Showing posts with label Boris Karloff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boris Karloff. Show all posts

26/11/2009

THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

DAY #398

Another white-out. A white-out out. I mean outside, its a white-out. An out and out white-out in fact.

It's completely white is what I'm trying to say (outside).

So lots of time to sit here and think... to reflect on my life before the igloo...

God, I loved women. Loved them so much that I wanted to hold them, squeeze them and never let go. This led to all sorts of lawsuits involving complicated legal jargon such as 'strangulation' and 'murder', and at one stage I was even accused of being sexist!

"What's wrong with being sexy, love?" I replied to the female lawyer, pretending to have misheard her.

But she didn't see the joke, and went on to cite the fact that most of my 12 marriages had ended acrimoniously. She even had the gall to suggest that the only reason some of the marriages hadn't ended acrimoniously was because the bodies were never recovered from the reservoir*.

In my defence, I tried reminding her of the time I judged a beauty competition. But in response, all that this efficient, well-prepared and sexy lawyer did was quote my beauty competition judging notes back at me - in particular the page where I'd scrawled "All whores must die!" across the page in a mixture of my blood and semen.

I said no more on the subject, but to this day I still regret judging that beauty competition. It caused me no end of bother, especially when the winner went missing after an evening stroll with me.

But all this happened long ago, and beauty competitions are probably a lot less controversial these days. So! Enough attempts at reminiscing - here comes a film!


THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)






Misleading Poster Alert...



The Body Snatcher is one of three horror films in which Boris Karloff starred for producer Val Lewton (the others being ISLE OF THE DEAD & BEDLAM). Tis based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story, set in his home-town of olde Edinburgh around the 1820s. The tale centres around an idealistic young medical student Fettes (played by Russell Wade who pronounces Edinburgh as Edin-bow-row in his first scene which, as a Scot myself, is pretty unforgivable so I won't be mentioning him again), who gets taken on as an apprentice by the renowned Dr. MacFarlane. Now all we need are specimens to examine so we can work out how to save a young girl's life...

Although this film reunites Lugosi and Karloff, the main action is between Henry Daniell as Dr. Macfarlane and Karloff as his nemesis, Cabman and part-time Graverobber and Murderer John Gray.

Both actors play their parts superbly, no doubt helped by the beautifully written dialogue. Daniell manages to elicit real sympathy for his character even though he's a humourless and highly-strung arse, and Karloff gives a wonderfully sinister yet intelligent performance as the mocking Gray, who seems to have an uncanny hold over the doctor. Maybe they share a secret past?



The relationship between these two characters is what makes The Body Snatcher so compelling, locked as they are in some sort of death-embrace just like a pair of... I can't remember exactly. But I do seem to recall watching a nature show with two insects fighting which resulted in a ghastly stale-mate, where the next move would mean instant death for both of them. Anyway, that's Gray and Macfarlane.

Has anyone compared this film to Cape Fear before? I'd certainly do an in-depth study of the themes shared between the two If I wasn't restricted to watching random films in this bloody igloo. For a start, there are some obvious similarities in the storyline of both films, with the not-so-innocent protagonist coming up against a less than welcome reminder from their past. In both films, its the 'good guys' who seem less comfortable in their own skin, whereas Gray and Cady seem to have no such problems with what they are. They have come to terms with the evil that men (usually themselves) do. Also, in a touch which I particularly enjoy, throughout both films our flawed heroes are saddled with something of a pet-name by their nemesises - Gray enjoys referring to Macfarlane as 'Toddy' with the same evident relish that Max Cady greets Sam Bowden as 'Counselor'.

As I alluded to earlier, the relationship between Macfarlane and Gray surely can't end well for either of them. And it doesn't. No one here gets out alive, yet even in death the two can't be separated it would seem...

The Body Snatcher is a true horror classic which has stood the test of time remarkably well. It explores ethical issues regarding our quest of knowledge that are still relevant today, and offers a stark warning of what happens when good men allow bad things to happen to achieve their own goals. And for many, it's Karloff's finest performance.



