
How this film is not regarded as a classic is beyond me. Boris Karloff at his best, with a plotline that never stops, resulting in a crusendo of action drama that would put Arnie to shame. Haunting music..... Creepy sets ...... bad accents.. They are all here but look beyond the pale on this one, because it's worth it.
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10/10
"The Black Room": Creepy Karloff - Marvelous Marsh!
hollywwood26 September 2007
This well-known 1935 Boris Karloff thriller, "The Black Room", is simply one of Boris Karloff's greatest films of the 1930's. The chance to see Karloff in a dual role in this movie is a treat in itself. He plays twins: one good and the other evil. Needless to say, Karloff is effectively creepy as the latter. Lovely Marian Marsh, who was menaced by John Barrymore in "Svengali" (1931), is a picture pretty heroine. She adds a marvelous touch of glamor and sincerity to her role. It's so nice to see that this film has finally been put onto DVD. The print used in the transfer is indeed as pristine a print as possible. Well-worth adding to your DVD collection!
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8/10
Bravo! Bravissimo! Extraordinary Karloff Performance
The Black Room is a great movie. The sets are poor, it lacks the grandeur necessary for a period movie, it obviously had an incredibly low budget, even the premise is poor (though the script had a good twist), mostly Z-grade material, and if that weren't enough, the acting by Karloff's colleagues is abysmal. However Boris Karloff is GREAT in this, I have seen many of his films, which range in quality quite staggeringly, my favourites being the Tourneur movies (least favourite the mad doctors), however in this film his acting is EXTRAORDINARY.

In what is perhaps his greatest performance he plays twin brothers Anton and Gregor so incredibly convincingly. One is an innocent sensitive fop, the other an evil sociopath, what range, what awesome acting! Somehow he seems to make both of them endearing! Let me tell you they certainly don't do it like this anymore.

I am an identical twin myself and it is hard to believe that you aren't watching the performances of twin brothers. The twin dynamic is certainly there, and the scenes when both characters are on screen together are seamless, due to some obviously very clever trickery and Karloff's skill. I can't think offhand of many examples of greater acting in film history, certainly few other actors have Karloff's range.

Highly recommended movie. A fratricidal epic!
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8/10
The Black Room (1935) ***1/2
JoeKarlosi30 May 2010
THE BLACK ROOM boasts one of Boris Karloff's finest triumphs as an actor. It's a period piece set in 1834 Budapest, with Karloff in an excellent dual performance as a pair of identical twin brothers. Ever since they were born to the house of Berghman, a terrible curse has hung over both their heads ... it has been declared through an old prophecy that the younger brother will murder the older in what is known in the castle as "The Black Room". Upon the death of their father, the youngest brother, Anton, tries to avoid the dreaded prophecy by leaving Hungary for twenty years while the older, Gregor, stays on and becomes the new baron. But as a ruler, Gregor is an evil tyrant who is hated and feared by the peasants whom he abuses.

When it appears that the people may take the law into their own hands and dispose of him, Gregor invites his younger brother Anton back home, and Colonel Hassle (Thurston Hall) accompanies Anton to the baron's castle. Anton is by contrast the complete opposite of his wicked sibling, a kindly gentleman by nature, despite the burden of being born with a paralyzed right arm. Unbeknownst to Anton, Gregor has sinister intentions planned, and part of his scheme is to make the colonel's lovely niece (played by SVENGALI's Marian Marsh) marry him. With poignant music, a magnificent double (actually triple!) performance from Boris, as well as a strong directing job by Roy William Neill, this is an exceptional film which stands up to the very best work Karloff did over at Universal from this period. This is a movie not to be overlooked if you're a fan of Boris Karloff. ***1/2 out of ****
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Karloff at his best
Bobs-94 September 2001
I must agree with the other posts on this site, Karloff is excellent here. In fact, this is just about the best example of his acting skill I've come across. In this film, he is not just a generic Halloween ghoul, but shows a very nice range of characterization, as he plays twin brothers who are polar opposites. The film is beautiful to look at, and well paced and plotted. Even if you see the ironic ending coming at you a mile and a half away, it's still fun to anticipate it.

