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London, 1872: Virtually at the last minute, Doctor Ramsay (Herbert
Rudley) is saved from the gallows when his colleague Doctor Cadman (Basil
Rathbone) administers a drug, the titular black sleep, that puts him into
suspended animation - suspended animation convincing enough that the
coroner declares him dead.
Of course, Doc Cadman had his own motives for
doing so: He needed an able assistant to help him in his experiments in
brain surgery. Ramsay is soon fascinated by the progress Cadman has made
in this field, but appalled by the methods Cadman uses that show no regard
for the patients and have even turned one of his mentors, Doc Monroe (Lon
Chaney jr), into a drooling brute. Still, Ramsay could probably be
convinced by Cadman's assertions that Monroe's case was an unfortunate
accident if it wasn't for Monroe's daughter Laurie (Patricia Blair), who
opens his eyes to Cadman's methods, like the fact that the man Ramsay was
accused of killing (Tor Johnson) is actually alive, a lobotomized idiot in
Cadman of course has his own motives for everysthing
he does, his comatose wife (Louanna Gardner), who is suffering from a
brain tumor, and whose life he wants to save at any cost, and now he is
finally able to. But on the day of the big operation, Cadman's unwilling
brain donor has died a bit too soon, so Cadman decides to use Laurie
instead - when his gang of lobotomy victims led by a madman (John
Carradine) still reliving the cruzades decide to rebel, and they kill all
the baddies and leave only Ramsay and Laurie alive.
Bela Lugosi can be
seen in the ungrateful role of Rathbone's mute butler, Akim Tamiroff is
the gypsy who provides Rathbone with patients.
is a movie where everything sounds right, it's subject is fittingly
outrageous for a horror movie, the plot is macabre and many details are
even more so, the gothic settings are loveable, and the cast is made up of
some of the most beloved horror veterans out there who might collectively
be a bit past their prime but still deliver decent performances - and yet
the finished film is one of the most boring horror films of its time,
maybe of all times. There is virtually no tension in this film, no
build-up of suspense, the finale is pretty much pulled out of the hat and
is put to the screen with a total lack of spectacle, and I'd be
hard-pressed to think of another film that was directed so blandly. In
all, a rather unexpected major disappointment.