"I am a small man, a humble man. Being poor I have had to do much that I did not want to do. But so long as the great Dr McFarlane comes to my whistle, that long am I a man. If I have not that then I have nothing. Then I am only a cabman and a grave robber. You'll never get rid of me, Toddy."

MORE KARLOFF AT THE BORIS KARLOFF BLOGATHON

* Reservoir is just a complete guess of course.

24/11/2009

Would you buy a lighter from this man?

It's Day 2 of the Karloff Blogathon. But first, a word from our sponsors...


23/11/2009

Happy Birthday William Henry Pratt (1887-1969)

Here's a Google Map View of a nice little Turkish restaurant in 36 Forest Hill Road, Camberwell, Sarf London:


View Larger Map

And here's a close-up of that blue plaque on the wall...



Yes, what better way to start the Boris Karloff Blogathon with a small piece on his early life?

William Henry Pratt was born on this day, the 23rd November, in 1887 at the address above (not a Turkish restaurant back then as my extensive research has revealed).

The family moved to Enfield in 1892, and stayed at several addresses, one of them being 38 Uplands Park Road.


View Larger Map

William's first performance - as a monster - was at St. Magdalene's Church, probably in December 1896, playing the Demon King in a production of Cinderella.

"When I was nine I played the Demon King in Cinderella and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster."


Here's a pic of Reverend George Turner (St. Magdalene's 1885-1910), who would have given William that first big break:



Unfortunately Reverend Turner passed away in 1929, a couple of years before Frankenstein and The Mummy were launched onto an unsuspecting public. I wonder what he'd have thought?

09/04/2009

BLACK SABBATH (1963)

Day #3

Another night in the igloo, another nightmare. Or was it real?

Asleep, or awake, I found myself lying on my bed trying to focus on a shadowy mass at the other end of my dwelling...

What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me!
Turn around quick, and start to run, find out I'm the chosen one - oh no!

Big black shape with eyes of fire, telling people their desire, Satan's sitting there, he's smiling - watches those flames get higher and higher!

Oh no, no, please God help me! Is it the end, my friend? Satan's coming 'round the bend - people running 'cause they're scared - the people better go and beware! No, no, please, no!

Then I woke up for real - it was just a dream. Thought so.


BLACK SABBATH (1963)



I’m sorry, but Italian horror has never really done it for me. If I was spoiling for a fight (and I usually am) I’d say that Italian horror consists solely of big shiny knives, garish colours and ‘sexy’ women who actually aren’t sexy at all and look like drag queens.

That said I was more than willing to give Black Sabbath a chance. But I’m sorry to say that I still came away from it feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

Black Sabbath, a film by the legendary Mario Bava, is an anthology of 3 short horrors:

The Telephone
– A ‘sexy’ woman who actually isn’t very sexy at all is harassed by an obscene caller. Big shiny knives are involved. The twist is pretty lame. Next please.

The Wurdalak
– This is a lot more like it, thanks in no small part to a sinister as hell Boris Karloff who plays Gorca, a man turned into a vampire type creature, cursed to attack those he loves the most. The scene with the undead child outside the house pleading for his mama is pretty chilling. And it looks great, with lots of garish colours. However, the heroine is played by a ‘sexy’ woman who actually isn’t sexy at all and look more like a drag queen.


The Last Drop – A bitter nurse steals a ring from a dead patient and gets her comeuppance. Very Tales of the Crypt. The dead patient is bloody hideous and is exactly the sort of thing that would have shat me right up as a kid. But I’m 72 now and made of sterner stuff…

NNNNNYYYYYAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!
Sorry about that.

One problem I have with Black Sabbath is that the 3 tales don’t really come together as a whole(certainly not in the way that a wonderful Amicus anthology would, for example). The Telephone and The Last Drop have a similar theme I suppose, as both women are terrorised by real or imagined horrors in the supposed safety of their homes, but then where is The Wurdalak – a gothic, medieval vampire tale – meant to fit in?

