Now available from director Thomas Hamilton, Abramorama and Shout! Studios comes the story of a man who embraced the monster in BORIS KARLOFF: The Man Behind the Monster.
William Henry Pratt was born To British father Edward and Indian mother Eliza after the family returned to England from Bombay, but the family is dysfunctional until his mother became unable to care for Billy. At 9 he finds an escape into the theatre, yet his family life does not improve.
Once his formal education was complete, Billy moves to Canada changing his name to Boris Karloff, and in Vancouver he finds a job with the railway. He marries Jessie and they work hard together but he could not stop the dream of the stage. He joins the Jeanne Russell Company and begins a career that is given good reviews.
In 1920, he became an extra in Hollywood and lands a role in THE DEADLIEST SEX. He plays such an expansive roles and characters to earn a living and perfects his craft. He met Lon Chaney who gives him advice to stay with acting. In 1926 he does the silent film THE BELLS playing a hypnotist.
For the next two years he did construction and field work, he marries Dorothy Stein. Then comes the film THE CRIMINAL CODE, starring as Galloway, this is where Karloff begins telling the story of being an actor. The Great Depression happens and pay cuts begin to happen in Hollywood. Boris joined a group of actors that wanted to stand up for actor’s rights that are carried on today with the Screen Actors Guild.
Working his way through roles, GRAFT in 1931 would bring about the story of Frankenstein. It was Bela Lugosi who began the rise of monsters in films with the 1931 hit DRACULA.
Now, James Whale would bring the story of Mary Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN and Universal eventually announces Karloff to play the heavily made-up role of the monster. Every day, Karloff would spend hours transforming the actor into the character we see today in the film. When Frankenstein enters through the door and turns around, we see what del Toro would call ‘a religious experience’.
Makeup artist Jack Pierce created makeup that allowed Karloff to still be able to show emotion and invite us into his pain. While some might have been afraid, there are those (including myself the first time I saw the film) who believed Frankenstein to be so much more than we could have imagined.
Even when there is horror, Frankenstein breaks our heart with emotion and innocence. One scene in the film brought Whale and Karloff into a separation working state yet the film was an instant success. Yet, while the film made Karloff a star, he was treated no better than Frankenstein.
In 1932, Karloff again plays a frightening character in THE OLD DARK HOUSE. Also, that year, Karloff is in the film THE MASK OF FU MANCHU from MGM which he referred to as a “shambles of a film”. Again, in the same year came the release of THE MUMMY and Karloff works perfectly well with make up again provided by Jack Pierce but also plays two characters in the film.
In 1934, Karloff would eventually be able to finally play on screen with Lugosi in THE BLACK CAT. He has the opportunity to frighten audiences in a different way and provides such an evil character. He has the opportunity in 1935 to play twin good vs. evil brothers in the film THE BLACK ROOM and, in the same year returns to THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Returning as the monster, Karloff is not happy that the monster tries to speak.
THE INVISIBLE RAY, CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA and IT’LL LIGHT THE WAY came around at the time where religion tried to tell Hollywood how to behave with films. THE WEST OF SHANG HI is clever and successful, he almost loses his contract because he was not a monster. He agrees to do DEVIL’S ISLAND and BRITISH INTELLIGENCE for the paycheck.
Finally in 1939, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN came along and is considered one of the best performances of his career. He also continues to make what are considered B-films, but it is a Karloff film and fans even today remember them with fondness.
ARSENIC AND OLD LACE comes to Broadway and even though it had been ten years since he set foot on stage, the show was a success. A few years later, Hollywood comes calling and wants to do a film with everyone but Karloff. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is filmed in 1944, and Val Lewton’s THE BODY SNATCHERS in 1945 reuniting Karloff with Lugosi with RKO Pictures.
