The real Frankenstein's Monster

By Year
By Grade
New Reviews
Upcoming Reviews
Tributes New!
TV! Coming Soon
Contact me




A Tribute To Boris Karloff

My Opinion

Karloff, like Lugosi, was the perfect 30s and 40s caricature of what a horror movie actor should look like and talk like. This was as much a ticket to fame as it was an albatross around his neck, but he made the best of it for 40 years, making some of the best ("The Black Cat", "The Body Snatcher", "Targets"), most iconic ("Frankenstein", "The Mummy"), and worst ("Voodoo Island") movies of all time. Karloff was a classic and all you need to do is compare "Targets" with "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to see how talented and what a consummate professional he was.



Boris Karloff (born William Henry Pratt) (November 23, 1887 - February 2, 1969) was an English actor who emigrated to Canada in the 1910s. He is best known for his roles in horror films and his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein. His popularity following Frankenstein in the early 1930s was such that for a brief time he was billed simply as "Karloff" or, on some movie posters, "Karloff the Uncanny".

William Henry Pratt was born in Camberwell, London, England to Edward John Pratt, Jr., the Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Salt and Opium, Northern Division, Indian Salt Revenue Service, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard. He was brought up in Enfield. His paternal grandmother was Eliza Julia (Edwards) Pratt, a sister of Anna Leonowens, whose tales about life in the royal court of Siam (now Thailand) were the basis of the musical The King and I. Her maternal grandmother was of East Indian origin from Calcutta in Bengal.

Research for a new biography has shown the actor was not orphaned in his youth, as has always been believed. Following his mother's death he was raised by his elder brothers and sister and attended Enfield Grammar School before moving to Uppingham School and Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood, and eventually the University of London. Karloff's first goal in life was to join the foreign service - his brother, Sir John Henry Pratt, became a distinguished British diplomat - but instead he fell into acting. In 1909, Pratt travelled to Canada, changing his name to something more in keeping with his new vocation while on his way to an acting job with the Jeanne Russell Theater Co. in Kamloops, British Columbia. He spent years testing the waters in North America while living in smaller towns like Kamloops and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. In 1912, while appearing in a play in Regina, Saskatchewan, Karloff volunteered to be a rescue worker following a devastating tornado. He also lived in Minot, North Dakota, for a year, performing in an opera house above a hardware store. For health reasons, he did not fight in World War I.

Some time after emigrating to Canada in 1909, William Pratt changed his professional name to "Boris Karloff." Some have theorized that he took the stage name from a mad scientist character in the novel The Drums of Jeopardy called "Boris Karlov." However, the novel was not published until 1920, at least three years after Karloff had been using the name on stage and in silent films (Warner Oland played "Boris Karlov" in a movie version in 1931). Another possible influence was thought to be a character in the Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy novel H.R.H. The Rider which features a "Prince Boris of Karlova," but as the novel was not published until 1915, the influence may be backward, that Burroughs saw Karloff in a play and adapted the name for the character. Pratt/Karloff always claimed he chose the first name "Boris" because it sounded foreign and exotic, and that "Karloff" was a "family name." However, his daughter Sara Karloff publicly denied any knowledge of Slavic forebears, "Karloff" or otherwise. One reason for the name change was to prevent embarrassment to his family. Whether or not his brothers (all dignified members of the British foreign service) actually considered young William the "black sheep of the family" for having become an actor, Karloff himself apparently worried they did feel that way. He did not reunite with his family again until 1933, when he went back to England to make The Ghoul, extremely worried that his siblings would disapprove of his new, macabre claim to world fame. Instead, his elder brothers jostled for position around their "baby" brother and happily posed for publicity photographs with him.

Career in Hollywood

Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood, California, he made dozens of silent films, but work was sporadic, and he often had to take up manual labor--such as digging ditches and driving a cement truck--to pay the bills. His role as the Monster in Frankenstein (1931) made him a star. A year later, he played another iconic character, Imhotep, in The Mummy.

