I’ve never made it a secret that I love old horror films, they were full of amazing creatures and originality.
But being such a huge fan does have its problems! I had to think hard about what I was going to put into my blogpost – about the birth of one of the all-time horror greats – Boris Karloff born today in 1887 – or it would have simply gone on forever!
My first memories of Karloff would have to be when I was about 9, and I was allowed to stay up late one evening. I sat with my father to watch for the very first time “Bride of Frankenstein”. It would change me forever, making me the horror fanatic I am today.
I watched it again recently, before I wrote this and it astonished me how easily Karloff commands the screen…by doing almost nothing! He played the “Monster” better than anyone before or since. A lesser actor could have made the creature look ridiculous. But through Karloff we see him searching for someone to care for him, despite being mercilessly persecuted at almost every turn!
Karloff gives him a ‘child-like’ innocence. It still brings a tear to my eye as he declares “We belong dead”…it must be one of the saddest moments in film history.
As a budding horror fan, I started to watch his old classics. He appeared in 180 films throughout his career & I knew he was a good actor, with his soft voice and touchingly precise lisp. I always find something truly mesmerizing about him on screen, monster or not. But when pure evil was called for, pure evil is what Karloff delivered! ( just think of his gaunt & leering performance in “Bedlam” 1946).
Over the years, he has become one of my favorite actors. The more I watch Karloff, the more I enjoy his work.
But there are far too many of his films to mention here – from his malicious little sneers in “The Black Cat”, his pure evilness in “The Mask of Fu Manchu” and his painting a cunning portrait of a very human ‘monster’ as “Cabman John Gray” in “The Body Snatcher”. And I do think a mummy played by anyone else would be just a body wrapped in linen, but Karloff made it a dangerous & mysterious character.
Of course, it would be rude of me not to mention his first ‘horror’ role, when late in his career he made a bid for stardom in a non-talking part.
His friend Lon Chaney had once told him “Find something that no one else can or will do – what the screen needs is individuality”. Boris remembered Chaney’s words when he took the part of a lifetime, and one that would make him a horror icon forever.
So picture yourself as part of the naïve viewing audience of “Frankenstein”, November 1931 as you are taken to a castle on a lonely European hilltop, a storm in the dead of night, a bolt of lightning and a laboratory where an insane experiment is taking place – no wonder people fainted or fled the theatres as Karloff’s “Monster” was born !
This creature is perfectly ghastly…flat head, bolts on the neck and scars. But as terrifying as his dead-like appearance is, especially in that iconic make-up, we never really see him as a villain. Instead, we feel sorry for this hideous yet beautiful creature, something the likes of modern “horror” can only dream about.
He brought humanity and warmth to his “creatures” and was surely one of the greatest actors ever to appear on our screens. Sad to say we don’t have anyone like him in horror these days.
His “Monster” has haunted our popular culture, etched in our minds forever.
“Karloff The Uncanny” had such an impact on me personally and countless other horror fans throughout his career…..a lesson in positive “type-casting”….and I’m glad he was type-cast…..as I can’t imagine either horror or sci-fi without him!
He played some of the best (and scariest) monsters, madmen and villains of all time……………he scared the World and the World loved him for it!