Incidentally, is it just me, or does the loud brass fanfare that occurs in the title sequence, and throughout the film at dramatic moments, sound like part of the song "Come Rain or Come Shine" ("days may be cloudy or sunny...")? I just found it a bit distracting to suddenly picture Judy Garland in my mind at all the most tense and dramatic moments of the story.
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7/10
Great acting by Karloff but somewhat lacking in atmosphere
AlsExGal29 July 2013
Karloff plays a dual role here as twin brothers, the oldest of which is heir to the family fortune and lands. The children's' father fears the old prophesy that as the family began, so will it end, and it began with a younger jealous twin killing the older twin. This is what he fears will happen again since the younger twin inherits none of the lands that the older one does. Furthermore, the younger twin's right arm is paralyzed, giving the younger twin even more reason for bitterness and ultimately jealousy and murder. The prophesy also says that the murder will occur in the "Black Room" just as before. A family friend states the obvious - seal off the black room so that it cannot be used and thus the murder will never happen. The father does that, and erroneously rests easy.

Well, history doesn't exactly repeat itself. The older twin, Gregor turns out to be evil, and the younger twin, Anton, though disabled and without property of his own, is a good and generous soul. Gregor invites Anton home to "help him" - which, unknown to Anton, is actually part of a devilish escape plot by Gregor whose subjects are boiling over with rage from all of the women who have gone missing in the castle over the years. Both brothers take a fancy to the daughter of Colonel Hassle, Thea (Marian Marsh), though Thea actually loves a soldier. Thea is quite uneasy with the affections of Gregor, given his polite but menacing demeanor and all of those rumors about missing girls. So how can Gregor manage to both get the girl and get away from the angry villagers? Watch and find out.

The plot is extremely clever and ironic, Karloff's acting is superb with his roles seemingly tailor made for him, and the supporting players are very good, but there really isn't much atmosphere in this one to the point that it is really difficult to classify it as horror. Its strength is in its screenplay and in Karloff's performance, not its visuals. Still, I'd recommend this one.
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8/10
One of Karloff's best--if not THE best
preppy-327 October 2008
Boris Karloff has a field day playing two twin brothers--one is evil (Gregor) the other kind (Anton). They are born with a prophecy on them--that one will kill the other in a black room. The room is boarded up to prevent the curse. Gregor becomes an evil ruler of a country and Anton moves away. Years later Anton returns--his brother wants to make amends...or does he? It's hard to believe that Columbia Pictures did this. It looks and plays like a Universal horror flick. There's the eerie castle, the curse, the twin brothers and plenty of mood and atmosphere. Also the villagers look like they stepped right out of the set of "Frankenstein"! These are all good things however. The movie moves quickly, has good acting all around (beautiful Marian Marsh is a highlight) and Karloff. He plays each role expertly and seems to be having a fun time. This couldn't have been easy--this was made before trick photography could be used to make the same actor appear twice so he probably had to do many scenes twice playing different roles! He pulls it off though. I'm assuming this didn't do well when it came out (Columbia never attempted something like this again) but it's now considered a true classic and one of Karloff's best films. Highly recommended.
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8/10
Grossly Underrated Film of the 1930s
gavin694224 May 2008
A prestigious house starts when a younger twin kills the older and a prophesy says some day the house will end by the same method. Today the house is run by a baron with a younger brother, though the younger has moved away and has a gimpy arm. But when the younger brother returns and the people have turned against the older, a crucial moment arrives -- how can the older brother satisfy the people without fulfilling the prophecy? Can it be avoided? How has "The Black Room" gone so many years under my radar? Boris Karloff is amazingly versatile here, playing both brothers (sometimes on the screen at the same time). Marian Marsh plays both brothers' love interest. The picture is crisp, the sound is clear and the production value is beyond impressive for 1935. And the plot? Intriguing, to say the least. While the baron can't be considered a villain on the level of Dracula or Frankenstein's monster, the story here is gripping and the setting really anticipates the works of Roger Corman in the 1960s.

