|The Black Sleep|
|Directed by||Reginald Le Borg|
|Produced by||Howard W. Koch|
|Written by||John C. Higgins|
|Based on||story by Gerald Drayson Adams|
Lon Chaney, Jr.
|Narrated by||Basil Rathbone|
|Music by||Les Baxter|
|Edited by||John Schreyer|
Bel-Air Productions (Prospect Productions)
|Distributed by||United Artists|
The Black Sleep is a 1956 independently made American black-and-white horror film, scripted by John C. Higgins (from a story by Gerald Drayson Adams) and developed for producers Aubrey Schenck and Howard W. Koch, as part of a four-picture finance-for-distribution arrangement with United Artists. The film was directed by Reginald LeBorg and stars Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Bela Lugosi (in his final film role), and Akim Tamiroff in a role originally written for Peter Lorre. Ed Wood-regular Tor Johnson appears in a supporting role.
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Set in England in 1872, the story concerned a prominent, knighted surgeon whose wife has fallen into a coma caused by a deep-seated brain tumor. Due to medicine's state of the art at the time, he does not know how to reach the tumor without risking brain damage or death to the woman he loves, so he undertakes to secretly experiment on the brains of living, but involuntary, human subjects who are under the influence of a powerful Indian anesthetic, Nind Andhera, which he calls the "Black Sleep". Once he has finished his experiment, surviving subjects are revived and placed, in seriously degenerated and mutilated states, in a hidden cellar in the gloomy, abandoned country abbey where he conducts his experiments.
Produced during 1955, the film was released to theaters in the early summer of 1956. This was just ahead of the TV syndication, through Screen Gems, of two decades of Universal monster movies, under the package title Shock Theater. Writer Higgins, director LeBorg, and stars Rathbone, Chaney, Carradine, and Lugosi had all been significantly associated with Universal horror films or related B movies. The Black Sleep is similar to Universal's two "houseful" of monster films released in the mid-40s, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, only relying on a completely new cadre of human monsters.
Amongst contemporary reviews, Variety wrote that the film "plays the horror tale fairly straight so what's happening is not too illogical until the finale wrapup, when all restraint comes off and the melodramatics run amok. ...Basil Rathbone is quite credible as the surgeon, enough so that the brain operations he performs will horrify many viewers"; and The Motion Picture Exhibitor noted that "Rathbone has a grand time as the mad scientist, assisted nobly by some of the best names in the horror field. Audiences should be frightened plenty, and past experience proves that this can mean good grosses... Sure, a lot of it is corny, but it is all good fun in a grisly, frightening manner."
The Black Sleep was released by Kino on Blu ray in 2016 and contains audio commentary by Tom Weaver and David Schecter.
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