ISLE OF THE DEAD brings Karloff to an eerie island, but the story is based on a painting and finally BEDLAM bringing the trio of Lewton and Karloff together. A few more films brings him to do live television. He finally is able to do ARSENIC AND OLD LACE for a wide audience. He also has the chance to play George Darling and Captain Hook in PETER PAN. He also has his performance in THE LARK brought to television in 1957 along with his life story with THIS IS YOUR LIFE.
The 1960 brings about a resurgence of the appreciation of monsters and thriller films but Karloff moves back to England. There he brings about the series THRILLER, and it becomes highly successful and, some say, ahead of its time. Roger Corman brings him to his film THE RAVEN, followed by THE TERROR. In 1966, he embraced story of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS with more success with a voice that embraced the character.
THE SOCERERS in 1967 followed by TARGETS in 1968 going from horror by following a wife to horror of a real life rounds out amazing performances. There were only 8 more performances for Karloff, but the final would be on the Red Skelton Show performing with Vincent Price.
Because the show must always go on!
SHOUT! Factory has grown into a tremendous multi-platform media company. Releasing new animated features such as the exquisite Long Way North, and the epic fantasy Beauty and The Beast. Also, their own original horror film, Fender Bender gives fans a good scare. For more of what SHOUT Factor has to offer please visit www.shoutfactory.com.
Abramorama is the preeminent global theatrical distributions and rights partner for many documentary and music films and is recognized for the consistent high quality of its work on award winning features. Over the course of 20 years, Abramorama has successfully distributed and marketed hundreds of films including Ron Howard’s Grammy Award Winning THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, Stanley Nelson’s MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL, as well as Academy Award Nominee and IDA Best Documentary Winner THE LOOK OF SILENCE. For more of what they have to offer please visit www.abramorama.com.
Cameos include Guillermo del Toro,Sir Christopher Frayling, Dick Miller, Jack Hill, Christopher Plummer, Orson Bean, David J. Skal, Sara Karloff, Leonard Maltin, Roger Corman, Thomas Hamilton, Cortlandt Hull, Ian Ogilvy, MJaymz Bee, Mark Voger, Gregory Mank, Ron Perlman, Kevin Brownlow, Bernie Coleman, Jacobs, Joe Dante, Peter Bogdonovich and narrator Paul Ryan.
BORIS KARLOFF: The Man Behind the Monster is an amazing documentary giving us the story of a man who shared so much in the way of entertainment. My favorite days of the week were Friday and Saturday nights because I was allowed to stay up late and watch ‘scary movies’ with my older brother.
Left alone while everyone else went to bed, we would find ourselves binging on the Creature Feature list of films. Screaming into our pillows or covering our eyes, you could be darn sure that Karloff was responsible for a great deal of that to be happening. FRANKENSTEIN was a favorite of mine (brother went for Lugosi which actually makes us laugh now that we know they were friends) and for all of the same reasons those in the documentary talk about.
I saw that character as so misunderstood, naïve and used by everyone around him. Trying to find his place in the world and being held accountable for the actions of others was something I understood coming from a dysfunctional family myself. The sadness swept over me like a repeating tidal wave yet, whenever the film was playing – I had to watch. It was not until I actually saw Karloff on the big silver screen, did I totally lose it in tears. How amazing!
The film explains so much to the generation that embraced his beginnings to the current generation because they too see something special in his performance. The only other Frankenstein I can even watch is Peter Doyle in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN for obvious reasons. Karloff WAS Frankenstein in every way and not just because of the makeup but because of the true emotions that came through the makeup.
BORIS KARLOFF: The Man Behind the Monster is also a journey down the timetable of his accomplishments and films that I had totally forgotten about. As a fan of “old” movies, I would definetly be up to a Karloff marathon, someone get TCM on the telephone now and demand it in time for the spooky season!
The cameos also give us an insight to the man, his flaws, successes and remembering being told to never give up on his dream. He did not give up and what we are all left with is a stunning collection of characters that will be with us and available to future generations to come.
It is actors such as Karloff that have me continually starring at screens to be swept away and whispering in the dark ‘gawd, I love movies!’.