The five foot eleven, brown-eyed Karloff played a wide variety of roles in other genres besides horror. He was memorably gunned down in a bowling alley in the original version of Scarface. He played a religious WWI soldier in the 1934 John Ford epic The Lost Patrol. Karloff gave a string of lauded performances in 1930s Universal horror movies, including several with his main rival as heir to the horror throne of Lon Chaney, Sr., Bela Lugosi, whose rejection of Karloff's role in Frankenstein made Karloff's subsequent career possible. Karloff played Frankenstein's monster three times; the other films being Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), which also featured Lugosi as the demented Ygor. Karloff would revisit the Frankenstein mythos in film several times after leaving the film role of the creature. The first would be as the villainous Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein (1944) where Karloff would be famously contrasted against the then more popularized Glenn Strange who became the standardized interpretation of the Monster during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Karloff returned to the role of the "mad scientist" of Frankenstein mode in 1958's Frankenstein 1970 as Baron Victor Von Frankenstein II, the grandson of the original inventor. The final twist reveals the crippled Baron has given his own face (i.e., "Karloff's") to the Monster. The actor appeared at a celebrity baseball game as the Monster in 1940, hitting a gag home run and making catcher Buster Keaton fall into an acrobatic dead faint as the Monster stomped into home plate. For a fantasy sequence in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, director Norman Z. McLeod filmed a sequence with Karloff in the Monster make-up, but it was deleted. The final time Karloff donned the headpiece and neck bolts was 1962, for a Halloween episode of the TV series Route 66, but he was playing "Boris Karloff" who, within the story, was playing "the Monster."

While the long, creative partnership of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi never led to a close mutual friendship, it produced some of each actor's most revered and enduring productions, beginning with The Black Cat. Follow-ups included Gift of Gab (1934; not horror, but a whimsical comedy featuring cameos from contract stars), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936), Black Friday (1940), You'll Find Out (also 1940), and The Body Snatcher (1945), which many believe contains Karloff's greatest performance. During this period he also starred with Basil Rathbone in Tower of London (1939).

In contrast to the characters he played on screen, Karloff was known in real life as a very kind gentleman who gave generously, especially to children's charities. Karloff was also a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild, and was especially outspoken regarding working conditions on sets (some extremely hazardous) that actors were expected to deal with in the mid-1930s. He married six times.

An enthusiastic performer, he was able to return to the Broadway stage in the original production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 1941, in which he played a homicidal character enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. Although Frank Capra cast Raymond Massey in the 1944 film, (which was shot in 1941, while Karloff was still appearing in the role on Broadway) Karloff reprised the role on television with Tony Randall and Tom Bosley in a 1962 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Somewhat less successful was his work in the J. B. Priestley play The Linden Tree. He also appeared as Captain Hook in the play Peter Pan with Jean Arthur, and in the process revealed a surprisingly good singing voice. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work opposite Julie Harris in The Lark, by the French playwright Jean Anouilh about Joan of Arc, which was also reprised on Hallmark Hall of Fame.

In later years, Karloff hosted and acted in a number of television series, most notably Thriller, Out of This World and The Veil, the latter of which was never broadcast and only came to light in the 1990s. In the 1960s, Karloff appeared in several films for American International Pictures, including Comedy of Terrors, The Raven and The Terror, the latter two directed by Roger Corman, and appeared as the very brave "retired horror film actor" Byron Orlok (a lightly-disguised version of himself) in Peter Bogdanovich's critically acclaimed 1968 film Targets, which was one of Karloff's final film appearances.

During the 1950s Karloff appeared on British TV in the series "Colonel March of Scotland Yard", in which he solved apparently impossible crimes.

On The Red Skelton Show, Karloff guest starred along with horror actor Vincent Price in a parody of Frankenstein with Red Skelton as the monster "Klem Kadiddle Monster". Karloff also appeared with Robert Vaughn and Stefanie Powers in the spy series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. in the episode, entitled, "The Mother Muffin Affair" in which Karloff performed in drag.