So as I said, I was underwhelmed by Black Sabbath. The Wurdalak was the only highlight for me with its on-form Karloff, foreboding atmosphere and some genuinely imaginative cinematography. I’m not the kind of person who ever scores films out of 10 - that method is way too simple and easy, and I’ll fight until my dying breath before a review of mine ends in such a way - but If I was to mark the 3 tales individually, I’d give them a 4, 6 and 5 respectively. 15/30 then. Which is 5/10.

Oh, and I almost forget the end – where, for some bizarre reason the camera pulls away to reveal that Karloff is actually on a fake horse, and we see all the special effects guys and scenery shifters around him. If I’d been enjoying the film this would have ruined it.

Ile Trailero:

14/01/2009

ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)


Day #16

Clear weather again today, so I venture west and attempt to map my surroundings...

I had been walking for several uneventful hours when it hit me!

I looked around – nothing. So I attempted to carry on walking and it hit me again! Some sort of invisible force field!

I walked as far as I could to the left, and to the right. No way through. Am I trapped? Trapped like an animal? Like an animal in… an arctic force-field?

I find myself pondering upon this question back in the igloo, as the TV flickers on and offers up a melancholy tale of people trapped on an island – is this another message aimed at me? Must… write. Must… record…


ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945)


Isle of the Dead - a beautifully subtle and understated horror movie - is one of famed producer Val Lewton’s 9 seminal horror films he made for RKO in the 1940’s. Val Lewton's horrors have a unique style all of their own, as he favours atmosphere and trepidation over shocks and monsters. Brain over brawn, if you will, which makes for a type of film-making that has stood the test of time rather well.

To my mind (semi-frozen in the arctic wasteland as it is), Isle of the Dead has an awful lot in common with Lewton’s 1942 masterpiece ‘Cat People’. In both, superstition plays a central part. In both, a young lady is under suspicion of being some sort of supernatural being. In both, superstition and madness become intertwined…

Several people find themselves quarantined on a Greek Island during The Balkans War. Among them we have a stern General played with magnificent restraint by Boris Karloff. Others present include a British consul and his invalid wife, a military doctor, an attractive young lady, and an incredibly annoying old Greek peasant women.

And so the group find themselves stuck on this island together, as the plague takes hold and they start to die off. And as if this wasn’t enough, the old Greek woman starts ranting about a Vorvolaka (some sort of Greek vampire sort of thing) being in their midst – and she’s pointing her crooked old arthritic Greek finger straight at the attractive young lady!

What follows is 90 minutes of a beautifully shot and wonderfully acted (especially Karloff) meditation on superstition, science, mortality, war, disease and madness.

It’s a truly haunting movie (no pun intended) with a foreboding atmosphere throughout, a chilling ending that gets right under your skin, and a premature burial thrown in for good measure. Essential viewing for the Horror connoisseur!

23/12/2008

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)





I recommend watching this as a double bill with 'Young Frankenstein'. Son of Frankenstein MUST SURELY have been the one Mel Brooks had in mind most when creating his hilarious horror homage - so there are lots of lovely matching moments to look out for; secret compartments, mad assistants, portraits of dead dads, locals with pitchforks, a wooden-armed policeman... to name but a few.

Not to mention some huge, impressive knockers!

Rathbone's turn as Wolf Frankenstein is terrific. Manic, over the top and bloody funny. Watch it and you'll begin to realise that Gene Wilder's performance in Young Frankenstein wasn't all that far-fetched.

And then there's Karloff and Lugosi...

Horror Tip #753: Never hire an assistant called Ygor, Igor or a derivative thereof. It'll end in trouble.

Lugosi has rarely been better in this role as Ygor, the devious, cunning, horrible, smelly (probably) assistant that has an uncanny hold over the monster. It's all in the pipes, you see.



Son of Frankenstein may not top the original 'Frankenstein' or 'Bride', but throw me into a pit of sulphur and call me Ygor if it isn't still great fun. Rathbone is a joy to watch as his deperation takes hold and things descend to something resembling high farce, what with him bolting around his castle with a one-armed policeman hot on his trail. Terrific stuff. Added to the sense of farce is the fact that when Wolf's wife is shouting his name, it sounds like she's shouting "Woof!". Well, it made me laugh anyway...

