Reason Enough to Get a Dog
Memorable for Boris Karloff playing himself as twins, Black Room isn’t without other merit. This is a salacious, ugly story involving lust and murder, then set in a way to mirror Universal’s own horror output – even down to the town mob charging into the castle.
But no, this is from Columbia, a routine b-level script that’s elevated by easy-to-see biblical subtext as Black Room so frequently frames its drama near religious iconography. People pray in front of virgin Mary statues and Jesus looks down on these characters from the cross, but those foreshadowing effigies go unnoticed by the characters taking part in this seedy endeavor.
Karloff shines in this dual role, seamlessly integrated within trick photography that looks impossibly clean for 1935. The illusion isn’t lost when he’s playing against himself, one a greedy, sniveling baron, the other a city-dwelling socialite focused entirely on manners. Black Room turns their story into a Cain & Abel tragedy, one based in European family lore that notes brothers will always kill one another; fate says so.
Cue shots of Karloff slipping into shadows, carrying bodies, and murdering off-screen. A tense score paired to Karloff’s screen presence is enough to enhance this brief one hour chiller. Black Room portrays romantic manipulation, deception, and sin with a cinematic classiness indicative of the 1930s, lower budget or not.
With such a brief running time, Black Room doesn’t have any time to lose focus or an audience. It’s speedy and precise, going non-stop once past the introductory sequences (of which those too so rapidly pass by). The script contains enough development to suit the tension, each character routine for this genre, but full in personality. For those digging into Karloff’s archives, this is a definite gem to see the performer work his screen magic.
While the source materials lack perfection – dust, dirt, and scratches happen regularly – the scan itself looks decent (and recent). The greater problems lie in the encode. Paired on the same disc with Man They Could Not Hang, artifacting sours every frame, struggling to replicate and maintain the film stock’s natural grit. Black Room thus appears as if streamed rather than running from a disc. That’s a shame.
That aside, Black Room holds up over some 90 years. Bright contrast clips a bit at the brightest points. Mid-tier grays wander, stuck between solid black and that intense contrast. There’s depth generated via this method, even if it’s excessively bold.
At Black Room’s sharpest, texture can stand out, especially wide shots of land, castles, or the Columbia backlot. Black Room has an undeniable HD crispness; sadly, artifacts rob the imagery of its true luster.
Naturally airy audio from this early sound era thriller passes smoothy from within a DTS-HD track. Dialog echoes in the tall ceiling’d rooms, vintage but pristine. Only the lightest static is audible during the quietest moments, and the score reached a satisfying high.
Steve Haberman provides a commentary, and a great documentary covers the horror genre’s ’30s-’40s era.
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The Black Room (1935)
Black Room doesn’t have any time to lose focus or an audience
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 30 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: