Sunday, October 24, 2010

31 Days of Menace!

Spotlight on: Boris Karloff!

1931: A Star is Born. The movie: Frankenstein.

Born William Henry Pratt, the renamed Boris Karloff had been acting in small parts since the silent era.

Here's Boris taking in the sights in one of his sixteen (!) movies in 1931 alone, Five Star Final.

Boris ran with his Frankenstein stardom. Here he plays Fu Manchu for MGM in 1932.

This picture gives me the chills. Seriously. Boris as Imhotep in The Mummy (1932).

When Universal first paired Boris with Bela Lugosi, in 1934's The Black Cat,
Karloff was the villain and Lugosi the hero. Eventually they worked together on
eight movies! Because I think they're both awesome actors, here are their
other seven pairings:

Universal next put them in one of their rather strange all-star sketch
pictures, The Gift of Gab (1934).

Plastic surgeon and all around nutter Bela Lugosi gives Boris
a face only a mother could love in The Raven (1935).

Bela's back to being the hero and Boris is a crazed radioactive
killer in The Invisible Ray (1936).

Their neat teaming was on 1939's Son of Frankenstein.
Karloff is back as the Monster, and Bela gets his finest
post-Dracula role as the broken necked Ygor.

Their next Universal picture was Black Friday (1940) but Boris
and Bela share no scenes in the picture, so here's a publicity photo
instead. It was their last Universal movie together.

Over at RKO they were joined by Peter Lorre for the musical comedy thriller
You'll Find Out (1940) with bandleader Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical
Knowledge. This is also Boris's only starring role with Ish Kabibble.

Their final teaming was for The Body Snatcher (1945).
Boris starred, Bela 's character was added to get him
into a movie with Karloff one last time.

Since in the 1940's Hollywood still hadn't figured out that Asians might be best suited to play Asian detectives, here's Boris as Mr. Wong.

After three times in the Monster's boots, Boris returned to the Frankenstein series for the sixth entry, House of Frankenstein (1944), but this time he took the easier job - the mad scientist. Glenn Strange takes over as The Big Guy.

Boris got to appear on Broadway too, in shows like Arsenic and Old Lace, where his character murders everyone who says he looks like Boris Karloff, and in Peter Pan, as Captain Hook, as seen here.

By the 1950's Boris was still hard at work, and as this headshot shows, could play dapper villains as well as monsters.

He wasn't adverse to working on television either, serving as the host of the great show Thriller (just out on DVD), and the little seen series The Veil, pictured here, and also on DVD, though a little harder to find.

Boris teamed with Vincent Price for Roger Corman's The Raven (1963) which was nothing like the 1935 version.

Due to Roger Corman's speed as a filmmaker and Boris's professionalism, they wrapped ahead of schedule on a couple of pictures. With Boris contracted for another couple of days of work, the amazing Corman got some script pages thrown together, then commandeered some sets about to be torn down, shot the two days with Boris, and went back months later to finish shooting the rest of the movie with the other actors. Surprisingly, it's not bad for being cobbled in this fashion. It's The Terror (1963), and here's Boris in it, with a young Jack Nicholson!


As the 1960's wore on, despite increasingly fragile health, the tireless Karloff became the elder statesman of horror films, as seen here in a very atmospheric shot from Die Monster Die! (1965)


Boris pops up in a couple of cameos in the American International "Beach" movies. This one is Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966).


Boris won a Grammy award for his narration of the classic television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1966.

Boris made Targets with first time director Peter Bogdanovich in 1968. This was another movie made because Karloff owed Roger Corman a couple of days shooting. Corman told Bogdanovich he could have Karloff for two days and had to use footage from The Terror in this movie - and somehow Bogdanovich made a gem of a movie, a thriller that would have been the perfect valedictory for Boris' long, wonderful career.

However, Boris shot scenes for four Mexican horror movies in California in 1968, just months before he passed away at the age of 81. The films (The Fear Chamber, The Sinister Invasion, House of Terror, and The Snake People) were completed in Mexico and released posthumously, the last more than two years after his passing in 1971. No, they're not very good, and they ended up with more R rated material in them than I think he would have been comfortable with, but they are Boris Karloff movies and are worth watching, just to see him.

Dedicated to Boris Karloff.

You should watch some Boris Karloff this Halloween season - he'd be happy to know he gave you some scares! 

Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Further evidence that I need to see more flicks from the 30s. The lighting and atmosphere alone would make these worth seeing.