The Black Sleep (1956), starring Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Akim Tamiroff, Tor Johnson
Many of Hollywood’s top horror stars appears in this story of a mad doctor who performs brain surgery on unwilling victims — attempting to save the life of his wife. The story begins in a dark cell of Newgate Prison in London of 1872. Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone) is an eminent surgeon who is visiting Dr. Gordon Ramsey (Herbert Rudley), a former student who has been condemned to death by hanging for murder — a murder that he believes himself to be innocent of having committed.
The execution is set for the following morning, but Dr. Cadman puts a potion called “the black sleep” into a cup and instructs Ramsey to take the drug early the next morning. The drug puts Ramsey into suspended animation. It reduces his body temperature, pulse and respiration so that he appears dead, even to a trained physician. He is declared legally dead. With the help of a conniving gypsy named Odo (Akim Tamiroff), Ramsey’s “corpse” is delivered to Dr. Cadman’s offices where he is revived. In appreciation of this gift of life, Ramsey agrees to assist Cadman in a series of experimental brain surgeries, where Cadman uses the black sleep as sedative for his operations.
They travel to a remote Gothic castle where Cadman introduces his new associate to a variety of characters. These including a deranged and dangerous cretin named Mungo (acted well by Lon Chaney Jr.) and a frail mute servant (played by a weakened and elderly Bela Lugosi, only a few months before his death). Another resident (played by John Carradine at his best) is a raving lunatic who thinks he is fighting the Crusades. These poor unfortunates have been the victims of Cadman’s experimental brain surgery. Cadman’s wife has slipped into a coma, due to a brain tumor. And so he’s been experimenting on these people — and many more — to expand his knowledge of the brain, and try to rescue his wife’s life. But what will happen when these damaged people escape from Cadman’s castle?
Editorial review of The Black Sleep courtesy of Amazon.com
The masters of classic horror, Basil Rathbone (Tales of Terror), Bela Lugosi (Dracula, White Zombie), Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man) and John Carradine (House of the Long Shadows) co-star in this terrifying horror classic about a crazed brain surgeon and his unorthodox experiments at a spooky old dark house. When the wife of a lunatic surgeon (Rathbone) slips into a coma, the doctor sets out to find a donor for a highly unorthodox brain transplant. The subsequent experiments result in the creation of a number of dangerous zombies, mutants and freaks that are soon unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. The stellar cast also includes Akim Tamiroff (After the Fox) and Tor Johnson (Plan 9 From Outer Space). From Reginald Le Borg, the director of horror classics, Diary of a Madman and The Mummy s Ghost.