BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER *** UK 2021 Dir: Thomas Hamilton. 99 mins
Boris Karloff as a “Horror Icon’ that gets remembered for being the Grinch or Frankenstein is already well in society’s lexicon. The life of Hollywood stars is often filled with myth, legend, and hearsay often invented by studios propagated by fans, or to cover up real problems. Problems are often deemed undesirable from the studio’s point of view or the times.
This year Voltage Films produced a documentary attempt to put the life of Boris Karloff into a film form for all to see. This is a huge task because of the many twists and turns that have happened before plus the lack of documentation. Sources for many of these people have been lost, people have passed on that have known them, and often what is left are poor images in photos and film. Often the film has deteriorated due to neglect or even loss. Early Television appearances cannot be found or poorly made Kinoscopes. The essence of the story is always the facts at Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (2021) gets those in the right places.
The picture enlists author Stephan Jacobs whose scholarly book Boris Karloff; More Than A Monster is an exhaustive entertaining study that took ten years to complete. The Karloff story is an evolving one as new data is being constantly found. Mr. Jacobs’s book forms the basis of the research for the film plus he appears in several moments on camera to give comments and insight.
The film also has the one and only Sara Karloff on camera and offers her endorsement of this treatment of her father’s life. Sarah Karloff guards her late father’s legacy very well making this important to legitimize the work on screen. I can say this from a personal point of view as I have been lucky to have met her at her home in Lake Tahoe and later in Palm Springs California.
The documentary itself is worth a view just for the chance for some to become acquainted with the Boris Karloff story. The film covers a lot of ground leaving out many details like Mr. Karloff’s work on the stage in Canada in the early twenties before he went to the states. I found the picture moved very quickly through a lot of information. The film clips furnished are also through the documentary those I found particularly the Universal Studios film clips used to not be in Blu-ray or HD. This could have been the print of the film I saw that was Universal rearing its ugly financial head for more funds than was available
You do get interesting on camera footage of Gregory W Mank, Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, and Ron Perlman with their impressions. Mr. Perlman presented a midnight screening of The Mummy (1932) at the Eqyptian in LA at one of the TCM Festivals one year that unfortunately, I missed. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (2021) does give an overall, a good overview of a career with facts. I did find the tone a bit dry in places and perhaps hurried.
I did find one questionable moment in the background section to the beginnings of Universal Horror production referencing Bela Lugosi and what turned out to be Tod Browning’s Dracula. I did find one fact concerning Lon Chaney Sr. and the possible link to the role of the Count before Lugosi and others. The documentary says MGM would not let Chaney Sr. out of his contract to do the picture. Lon Chaney died of throat cancer in August 1930 while Browning’s Dracula was still in development. Louis Mayer who ran MGM would always lend his actors even reportedly his own family out at the right price.
Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (2021) is well worth your time to find out more about Karloff and his legacy. It does seem a bit dry at times and suffers from the “talking head’ syndrome of work of this style. However when telling the story of an actor from this perspective, what other ways can you do it unless you go for re-enactment. This is the story of actor Boris Karloff yet it is not the complete story however it is close.
Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster (2021) could and should spur viewers onto an interest in Horror film history, its place in Hollywood, and beyond. Find out that Boris Karloff was more than the Grinch and the Monster. The great ones are versatile and can adapt to various degrees. Today’s film stars in the horror world which is now literally the world owes a debt to these grey images and shuffling feet, screams, and being tossed into and out of things by things. This legacy is too often dismissed and what do these films and actors have to offer today with their poor by today’s standard effects and acting styles. These Universal Films, and the people that made them set the pattern that Horror can be sold to the public. The Universal output with some misfires, later on, are now like old friends, comfortable sweaters on a cold evening. You can curl up and enjoy them again and again with people of any age. These films, later magazines, and books keep this alive for another generation who could perhaps say I want to do that with my life, find their own voice and their own terror. Then it would really be as Basil Rathbone remarked as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein (1939) “Your creation Father will walk again”.
Review by Terry Sherwood
BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER is available to watch HERE