And it's done in a wonderful setting. The castle looks stunning, all deep shadows and crazy angles. Why, there's not a straight line in the place! Enough to drive anyone mad.

Finally, there's a cheering crowd at the train station, and a happy ending to enjoy - until the train pulls out the station and you think, "Hang on, why aren't they arresting him?". Best not to worry too much about it though. Just sit back enjoy Son of Frankenstein - and those impressive knockers!

11/12/2008

THE BLACK CAT (1934)



Some Americans travelling in Europe are forced to spend the night with some locals. This results in them being drugged, assaulted and kidnapped for the benefit of an elite club. The movie ends with someone being skinned alive for our viewing pleasure.

Yes, that’s right gentle reader – more than 80 years before ‘Hostel’ appeared, ‘The Black Cat’ was titillating and horrifying audiences with what can only be described as Torture Porn. So it turns that Eli Roth may not be responsible for the decay of western civilisation’s morals after all – who would have thunk it?



The Black Cat is a horrifying, terrificaly twisted little Poe tale where we’re treated to Karloff and Lugosi squaring off against each other, without monster make-up for a change(although Karloff does appear to have been a bit heavy handed with the mascara brush).

Lugosi brings real depth to a complex character bent on revenge, struggling to maintain his sanity, but also fundamentally a good man. Karloff’s character, on the other had, is a complete bastard.



The scene where they play chess for the right of the innocent heroine, as her newly-wed hubby watches blissfully unaware, is loaded with tension. The dynamite hidden under the foundations of the house is loaded with tension too…

We then proceed to some devil-worshipping shenanigans, where Karloff gets all diabolical on an altar in front of a crowd of ardent followers (where did they come from?)...

At the risk of spoiling the ending, I'll just say that the hero and heroine manage to escape certain doom and are last seen on a train, speeding to safety (another similarity with 'Hostel', of course). And in case you hadn't guessed, the reference to loads of dynamite being buried under the house has an impact.

Horror Rule #465: All great Horror movies end with an exploding or burning house.

08/12/2008

THE MUMMY (1932)



The Mummy is like the White Album. As a youngster, I found it too old, too strange and out of touch with MY world (The Omen, Lost Boys, American Werewolf, Phantasm, Grifter Bikes, Jet Set Willy) to really get into it, to really understand it's beauty. But over time, as I became more mature (maybe not mature - older then) I learned to truly love and appreciate it. I still wish they hadn't let Ringo sing that song about being in a car crash and losing all his hair though. That last sentence applies to The White Album only.

The Mummy is a haunting, romantic classic from a bygone world that we can only catch glimpses of through monochromatic ghosts - feel the breath of the dying silent-movie era on its shoulder as it weaves its hypnotic spell.

Not sure where that last sentence came from. Anyway, The Mummy, as I've said, is a romantic story - with many, many plot similarities to Universal's Dracula movie of the previous year. In both, we have a romantic undead anti-hero trying to get his undead hands on a beautiful heroine. The beautiful heroine's proper human beau (not undead) pursues his undead love rival with help of a talisman, and a wise old expert. In Dracula, it's Van Helsing, in The Mummy, it's Dr. Muller. In both, it's the legendary actor Edward Van Sloan playing the part.

Karloff dominates. His make-up (courtesy of Jack Pierce of course) is magnificent, both as 'The Mummy', and minus the bandages as the sinister but apparently human Ardath Bey. The make-up on the latter is beautifully understated, subtle and spot-on. Somehow he looks like a guy who's been stuck in the sand for thousands of years. And he's bloody scary looking. The POV shot of him 'working his mojo'(or the Ancient Egyptian equivalent) is an iconic image...



... and you won't find many of them in the 1999 'version'.

What more is there to be said? If your last memory of 'The Mummy' involves Brendan Fraser battling 'The Rock' then you know what you need to do. Relax, sit yourself down and take a step back in time... to one of those that they just don't make any more.