Friday, May 22, 2015

Movie Review: The Black Sleep (1956)

The Black Sleep (1956) dir. by Reginald LeBorg

Doctor Ramsey awaits execution in 1872 London. He claims he is wrongfully accused on circumstantial evidence. One of his teachers, Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone), visits and offers him a drink mixed with a drug that will make tomorrow's hanging easier. The doctor thinks it's a sedative but when the executioners come in the morning, they find him dead. Cadman takes custody of the body to give it a proper burial. Back at his lab, he gives Ramsey's body an injection that brings the doctor back to life! Cadman has a special powder he calls the Black Sleep that mimics death. If the antidote is given within 12 hours, the person will wake up and be fine.

Of course, Cadman doesn't do this out of the goodness of his heart or because he thinks Ramsey is innocent. Cadman needs another brain surgeon to work with him. He sends Ramsey off to his seaside castle home where his laboratory is hidden behind a fireplace. Cadman arrives and explains how he is mapping the brain's function. He confirms his conclusions through experimental surgeries on people under the influence of Black Sleep. Ramsey sees a few people at the home who did not come out of surgery well. He has his misgivings about Cadman's plans and has to plot his way out of a tricky situation.

The movie is a standard 1950s B-movie mixture of mad science and mutant horror in a medieval-looking manor. A lot of fine actors (Rathbone, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine) give good performances but the story is only so-so. The brain surgeries are more convincing looking that I expected from 1950s special effects.

A standard, unremarkable (except for actors and surgeries) horror movie.

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