Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster on Shudder

A documentary about that rare kind of actor – a character actor who becomes a star. By nature, character actors melt into their characters and usually into the background of films. Necessary parts, but not the ones that draw viewers’ attention or big paychecks. Early in film history, Boris Karloff became the exception that proved the rule. During his career, Karloff played some of the biggest monster parts or scary characters in the history of film. Here in Thomas Hamilton’s in-depth documentary on the actor, we learn about the man behind the monster.

When you think of monster films, if you are a big film fan, then one of the first names that is going to pop into your head is Boris Karloff. Despite the fact that he died in 1969 and starred in his last film way back in 1971 (obviously posthumously), his mark is still felt on the monster film genre. This documentary shows that his influence is still acknowledged by filmmakers and actors today. Guillermo del Toro, Ron Perlman, Peter Bogdanovich, Christopher Plummer, Stefanie Powers, Orson Bean, Roger Corman, and John Landis are interviewed and indicate the impact he had on their careers.

His career was not without its struggles. He climbed the steep mountain from bit player to Hollywood royalty. Many of his films were dismissed by critics and even attacked by censors, but because filmgoers loved him and the characters he embodied, his fame grew. From providing the voice for the Grinch in the original animated holiday film to bringing to life Baron Victor von Frankenstein in 1958’s Frankenstein 1970 to portraying Gruesome in Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome in 1947 to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953 to Mord in The Tower of London in 1939 to The Monster in Frankenstein in 1931 and finally to a wide variety of feared doctors in many films, Karloff amassed a huge stable to loathsome characters in his 205 film and television credits listed on IMDb.

Though he was popular not a ton was known about him. Partially because of the era he worked and partially because he maintained an aura of mystery. Basic things were assumed about him which were off base. For instance, many believed him to be either Russian or British when in fact he was of Indian heritage. Off-screen, in opposition to the characters he portrayed, he was a soft spoken and classy man.

What is the most important takeaway from this quite thorough and enlightening doc is that if you are a film fan who is not familiar with this giant’s work then get on it! Start watching his films as he is one of the pillars upon which modern film stands.

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