Entertainment Earth


Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster (Review)

Director: Thomas Hamilton
Writers: Thomas Hamilton, Ron MacCloskey
Cast: Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Pearlman, Guillermo del Toro, Sara Karloff, Stephanie Powers
Year: 2021
Min: 99

This 2021 autobiographical documentary is about horror legend Boris Karloff's life and, in particular, his career. In the pre-credits, it mentions and talks about the later part of his career: IE Mario Bava's classic anthology Black Sabbath, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Peter Bogdanovich's Targets. From there it goes back in time, into his early work discussing his breakthrough role in James Whales' Frankenstein and his follow-up role in The Mummy. It is from here that we go into his rough upbringing and journey into his acting career, including his involvement with SAG, and his following roles, right into his passing. 

Throughout its running time there are some great interviews with experts and legends on the genre and Karloff, as well as those who knew and/ or worked with him. Those interviewed include, but are not limited to David J. Skall, John Landis, Guillermo del Toro, Karloff's daughter Sara Karloff, Joe Dante, and many more. These interviews are informative, entertaining, and loving in nature. And, to be honest, I could listen to guys like Skall, del Toro, Landis, and Dante talk horror movies all day long!

Learning that he had a rough childhood, thanks to his father who was abusive to him and his mother, was wholly new information to me. In fact, I knew nothing about his pre-Hollywood days, till watching this douc. But, then there are many fascinating facts that are revealed both through interviews and the excellent narration. The documentary is never boring and always feels like you are learning something new about this legend or basking in the glorious admiration so many rightfully have for him. 

A couple of moments even hit me and really warmed my heart, as in when the late, great Dick Miller (a cult horror legend and favorite in his own right) talking about working with him in Roger Corman's The Terror. Corman, himself, appears, and as is the case with any interview with him, provides truthful and insightful facts about movie productions. In this case being in reference to the aforementioned The Terror and the preceding flick The Raven, both of which, of course, featured Karloff.

Other captivating moments include the scene where Karloff, as the monster, throws the little girl into the water in Frankenstein. I knew the scene was cut back then but didn't know the exact details. And, I certainly didn't know Karloff's thoughts on this classic moment in the genre. Later we have various interviewees discussing one of my favorite movies of Karloff' and Bela Lugosi's career, The Black Cat. They mention its boundary pushing subject matters of Satanism and necrophilia. 

Then there is talk of the struggle Karloff had finding work in the early days of the horror hating Hays Code. As well as, his work for horror producer Val Lewton, and so many more great moments. In fact, the discussion on the the three Lewton movies is extensive and fully engrossing. And, finally, as a long time convention goer, the part where his daughter Sara Karloff speaks of meeting fans and seeing and hearing their love for her father, is a truly touching highlight all its own.

It's also great to hear how TV airing classic horror movies revitalized his career the 50s and 60s . We learn that thanks to this, he got to do a lot of television roles and appearances and a string of movies in this later part of his life. Among these include the beloved Targets, highlighted by an interview with its director Peter Bogdanovich. His words on the making of it are inciteful and captivating. The fact that he so recently passed away makes this interview with the legendary and respected director that much more memorable. 

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster is a wonderful, informative and, above all, affectionate documentary. It serves as both a testament to Karloff's incredible body of work and as a loving tribute to him. The interviews speak with a great amount of deserved reverence and admiration for him and his movies and roles. The facts revealed are illuminating and fascinating. The docu, itself, is never, not even for a split second, boring, as it is always entertaining watch. As such, its an absolute must watch for fans of Karloff and classic horror, in general. The documentary also ranks as one of the finest, utterly enjoyable, and perhaps most heartwarming ones on horror movies. You'll be able to see it and enjoy it yourself, when it begins streaming on Shudder on January 27, 2022.