Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
This was the first film to pair Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, the two giants of horror cinema, together, and as such it was Universal’s highest grossing film of the year. Yet, it is somehow ironic that The Black Cat is not a traditional monster movie in the mould of either Dracula (1931) or Frankenstein (1931). It fails even to explore the same Gothic landscapes as those two films and it may be because of this, that it succeeds as being one of the most grimly shocking of all the pre-Code movies. Admittedly, its impact has dimmed, but every film is to some extent a time capsule and should be seen, with at least half an eye, on how it was received when originally released.
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Even with the skilled workaholic, Michael Curtiz (Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933); Casablanca (1942); Mildred Pierce (1945); White Christmas (1954)) at the helm, Doctor X is often considered a run-of-the-mill, pre-Code horror movie. It’s position in the limelight has been somewhat usurped by its more famous cinematic cousin the Mystery of the Wax Museum, which used an almost identical cast and crew, as well as being shot using the same two-colour Technicolor process.
Yet Doctor X has far more to offer than some would have you believe. This is especially true for the colour version, which drips with atmosphere even when having to battle against the comedic reporter, as played by Lee Tracy. His wisecracks, slapstick humour and jokey hand buzzer quickly wear thin, yet despite these distractions the film still manages to propel you along at what feels like a breakneck speed.
The Dream is available to everyone. It is the Upside Down; the world through the wardrobe; the Hinterland; the place where the tornado takes you; and much more besides. But ultimately it is inaccessible.
“I was never supposed to be here, I was never supposed to know.” Jacob Kowalski
All of us have aspirations be they to earn more money, own a bigger house, drive a larger car, find a job which we find fulfilling, but these are not The Dream. The Dream is not aspirational. However, if you ever find yourself in Florida, surrounded by the Disney and Universal theme parks, you will experience The Dream being sold and marketed on a gigantic scale. Yet it is not a financial purchase. No-one can sell you The Dream and neither can you buy it, although if you do fall into The Dream you will find yourself grabbing at tangible artifacts to make it seem more real.
Unfortunately, explaining what something is not, fails to explain what it is. So probably the easiest place to find The Dream writ large is in the ever expanding universe of Harry Potter.
One of the major questions I keep being asked since publishing The Haunted Mansion back in 2014 is, where did all the ideas come from? I guess the easiest answer would be to say I borrowed them, from everything I have ever watched, read or heard. But I think this would be doing me something of a disservice, since it is far more complicated then that. Instead, the books are like giant melting pots, filled with all the things I have absorbed over the years. This bubbling, shapeless mass is then mixed with my own thoughts and opinions, which I then try to mould into something vaguely coherent and readable.
But I am not alone in doing this, everything, from the earliest Batman comic through to Stranger Things or the latest Hollywood blockbuster is influenced by something. Sometimes these influences are explicitly mentioned, but more often than not, they are hidden away like Easter eggs in a computer game. But if you can learn to recognise these hidden gems, they can act as a road map to a whole host of surprising films, books, artists and ideas.