Directed by Roy William Neill  — who gets mystery, after all, he directed eleven of the fourteen Basil Rathbone-starring Sherlock Holmes films as well as early noir like Black Angel — and written by Arthur Strawn and Henry Myers, The Black Room has a prophecy at its center: at some point, the younger brother of the de Berghmann family is cursed to kill his elder in the Black Room of the castle. Hmm — seems like something that would show up nearly forty years later in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.

Boris Karloff seems to be having the time of his life in this movie, playing the dual role of the kindly Anton de Berghmann and his depraved brother Baron Gregor de Berghmann, who is about as blasphemous as the Hayes Code would allow. After all, he’s known for randomly killing the wives of the simple folk that make up his people.

When servant girl Mashka (Katherine DeMille) disappears, the people have had enough and take their pitchforks and torches to the castle. The Baron claims that he will be leaving forever, giving the kingdom to his more genial and popular brother. As they sign the papers in secret, the Baron leads Anton to his Black Room. By that, I mean he drops him like thirty feet into it and before Anton dies, he sees the dead body of Mashka and plenty more women.

Now, the Baron acts as Anton — even pretending only one of his arms works — and manipulates Thea (Marian Marsh), the daughter of family advisor Colonel Hassell (who also gets killed), into marrying him instead of her true love Lt. Albert Lussan (Robert Allen), who is jailed. Just when there’s no hope, Anton’s dog interrupts the wedding and basically shoves the man who killed his master into the pit that is the Black Room as the Baron is impaled on a knife held in his dead brother’s hand, fulfilling the prophecy.

This was shown often on TV as it was part of the Son of Shock package, along with Before I HangBehind the Mask, The Boogie Man Will Get YouThe Face Behind the MaskIsland of Doomed Men, The Man They Could Not HangThe Man Who Lived Twice, The Man With Nine LivesNight of Terror, The Devil CommandsBlack FridayThe Bride of FrankensteinCaptive Wild WomanThe Ghost of Frankenstein, House of FrankensteinHouse of DraculaThe Invisible Man’s RevengeThe Jungle CaptiveThe Mummy’s Curse and The Soul of a Monster.

It’s a really fun — and fast moving — movie with a huge cast of extras, making it seem like a way bigger movie than it really is.

Mill Creek’s Thrillers from the Vault set also includes The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I HangThe Man With Nine Lives, The Boogie Man Will Get YouThe Devil Commands, The Return of the Vampire and Five. Each movie has a commentary track — The Black Room has Dr. Steve Hoberman — and there’s also a documentary, Madness and Mayhem: Horror in the 30s and 40s. You can get it from Deep Discount.

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