To this day, Boris Karloff and Frankenstein’s monster are synonymous in the minds of many horror fans. So with a title like Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster one could be forgiven for thinking the film focuses on his most famous role. But director Thomas Hamilton (Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn) and co-writer Ron MacCloskey (Karloff and Me) document his entire sixty-year-long career.
The film even opens pre-credits with Guillermo del Toro talking about the influence his performance in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath had on his film Cronos before touching on Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets in which he plays a character modeled on himself. The pre-titles segment ends with his daughter talking about the premiere of How the Grinch Stole Christmas which he narrated.
After the credits Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster goes back to The Criminal Code, the film Karloff considered the one that made his name in Hollywood. It then covers his career through The Mummy before circling back to cover his birth and difficult childhood as William Henry Pratt.
Covering his career in film, on stage, in live television and as the host of Thriller, the film is also a look at how the entertainment industry itself changed across the decades. The end of silent films, the advent of The Hayes Office and the Production Code, and the forming of the Screen Actors Guild of which he was a founding member are all touched on. And, of course, the rise of television, which Karloff was one of the first stars to embrace, is covered.
Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster also looks at his personal life. From growing up with a violently abusive father and his time in Western Canada through his six marriages are covered. It doesn’t go into incredible depth or air dirty laundry, but it doesn’t ignore the less pleasant aspects of Karloff’s life either.
Narrated by Paul Ryan, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster uses archival footage of Karloff himself as well as interviews with film historians as well as performers and filmmakers including John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Animal House), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Hell on the Border), Caroline Munro (Maniac, Cute Little Buggers) and Joe Dante (Gremlins, Piranha) to tell his story and his lasting influence on film.
An enjoyable and informative film, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster should appeal to both fans of Karloff and fans of horror in general. It held my interest from the start to the end credit tributes to Dick Miller, Orson Bean, and Christopher Plummer, all of whom contributed to the film before their deaths.
Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster will be released theatrically by Abramorama beginning on September 17th, you can find a list of theaters and dates here. Shout! Studios will release it to digital platforms and on DVD/Blu-Ray at a later date. You can check the film’s website and Facebook page for announcements.