A special note must be payed to the lovely Marian Marsh. Marsh rounds out the cast and does a fantastic job alongside the dominant men of the cast (not just Karloff, but practically everyone). Her beauty and charm sell the picture well, as the Baron's love for her character really drives the plot. Sadly, Marsh gave up acting in 1959 to become an environmentalist. While I fully sympathize with the move, Hollywood was denied a great talent and spirit for the next forty years (the time of Marsh's death).

I strongly encourage those who enjoy older films to give this one a try. I found it both enjoyable and critically satisfying. So many thrillers of the 1930s seem one-dimensional and cliché, but "The Black Room" is fresh, prescient and timeless. I would love to see a deluxe edition of this film, though I suppose it is now too late. Its due failed to come when it mattered most.
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8/10
Two Karloffs For the Price of One!
bsmith55522 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"The Black Room" was made for Columbia Pictures at the peak of star Boris Karloff's career. Not as well known perhaps as some of his other films, it nevertheless ranks in my humble opinion, as one of his best. Karloff's acting talents are not always given their due however, this film showcases his remarkable talent.

In the early 19th century twins are born to the DeBerghman family, who rule a Czech province. It seems that there is a curse upon the DeBerghmans that states when the next set of twins are born, the family will be destroyed. The younger of the twins under the prophecy will apparently murder the older twin in "The Black Room". The Black Room is sealed off by the twins father (Henry Kolker).

Fast forward 40 years or so. The older of the twins Gregor (Karloff) is the Baron of the province. He is an evil and brutal sadist despised by all of his subjects. Several young women have "disappeared" within the walls of his castle angering the towns people.

To countermand this, Gregor sends for his brother Anton (Karloff again) in order to carry out his evil plan. Anton is the opposite of Gregor, a kind, just and fair minded man. The pair attend a dinner party at the home of their lifelong friend Colonel Hassle (Thurston Hall). There Anton meets Hassle's young daughter Thea (Marian Marsh) and is attracted to her. Gregor also harbors a desire for the young woman. Thea's heart though belongs to the dashing young Lt. Albert Lussan (Robert Allen).

When Gregor murders his gypsy mistress Mashka (Katherine Demille), her lover Buran (John Buckler) incites the towns people to attack the Baron's castle. Gregor then renounces his title and names the more popular Anton as the new Baron. Later Gregor reveals to Anton a secret entrance to the black room. Inside, Gregor casts Anton into a deep pit and leaves him there to die. Gregor now believes that the prophecy can no longer be fulfilled since Anton, the younger twin, is now dead.

Gregor assumes the identity of Anton and goes to Col. Hassle to seek the hand of the fair Thea. Hassle happily agrees believing Gregor to be Anton. When Hassle discovers the ruse, he is murdered and the blame placed upon Albert Lussan. Then Gregor goes ahead with his plans to marry the unsuspecting Thea and........................

Director Roy William Neill (who directed many of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films) allows Karloff to give perhaps the best overall performance of his career. He is able to almost convince the audience that there are two different actors playing the twins. He conveys the evil and cunning of Gregor while playing Anton as a gentler more kind person.

The set pieces are as good as anything in Karloff's Universal classics of the same period. Neill gives us the proper mood, settings and darkness of the story.

Robert Allen was also a "B" western star (as Bob Allen) in the 30s. Katherine DeMille was the adopted daughter of famed director Cecil B. DeMille and was married for a time to Anthony Quinn.

