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Cherry Pop

'The Black Sleep'
(Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Akim Tamiroff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., et al / DVD / NR / 2011 / MGM)

Overview: The masters of classic horror (Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Jr.) gather together and meet in a spooky old house in which a crazed scientist creates frightening human mutants.

DVD Verdict: Set in early 19th-century England, the story of 'Black Sleep' concerns 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.

The film has it all: rich performances (both mimed and spoken), evocative sets, lighting and cinematography, an involving story and detailed script, mad science, swirling mists, dark London streets, gaslight, an old abbey (complete with an oaken door with a medieval viewing-window), rumblings of thunder, burning candles, horse-drawn carriages, elegant costumes and period (1872 England) detail, gigantic fireplaces with sliding panels, shadowy corridors replete with ghostly "knight's armory" lurking in dark corners, sinister music, and even hidden torchlit chambers!

It also includes some suggestive sound-effects, subtly chilling props and special effects (including clanking chains, coffins, syringes, a musty skull, and a pulsating brain!), a moody matte-painting of a castle atop a hill overlooking a valley of gnarled, wind-blown branches, gruesome monster make-up, and a stunning ensemble cast of mystery and terror specialists that features Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson! This is a Full Screen presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.