Insomnia File #57: Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (dir by Thomas Hamilton)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Ah, the mystery of Boris Karloff.

On screen, Karloff was a horror icon.  He brought Frankenstein’s Monster to life and influenced generations of actors and horror filmmakers.  He was also the Mummy and the first actor to play Sax Rohmer’s international criminal, Fu Manchu and, of course, he won over a whole new generation as narrator of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Over the course of his long career, Karloff appeared in movies both good and bad.  He worked for Mario Bava and Roger Corman and James Whale and Peter Bogdanovich.  He was also the host of Thriller, a much-beloved horror anthology series.  At the height of his fame, he was often credited by just his last name.  Everyone knew who Boris Karloff was.

Off screen, Boris Karloff was a quiet and rather dignified gentleman, one who was widely considered to be one of the kindest and most generous men in Hollywood.  Born William Henry Pratt, Karloff’s father was a diplomat and his family assumed that he would follow their career.  Instead, William Henry Pratt immigrated first to Canada and then to California and transformed himself into Boris Karloff.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster is a documentary that both explores the mysteries of Karloff’s life and also pays tribute to him as an actor.  It attempts to answer the question of how such a kindly man could also be responsible for some of the greatest moments in horror.  Full of archival footage and interviews with those who worked with Karloff and also those who were influenced by his films (like Guillermo del Toro), the film presents a portrait of a talented actor who was as expressive onscreen as he was somewhat withdrawn in real life.  For Karloff, his roles became a way to escape from the troubles of the real world.  As the film makes clear, Karloff didn’t start his career planning to eventually become a horror actor and, occasionally, he did chafe a bit at being typecast.  However, regardless of what role he was playing, Karloff always gave it his best.  He may have appeared in some bad films but he never gave a bad performance.  The film not only includes clips from his films but also an examination of what made his performances so special.  The analysis of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Terror, and Targets is especially interesting.

If you’re a fan of horror, this documentary is for you.  It’s currently available on Shudder.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud
  55. FTA
  56. Exterminators of the Year 3000

One response to “Insomnia File #57: Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (dir by Thomas Hamilton)

  1. Pingback: Insomnia File #58: The Haunting of Helen Walker (dir by Tom McLoughlin) | Through the Shattered Lens

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