A classic horror film.
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10/10
Lacmus test of movie history
Liedzeit12 June 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This little film is the best example of what could be done in the Thirties with a tight story and a brilliant actor. Boris Karloff plays twin brothers, one good one evil. The good one kills the bad and takes his place and of course fools everybody except the little doggie. And gets killed in the Black Room. What makes this film so exceptional apart from the mood is that you can sympathize with the bad guy. Even when he plays his good brother, and behaves like a decent man you can still feel the evil in him and what is even more intriguing you can feel that he basically dislikes himself and part of him would really be a good person. This is the difference to the other classic twins film "The dark Mirror" where Olivia de Havilland plays a good and a bad sister. Although a great movie too, you cannot care that much for the evil sister. She seems too much like a freak. In The Black Room we have a tale concerning the perhaps deepest question of them all. Why are some people good and some bad or the other side of the coin, why are some people happy other unhappy?

Whenever I check a book about movie history I look up what it says about "The Black Room". If it is in it and it gets praise the book is likely to be any good.
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8/10
Most enjoyable.
Hey_Sweden11 May 2014
Nicely plotted period horror tale that just goes to show the kind of talent that the legendary Boris Karloff possessed. As directed by Roy William Neill, it's great fun, with a fine supporting cast, an adequate pace, thunderous music, and respectable atmosphere. It leads to a solid action climax and a satisfying denouement. This may not be one of Karloffs' better known vehicles, but it does deserve more exposure.

Karloff plays twin brothers (one good and one evil, naturally) who have a nasty family prophecy hanging over their heads, seemingly solved when a room inside their castle is sealed up. Also helping matters is the fact that Anton, the nice younger twin, travels the world for a while before being summoned home by his brother, a cruel despot who abuses his position of power. This leads to a great twist, but it won't be revealed here. Gregor, the evil twin, has his eye on beautiful young Thea (the radiant Marian Marsh), and intends to marry her despite the fact that she's already attached to another man, Lt. Lussan (Robert Allen), whom he frames for murder.

"The Black Room" does have its assets, but chief among them are the dual Karloff performances; he's superb at creating two very different personalities. His delicious villainy when he plays Gregor easily rivals his equally compelling turn in "The Body Snatcher" a decade later. Also doing creditable work are Thurston Hall, Katherine DeMille, John Buckler, and Henry Kolker. The dog, Thor, is great too.

Highly recommended to Karloff fans.

Eight out of 10.
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7/10
A double dose of Karloff in one of the great grand guignoles of classic horror.
mark.waltz8 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Part period melodrama, part Gothic horror, and altogether one of the great sleepers of the 1930's, "The Black Room" tells the story of the prophecy of how a great family will end its days as it started, with one brother killing the other. Boris Karloff plays a double role here, twins doomed to destruction, but not as the family journal has described the dynasty to be predicted to end. There's a lot of irony here, and in just over an hour, the writers put together a clever and tricky plot which will keep you riveted to your screen.

O.K., so Karloff looks much older than the characters are supposed to be, but if you can overlook that, you will be o.k. in watching the evil Karloff planning to wed sweet and innocent Marian Marsh while his jealous mistress Katherine de Mille screeches threats that you know will make her a victim of his wrath. Karloff, in fact, plays a Tod Slaughter type role here, the typical power-hungry baron who utilizes his position to bed the innocent maidens and evilly dispatch of them so they can't tell. Then, there's the good Karloff, a cripple who was sent away because the family prophecy stated that he would end up killing the older brother. They sort of reminded me of "All My Children's" Stuart and Adam, twin brothers who were complete opposites and tied together through many tragic circumstances.

A lavish production makes this "B" film look gorgeous, and Karloff eats up the scenery, whether taking care of De Mille, his own twin, his father-in-law to be (Thurston Hall) and the man whom Marsh really is in love with. The film moves at a fast and furious pace, and the end literally will have you going to the dogs as it is a clever canine who gets to steal Karloff's thunder at the end and bring the film to a speedy conclusion. This is by far the best of Karloff's Columbia films (four of them released on one DVD set) and is one which deserves to find cult status.
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Duelling Karloffs
flapdoodle6422 September 2011
This film is competently directed and photographed, yet it is not noteworthy from either point of view. The story, concerning human compassion versus cruelty, and the cold, merciless workings of fate, is clever and interesting, all the more so since it does not linger too long and overstay its welcome...this film clocks in at 1 hour and change.

