The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Shudder] - BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster review
The life and legacy of the horror icon.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Thomas Hamilton

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster poster

With few exceptions, the people who make the scariest movies tend to be among the nicest you could meet, and it's often said that horror movie sets are the most relaxed while those of comedies are the most stressful. Epitomising this dichotomy is Boris Karloff, who almost exclusively played villains on screen while being known as the perfect gentleman off screen.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster review

Director Thomas Hamilton's documentary, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster, is a tribute to both sides of Karloff. It highlights his iconic work in the horror genre while also emphasising just what a decent bloke the actor really was. Indeed, it was Karloff's humble nature that made his monsters so human. Karloff was self-conscious about his Anglo-Indian looks, which saw him bullied in school, and his stammer and lisp, which ironically gave him that most distinctive of voices.


As is to be expected given the depth of his filmography, some of his roles are given deeper examinations than others. The movie that made him a star, James Whale's Frankenstein and its arguably superior sequel Bride of Frankenstein, form the crux of the documentary. In the Monster we have the ultimate Karloff role, a villainous beast that deep down possesses a heart of gold. An anecdote that highlights Karloff's soft-hearted nature concerns his horror at the inclusion of the infamous scene in which the Monster drowns a little girl in a lake. Karloff was among those who fought to have the scene excised. As one of the doc's talking heads points out, removing the drowning ironically implies that the Monster may have subjected the child to a far worse fate.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster review

While Frankenstein and its followup are understandably allotted much time for discussion, Hamilton's film manages to cover a lot of ground. Unless you’re a committed Karloff obsessive you're likely to have your curiosity peaked about some of the actor's lesser known films that are spotlighted here – this is one to watch with a pen and paper or your Letterboxd "to watch" list close to hand.


With his featured talking heads, Hamilton has assembled just the right bunch of people you want to hear talking about a star of Karloff's vintage. Famous cinephile filmmakers like Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman and Guillermo del Toro are on hand, as are noted critics and film historians like Leonard Maltin, Christopher Frayling and David J. Skal. Of course, no examination of Karloff would be complete without the aid of his loving daughter Sara, who adds personal anecdotes to the Hollywood trivia. The inclusion of the recently passed trio of Dick Miller, Christopher Plummer and Peter Bogdanovich add the doc an extra layer of pathos. It's refreshing to watch a film doc in which none of the talking heads feel the need to crack jokes, and the absence of anyone under the age of 60 is noticeable. These are all people who have either worked with Karloff or have been in love with his work for decades, and their accumulated knowledge is invaluable to Hamilton's doc.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster review

There's one particularly touching moment in which Bogdanovich recalls shooting Karloff's famous monologue from his 1968 film Targets. It was 2am and the actor was knackered but managed to get through the speech in one unbroken take. On completion the young crew applauded Karloff, which prompted the actor's then wife to remark how long it had been since a crew clapped for Karloff. Forgotten by his own generation, Karloff had been adopted by a new crop of adoring young filmmakers. Hopefully Hamilton's film will introduce a new generation to the legacy of the actor born William Henry Pratt.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster
 is on Shudder UK from January 27th.



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