In the mid-1960s, Karloff gained a late-career surge of American popularity when he narrated the made-for-television animated film of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas and provided "the sounds of the Grinch". (The song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was sung not by Karloff, but by American voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger.) Karloff later won a Grammy award in the spoken word category after the story was released as a record.


Boris Karloff lived out his final years at his cottage, 'Roundabout', in the Hampshire village of Bramshott. After a long battle with arthritis and emphysema, he contracted pneumonia, succumbing to it in the King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst, Sussex, England on February 2, 1969, at the age of 81. He was cremated, following a requested low-key service, at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, where he is commemorated by a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance. A memorial service was held at St Paul's, Covent Garden (The Actors' Church), London, where there is also a plaque.

However, even death could not put an immediate halt to Karloff's media career. Four Mexican films for which Karloff shot his scenes in Los Angeles were released over a two-year period after he had died. They were dismissed as undistinguished efforts by critics and fans alike. Also, a few years prior to his death, he lent his name to a comic book for Gold Key Comics titled Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery. An illustrated likeness of Karloff continued to introduce each issue of this publication for nearly a decade after the real Karloff died.


For his contribution to film and television, Boris Karloff was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1737 Vine Street (for motion pictures) and 6664 Hollywood Boulevard (for television). In 1998, Karloff (as Frankenstein's Monster and The Mummy) was featured in a series of "Monster Stamps" issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

From Wikipedia


The Lightning Raider (1919)
The Masked Rider (1919)
His Majesty, the American (1919) (uncredited)
The Prince and Betty (1919)
The Deadlier Sex (1920)
The Courage of Marge O'Doone (1920)
The Last of the Mohicans (1920) (uncredited)
The Hope Diamond Mystery (1921)
Without Benefit of Clergy (1921)
Cheated Hearts (1921)
The Cave Girl (1921)
Nan of the North (1922) (uncredited)
The Man from Downing Street (1922)
The Infidel (1922)
The Altar Stairs (1922)
The Woman Conquers (1922)
Omar the Tentmaker (1922)
The Gentleman from America (1923)
The Prisoner (1923)
The Hellion (1924)
Riders of the Plains (1924)
Dynamite Dan (1924)
Forbidden Cargo (1925)
The Prairie Wife (1925)
Lady Robinhood (1925)
Never the Twain Shall Meet (1925) (uncredited)
Perils of the Wild (1925)
Parisian Nights (1925)
The Greater Glory (1926)
The Man in the Saddle (1926)
Her Honor, the Governor (1926)
The Bells (1926)
The Golden Web (1926)
Flames (1926)
The Eagle of the Sea (1926)
Flaming Fury (1926)
The Nickel-Hopper (1926) (uncredited)
Old Ironsides (1926)
Valencia (1926) (uncredited)
Let It Rain (1927)
The Princess from Hoboken (1927)
Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)
The Meddlin' Stranger (1927)
The Phantom Buster (1927)
Soft Cushions (1927)
Two Arabian Knights (1927)
The Love Mart (1927)
Sharp Shooters (1928) (uncredited)
The Vanishing Rider (1928)
Vultures of the Sea (1928)
The Little Wild Girl (1928)
Burning the Wind (1929)
The Fatal Warning (1929)
The Devil's Chaplain (1929)
Two Sisters (1929)
Anne Against the World (1929)
The Phantom of the North (1929)
Behind That Curtain (1929)
The King of the Kongo (1929)
The Unholy Night (1929)
The Bad One (1930)
The Sea Bat (1930)
The Utah Kid (1930)
Sous les verrous (1931) (French language version of Pardon Us)
The Criminal Code (1931)
King of the Wild (1931)
Cracked Nuts (1931)
The Vanishing Legion (1931) (voice)
Young Donovan's Kid (1931)
Smart Money (1931) (uncredited)
The Public Defender (1931)
I Like Your Nerve (1931)
Graft (1931)
Five Star Final (1931)
The Yellow Ticket (1931)
The Mad Genius (1931)
The Guilty Generation (1931)
Frankenstein (1931) (credited as "?")
Tonight or Never (1931)
Behind the Mask (1932)
Business and Pleasure (1932)
Scarface (1932)
The Miracle Man (1932)
Night World (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
The Mummy (1932)
The Ghoul (1933)
The Lost Patrol (1934)
The House of Rothschild (1934)
The Black Cat (1934)
Gift of Gab (1934)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Raven (1935)
The Black Room (1935)
The Invisible Ray (1936)
The Walking Dead (1936)
Juggernaut (1936)
The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936)
Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
Night Key (1937)
West of Shanghai (1937)
The Invisible Menace (1938)
Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)
Devil's Island (1939)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939)
Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)
Tower of London (1939)
The Fatal Hour (1940)
British Intelligence (1940)
Black Friday (1940)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Doomed to Die (1940)
Before I Hang (1940)
The Ape (1940)
You'll Find Out (1940)
The Devil Commands (1941)
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
The Climax (1944)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Isle of the Dead (1945)
Bedlam (1946)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Lured (1947)
Unconquered (1947)
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)
Tap Roots (1948)
The Emperor's Nightingale (Cisaruv slavík) (1949) (voice)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
The Strange Door (1951)
Colonel March Investigates (1952)
The Black Castle (1952)
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)
The Island Monster (Il Mostro dell'isola) (1954)
The Hindu (Sabaka) (1954)
Voodoo Island (1957)
The Juggler of Our Lady (1958) (voice)
The Haunted Strangler (1958)
Frankenstein 1970 (1958)
Corridors of Blood (1958)
Black Sabbath (1963)
The Terror (1963)
The Raven (1963)
Bikini Beach (1964)
The Comedy of Terrors (1964)
Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
The Daydreamer (1966) (voice)
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) (voice)
The Venetian Affair (1967)
Mad Monster Party? (1967) (voice)
The Sorcerers (1967)
Targets (1968)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)
The Fear Chamber (1968)
House of Evil (1968)
El Coleccionista de cadáveres (1970)
The Incredible Invasion (1971)
Isle of the Snake People (1971)
The Fear Chamber (The Torture Chamber for video release) (1972)

