At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE BLACK SLEEP (KINO Lorber)

By • Mar 14th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

What factors need to be at play for a collector to exchange a DVD for a BluRay? If the DVD looks the same, why bother?

A good commentary track is vital. And unlike his commentary for GOG, which is informative but bland, Tom Weaver goes wild with this one, even using an echo function up front for humorous effect. So vigorous is his performance on the second track that it’s clear this is the one he really wanted to do.

The old MGM/FOX DVD release is a hair sharper and less grainy. But the KINO/Lorber wide screen image is scarier, and it’s also the way it was projected back in the day. Some films were hard-matted to 1.85 so that projectionists had no choice in regards to framing. But low-budget horror flicks tended not to have that luxury. So one often saw less of a forehead than they wanted, or no chin and gobs of empty space above an actor’s head, as the projectionist tried to adjust the framing with each reel change.

As a film, TBS is not quite up to Val Lewton’s wondrous early-to-mid-40s output, but it is definitely in line with his aspirations. I lay the praise for this on the Spartan shoulders of director Reginald Le Borg, who inspired his cast, for the few days he had them, to focus on the truth of their roles, no matter how inarticulate their characters might be. Chaney is actually as good in this – by turns grimacing with psychotic rage, then cowering like a guilty dog – as he was in OF MICE AND MEN or THE WOLFMAN franchise. I believed every frame of his performance. When he first appears, 16 minutes and 25 seconds in, there’s actually some kind of drool hanging from his chin. Creepy!

And Lugosi, in his last completed film, rail-thin, his mellifluous tones denied him by the script, is still creepily effective. Rathbone is given good dialogue, and he delivers it with Shakespearian gravitas. And Akim Tamiroff, two years before TOUCH OF EVIL, has a grand old time playing the notes of his colorful character. I could easily see Peter Lorre in this role, which would have made it a full hand of hardcore horror cast members – and later learned that Lorre was indeed targeted for the role, but held out for too much money. Too bad, but seeing Tamiroff in Lorre’s place makes one realize that he could easily have had a back-up horror career if he had cared to.

17 minutes of the commentary track is reserved for music-scribe David Schecter, who literally and credibly demolishes Les Baxter’s film-score career. Whoever actually composed and orchestrated THE BLACK SLEEP did a good job. Its 36 minutes of underscore are robust when needed, and subtle at other times.

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