By Columbia Pictures standards, this film is almost opulent, having several sets and a number of outdoor shots, and having good actors, costumes, technicians and atmosphere all around. But, since it is a Columbia Picture, central Europe looks amazingly like Southern California. Still, it proves that Universal did not have a monopoly on horror in the 1930's.

This is not a supernatural film, except perhaps in the fact that it deals with the subjects of prophecy and fate...it is instead a psychological horror film and so it helps to have the right set of expectations going in. In a way, this film is a kind of precursor to the ambiguous metaphysics and psychological themes of the 1940's Val Lewton horror/noir classics.

What makes this film stand out is Karloff's brilliant performance in the double role of twin brothers, one evil and one good. Karloff is completely convincing in both parts, and it is a genuine pleasure to watch him. It is also striking that even without monster make-up Karloff can scare the pants off you, when he chooses.

Modern horror fans are liable to have trouble accessing this film, but it is recommended to fans of classic horror and classic film in general.
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Best Karloff Movie of all time
dotlikestotrot26 October 2011
I love Boris and in this movie he shines as the set of twins. I saw it for the first time last year. I recorded it and have watched it numerous times since. If you are his fan...this movie can not be missed. All the supporting actors are wonderful as well, and the beautiful Marion Marsh easy on the eyes. I knew Karloff was an under rated actor...But this movie proves it. Why more fuss was never made about this film, I just don't know. I will tell you I never saw the out come of this movie coming. Or maybe I just didn't want to spoil the shock for myself. Thank goodness for Halloween movies and TCM's airing of them or I would have caught this flick. Enjoy it, I know you will.
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8/10
Dual role for Karloff really makes the film worthwhile
The_Void21 July 2009
The Black Room was released during a golden period of horror; and as such has been largely forgotten with the Frankenstein and Dracula films remaining enduringly popular. I suppose the problem is that it doesn't really fit into any genre; there's not quite enough horror for it to be considered a horror film, and while it has a period setting; it's not exactly a historical drama either. However, that for me is what makes it interesting; there wasn't another film like this one made around the same time, making The Black Room somewhat unique. As a side note, I also believe this to be an influence for the classic Giallo The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. The story focuses on the birth of twin brothers. This is bad news for the family concerned - wealthy barons - as legend has it that the younger brother will kill the older inside 'the black room' as happened many years earlier. They decide to have the black room sealed up and the brothers grow up. The older is left in charge of people in his consistency, and cuts an unpopular figure. He then calls his brother back to their home, apparently to help him run his affairs.