My Reviews

Frankenstein (1931)- This movie has the expected flaws for one so old. The bad old school acting, the silly 'chase scene' near the end. The story sort of follows Shelley's book, but leaves massive gaps. For instance, it seems the monster 'just happens' to find Dr. Frankenstein's fiancé's room, but we know from the book the monster was smart and planned it all along. But despite its flaws I feel it is the strongest of the original Universal monster movies. The sets are great, especially the lab scenes, which are second to none, and the makeup job on Boris Karloff is probably the best of all time. Plus, despite all the makeup, you realize what a tragedy this is for the Monster. The scenes with Fritz teasing him with the torch and the scene near the lake with the little girl were way ahead of their time, and still very effective. Dr. Frankenstein calling out "Now I know what it feels like to be God" was ahead of its time too. Though it all seems very tame now, this was a controversial flick back in the day. A.

The Mummy (1932)- Karloff again becomes a monster, but this time a much less sympathetic, yet more human looking monster. Ironic. Great makeup and sets and a very well acted and directed movie. Influenced by German Expressionism the look is great and Karloff plays his character with great evil restraint. The story is basically the same one used later by Hammer and still again later by Universal in their big budget remake. An ancient Egyptian priest is busted trying to resurrect his princess lover from the dead and is cursed to spend eternity guarding her tomb. Jump ahead to the 20th Century and Egyptian exploration and oops, the Mummy is back. As luck would have it, his lover from way back in the day has been reincarnated again and he must again have her, this time for eternity. Yeah, it's basically Dracula from Egypt rather than Transylvania, but it still works really well. A+.

Old Dark House, The (1932)- James Whale's character study about different people all trapped in an 'old dark house' while a storm rages outside. This movie has a lot of talk and little action, which is OK sometimes and works here sometimes, but not all the time. There was some cutting edge frank (for the times) sex talk and talk of atheism and then a lot of mumbo jumbo and by the time we rolled around to the climax I didn't care much anymore. Not a bad flick and pretty far ahead of it's time in the way it is done but not much in the 'horror' department. C+.

