As you can imagine, reviewing films from a different generation can be very difficult. Do you point out all the flaws we see today when they were considered innovations during that time? No matter how many times I mull over this question, I always think about the transcendence that great art has across time. Art enthusiasts don’t think Starry Night has “aged” horribly or the Sistine Chapel doesn’t have the same effect as it did then. Facts are facts and great movies are the exact same way.
With this in mind, is The Black Sleep worth watching? A positive is its unique plot. Set in England in 1872, a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Gordon Ramsay, is awaiting execution in the gallows for a crime he didn’t commit. Coming to his rescue is a knighted surgeon, Dr. Joel Cadman, who used to teach the prisoner years back. He gives Dr. Ramsay a drug called Black Sleep. This drug temporarily slows down the heartbeat of an individual to the point that medical professionals cannot tell that the person is still alive. With this clever plan, Dr. Cadman helps Ramsay escape to his country Abby.
Of course with every favor comes the expectation that something will come back in return. Dr. Cadman uses Dr. Ramsay as his assistant in questionable surgeries in the hopes of advancing science and helping the people he loves. Dr. Cadman turns out to be a flawed antagonist that the viewers can feel bad for. This adds complex levels of emotions for the viewers to teem out. Unfortunately, like many movies during this time, the scares and frights simply don’t hold up. While there is a couple of disturbing moments and a climactic ending, none of these scares are particularly memorable. Viewers may feel completely bored when they watch this movie, but they may also fall in love with the black-and-white imagery, unique plot, and above average acting.
It is not a bad thing that The Black Sleep has a charm and nostalgia that only old classics can capture. Is it a movie that horror fans should watch if they want scares? No. It may not even be a movie that anyone under the age of 25 would really appreciate. Still, I can’t help but think fondly about this movie, even if it won’t go down as a horror classic in any respect. Whenever I want to love it more than I should, I remember that one of the greatest horror films of all time, Psycho, was released only four years later.
Ultimately The Black Sleep has all the charm of an old childhood toy we may find sitting in the attic. Once in a while we think about that toy and may even want to grab it out of its box and put it somewhere new. In the end, it stays in that box for a reason. While a fun and clever film, The Black Sleep doesn’t transcend time, but nevertheless we have to respect it for what it is.
If you liked American Mary, you might also like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).