The most memorable thing about the film is undoubtedly the dual role for Boris Karloff. He plays the role of the brothers very well and since both are so different, he is really able to show what a great performer he was. This really is Boris Karloff's film; and one of his characters is featured in almost every scene. Of course, this film was made before the age of computer effects; so naturally it was rather more difficult then to have both characters on screen together. Director Roy William Neill handles this very well, however; it's always obvious how it's done, but through sleight of hand; the director manages to give the appearance that they're both on screen at the same time. It has to be said that the first half of the film is a bit slow; but it soon picks up and the second half is really very interesting. The atmosphere is really good too; the director creates a thick Gothic feel for the film that really benefits it; the few scenes taking place in a graveyard are a particular highlight, as is the title location; 'the black room'. Overall, this is a very good little film and well worth the effort of tracking down.
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The Black Room
Scarecrow-8811 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A prophesy regarding murder between one brother over another, a royal family is overwhelmed by it to the point where the birth of a pair of twins causes paranoia that the curse will re-emerge when they are older. Anton is the younger brother, born one minute after Gregor, who will not receive the castle or Baron title(also is crippled with a paralyzed arm)and is considered to be a threat if jealousy overcomes him. Their father decides to brick up the notorious Black Room where the murder of one brother over another took place. As it would later turn out, Anton(Boris Karloff)would in fact not be the jealous greedy killer everyone considered, but quite the opposite. Kind and generous, Anton would travel and leave behind the castle of his family far removing himself of the gloomy prophesy looming overhead. Urgently requested by his brother Gregor(also Boris Karloff)to return to the castle with haste, Anton learns that his brother Gregor is a brutish tyrant whose township are enraged with hate towards their baron. Gregor desires to have the lovely Thea(Marian Marsh, who is not only absolutely beautiful, but turns in a wonderful performance)as his bride, but her uncle Col Paul Hassle(Thurston Hall)doesn't exactly hold him to a high regard. Thea and a young officer under Paul's command, Lt. Albert Lussan(Robert Allen)are in love and secretly hope to eventually marry. The township, however, respect and admire Anton for he is a direct polar opposite of Gregor. Anton is well-mannered and just for which the township's villagers notice. This will play into Gregor's evil plans as he concocts a scheme to send his beloved brother into a deadly pit inside the Black Room..yes, the room has another entrance for which Gregor plans to hide away his brother's dead body and assume his identity to fool everyone. Gregor's plan does work, but he forgets that Anton has a dog, Thor, who knows his master. This very well could plague him down the road. Gregor will work to manipulate the others around him, hoping to eliminate the colonel so that he can go after Thea. Using an occurrence against Albert, the young soldier will be accused of killing Paul after making some rather choice words regarding his feelings about Thea marrying anyone but him. Having played his hand well, Gregor, as Anton, will persuade Thea to possibly marry him as Albert awaits death by firing squad. Will Gregor achieve the plans he ultimately set out from the start before calling on Anton to return?

Astonishing dual performances from Karloff, and director Neill's amazing work at realistically, through a keen ability of editing his star, having the two twins in the same room together really boost this fine film. I thought the flick, with the exception of an all-too-obvious ending, was perfect in almost every conceivable way. Columbia Pictures showed that there was more to Karloff than just the Frankenstein's monster..he could play two completely different people convincingly. The film's success really hinges on Karloff pulling off the portrayal of one good and one evil character. The story, about betrayal and the looming shadow of a curse proposed throughout generations, really works to me. I like how the film exploits Gregor's problem holding the monster he really is at bay, with Karloff tightening his mouth when, in actuality, he wishes to bark orders in the unpleasant manner of old. The crippled hand..this was my favorite aspect of the film as Gregor battles keeping it in it's place, not using it as he normally would. Would he slip in a moment of weakness and use it?
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A must for Karloff fans
mcdamsten20 September 2004
especially if you think, like myself, he ranks with the greatest actors of all time. Although it was nice to see The Ghoul get DVD treatment, this would be more deserving as this ranks, as previously reviewed, among his best. I don't know if anybody else notices this; but especially in this movie, it seems Boris has an odd resemblance to Keith Richards at times. Especially when he's playing the evil Gregor and leering and sitting in a chair with a leg over the side. Anyhow nice to find this one even if it is on VHS. Not familiar with other cast members in this one, as its not a Universal setting I'm more familiar seeing Boris in, but the acting is good and the sets are great. The all onyx black room is interesting. I hope Boris will be remembered among the greats as this century progresses.
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KARLOFF FACES KARLOFF!
whpratt124 October 2002
Ever since I viewed this film in 1940, I was spellbound by Karloff's performance in The Black Room, everything eerie has been injected into the picture. The double exposures of Karloff in dual character are exceptionally fine and Boris is his usual self, in practically every sequence. He differentiates well between the twin brothers, and gives a sound performance with an ingenious "horror" plot. Karloff gave one of his best performances.
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