Ghoul, The (1933)- I give these old school flicks the benefit of the doubt, and I’ve read a lot of good stuff about this one, still, I hated it. It is basically a mix up of "The Cat and the Canary", "The Old Dark House", and "The Mummy" but isn’t as good as any of those. An old Egyptologist dies, but believes he will return from the dead as he has been studying and practicing the ancient Egyptian religion and has the secret to immortal life. He warns that if his Egyptian artifacts are tampered with he will return for revenge. The artifacts are tampered with and then we run the gamut about heirs, scary old houses, mystery about the missing artifact and who did it and who’s trying to throw who off the trial, etc. It is well filmed and Karloff does a good job (he was so obviously far ahead of everyone else with regards to acting as he is playing his part while everyone else is just reading their lines like they were practicing for a stage play). I just lost interest in the whole mystery angle and the print I watched was dark so much of the time I couldn’t tell who was doing what. I’ll give this a D as Karloff was good.

The Black Cat (1934)- This was originally supposed to be an adaptation of the Poe story "The Black Cat" but was totally rewritten save the name and ends up with next to nothing to do with Poe. I believe this is the best of the old-school Universal horror movies. Except for an occasional bit of camp this movie takes itself very seriously and it has none of the outrages characters, over the top plot lines, or over acting many of its contemporary horror movies have (not that those are bad things). The acting is brilliant and the directing is cutting edge for the times. It makes you wonder what could've been if Universal's horror hadn't fallen into B movie status with too much camp and too much fear of the censors. This was the first, and by far the best, pairing of the two greatest horror movie actors of all time. Bela Lugosi plays a doctor who has been in a Prisoner of War camp for fifteen years and is returning to the man who betrayed him during the war and then stole his wife and daughter, Boris Karloff. Karloff is apparently into taxidermy with interesting results and also a practitioner of the Black Arts. So many classic moments in this film but the best is right after Lugosi arrives and he is explaining to Karloff where he has been. Karloff sits quietly in his black robe with his white face, following Lugosi only with his darkened eyes. It's a brilliant combination of direction and acting. The Bauhaus architecture comes to life in the stark black and white film, complete with great lighting and long shadows. Lugosi is brilliant as the good doctor and Karloff plays his character with great restraint and believability. The censors were none too happy with this movie at the time and the boundaries it pushed led to problems for many years for horror movies (it was inspired by a true account of a couple's meeting famous English Satanist Aleister Crowley). My only complaint is the music which plays almost throughout the entire film is at times over-bearing and pulls the movie down. Still, this is a must see for students of horror or just film in general. A+.

The Raven (1935)- Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff's second teaming has mixed results. Lugosi plays a plastic surgeon whose ego is second only to God's. He's a big E. Poe fan and keeps a nice collection of Poe torture implements and other macabre memorabilia on hand. A rich and powerful man's daughter is in an accident and begs Lugosi to come out of retirement to fix her face. The appeal that he is the only Dr. good enough works and, after the recovered daughter does an interpretive dance of Poe's "The Raven" (don't ask) to thank Lugosi, Lugosi falls for her and must have her. When he realizes he can't have her then everyone, including a black mailed crook played by Karloff, must pay. Lugosi gives his usual over the top performance but only later, after it is realized he has gone insane. For the first part of the movie he is very restrained yet edgy. A lot of folks hate this movie but I really liked it. Maybe it's no "Black Cat" but it still works. There are some silly plot devices (entire rooms that act as an elevators and such) and some typical rotten 30's camp but get beyond the weak points and this isn't a bad film. B.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)- I've read a lot of reviews that say this film is superior to the first. I think those reviews might be right. Great atmosphere that you expect from these old black and white Universal movies (they had a great way of lighting that took full effect of the huge sets and the dark shadows they cast), great lab scenes, and a good, well directed story. A doctor who has been doing similar experiments as Dr. Frankenstein wants to create a mate for the monster, who survived the fire at the end of the first film. Aside from some silly, dated 'scientific' mumbo-jumbo and some very silly creations made by this other scientist, the movie is very good. (The campy old maid is a little over the top though.) I think the Monster's looks might have been softened a little to make him more sympathetic, but it still works. Colin Clive gets to work in his famous "It's alive... alive!" line again too. Look for a lot of Christ-figure imagery associated with the Monster in this one, amplifying Dr. Frankenstein's roll of God. A+.

