The Black Sleep has been that one horror flick which has eluded me for years and years. Until recently, I'd never seen this final stab at classic horror by some of the screen's classic names. You'd think a movie loaded with the likes of Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, and even Tor Johnson would be a true horror pleasure. But you'd be wrong.
Despite an amazing assembly of talent, including the lead villain Basil Rathbone, this movie rarely gathers any momentum and just when it does, it stifles it with an abrupt and truncated finale which only serves to tie up loose ends and not all of those really.
The story is really rather a simple one. A mad scientist (Rathbone) in a deluded attempt to save his comatose wife who needs brain surgery assembles a cadre of practice patients to do brain surgery upon. He works through a local tattoo artist and body snatcher and uses two nurses (one loyal and one not) along with another doctor who he has helped escape the gallows. This team of specialists wander around a classic castle filled with dungeons and operating rooms hidden behind giant fireplaces. Eventually his subjects get loose and all hell breaks loose.
The biggest problem with this movie is that despite a large ensemble cast, most of the actors don't actually talk or say much of anything of interest. Only four characters have much to do and much of that makes little sense in the long term. Much of the screen time in the middle of the movie is taken up with mind-numbing talk about the physiology of the brain with charts and posters and such used as static visual guides.
I've waited many years to see this movie and frankly despite the grand cast it was disappointing. A missed opportunity to get some great stuff from some infamous actors falls into the trap of merely trading on their names for an advertising stunt. It was truly unfortunate.