Invisible Ray, The (1936): Not bad not great early sci-fi flick about a loner scientist (Boris Karloff) who discovers how to 'view' past events by looking at 'rays' that have been traveling at light speed across space. With this evidence he pinpoints where to find a rare element from a meteorite that crashed into the earth "thousands of millions" of years ago. He finds the element but becomes contaminated. He glows in the dark and kills anything he touches. Luckily Bela Lugosi is the greatest astro chemist in the world and quickly finds an antidote. Boris must take it daily though and it may just drive him insane and make him want to kill those who stole his ideas and his wife. The acting is pretty good for such silly material. Nothing cool about the directing. It moves well for the most part but slows down during some of the 'love' sequences. Just your basic predictable old school sci-fi flick, middle C.

Walking Dead (1936)- Boris Karloff is a simple ex-con who is framed by the mob for killing the judge who sent him away. A medical student who is working with a doctor on reviving the dead happens to be a witness who knows Boris is innocent, but he speaks up too soon and Boris is executed. The med student and his professor bring Boris back from the dead in a lab scene very reminiscent of Frankenstein. Boris isn't quite the same though and he's on a mission to find out why he was framed but every time he gets near one of the mobsters they end up dead. This is an effective movie with good sets, pretty good acting and a decent enough plot. It's another Warner horror set in modern times with science as the co-star. Nothing special but nothing bad either. B.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)- Dr. Frankenstein's son returns to his father's old house, much to the chagrin of the local villagers. He soon finds out that his father's monster is still alive, but not doing so well. Does he destroy the monster and move on, or does he help him and make him a man? Mankind's ego and refusal to accept nature's roll and control are, as always, the theme here. Still, the atmosphere works, the sets are impressive, the acting very good (even a nice performance by the Monster's 'friend' Ygor, played with uncharacteristic restraint by Bela Lugosi). Nice revenge subplot too. Look for the police chief, which seems to me to be where Peter Sellers got his Dr. Strangelove character. Plus, they do a little play on the "It's alive" line made famous in the first two Frankenstein movies. This is the last time Boris Karloff would play the Monster he helped create. A+.

Tower of London, The (1939)- Not really horror material but horrible material as we watch the lengths Richard III would go to to become King of England. Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff return for Universal after making "Son of Frankenstein" with Rathbone as Richard III and Karloff as his executioner ally. Karloff and Rathbone are excellent in their sinister roles and it is one of Karloff's great moments (much of the other acting is dated though). Despite a low budget this one offers some great set pieces and is a great story (loosely based on Shakespeare). A young Vincent Price turns up in his first 'horror' role and he would go on to play Richard III in Corman's 60s remake. B-.

Black Friday (1940): Another Lugosi Karloff vehicle, even though Lugosi is only in it briefly. Karloff is a doctor whose best friend is injured in a car accident caused by bank robbers. Karloff saves his friend by implanting part of a gangster's brain. You can guess the rest. Yeah it's silly but it is nicely paced and contains some decent enough suspenseful moments. It's a nice genre jumping gangster, horror, sci-fi piece. C+.

Before I Hang (1940)- Here Karloff plays a kindly old doctor looking for the secret to stop aging. He promises a patient, who is suffering greatly from unspecified age related issues, that he will be able to reverse the aging process. When his serums fail the patient begs to be euthanized. Karloff does the ‘mercy killing’ and is sentenced to hang for it. He accepts his fate, hoping someone will be able to continue his work, however, as luck would have it, the prison allows him to work there, he develops his serum, and, just before he is to be hanged he tries it on himself. Just then his sentenced is commuted to life, and his serum starts to work, but with some wicked bad side effects. We’ve all seen the transplant horror movies, get a murderer’s hands, become a murderer, get a murderer’s eyes, and see murders. Here Karloff’s serum is mixed with a murderer’s blood and, well, you can guess the rest. This is pretty slow moving, even for its age. Karloff is good but not great, for Karloff completists only. D+.

House of Frankenstein (1944)- Universal Horror was fast becoming a caricature of itself by this point. Formula plots, silly excuses to bring the monsters back, and working in characters from the other franchises. And yet, at least for fans of the studios horror films, it works on some level. Boris Karloff returns not as the Monster, but as a mad scientist bent on continuing Dr. Frankenstein's work, and of course getting in some revenge along the way. A nice idea having Karloff resurrect the monster and some nice irony at the end. The actors took the material serious enough to make it work and the plot moves along nicely. The lab scenes were a little disappointing after the great lab scene from "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman." Another thing about these Universal Monster movies is the attention to continuity they observe. All the details from the previous movies are there and worked in (except one example, at the end of "The Ghost of Frankenstein", the monster becomes blind, and he's blind in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman", however here he isn't). Other than that, for the most part each movie picks right up where the last one left off. Glenn Strange plays the Monster in this film and, although I'm not sure, it seems Herman Munster may have been fashioned from his version. It deserves a D+ but I'll give this one a C+ because I liked Karloff's character.

Isle of the Dead (1945)- I was stoked to see this Val Lewton flick, but then felt a little let down. Karloff is a general taking a break after a terrible battle has thinned his troops and weakened his lines. He heads to a small island where his wife is buried and is angered to find the tombs disturbed. He finds a cast of strange characters visiting the island for different reasons. Some live on the island and some are bound by old superstitions. When members of the group begin showing signs of a plague Karloff forbids them to leave. Science meets superstition as the debate between plague and wardaluck (vampire type creature) take front stage. Karloff is no nonsense but in the end is faced with the fact we all are powerless, even great generals, science or superstition. This was a good movie with good atmosphere and acting. It was suspenseful and moved along nicely. But in the end I just felt disappointed. I really am unsure why, I just never really got into it and the end was a little disappointing. C+.

The Body Snatcher (1945)- Val Lewton classic with Boris Karloff as the title character. Karloff is a "kindly" cab driver but to make extra cash he provides cadavers for a medical school. How he comes by those cadavers becomes problematic as does his black mail techniques he uses on the not so good doctor. Bela Lugosi has a small role as servant who has some black mail ideas of his own. The black and white photography is great as is the direction and acting. Some critics say Karloff's portrayal here is second only to his Frankenstein's Monster (I'd say his Mummy would be third). They're probably right. A well presented story with a nice twist ending. A.

Bedlam (1946)- More a Val Lewton thriller than horror but here ya go. It's the 1760s, an age of reason, and a fat and powerful English Lord likes to laugh and likes to make fun of the "loonies" in the local asylum run by Boris Karloff. Karloff is a very wise politician and likes things to stay status quo so he uses his powers of persuasion over the none too bright Lord to get his way, like keeping the asylum just the way it is and making sure anyone who wants to make changes ends up as his guest in the asylum. The cunning work and great acting by Karloff carry this one. It's dated and slow moving at times but remains a pretty good story with a pretty good ending. B+.

Island Monster, The (1954)- This movie has "monster" in the title so it must be horror or sci-fi right? Wrong. It is (supposedly) a suspense thriller with ‘monster’ being used as a metaphor for a horrible person. Still, watching this one I was constantly reminded of the Japanese monster movies with the cardboard acting, horrible dubbing, unimaginative and frozen cinematography, and overly dramatic musical score. In the Japanese monster movies those things actually work in creating what I guess you could call ‘charm’, here they combine to make a rotten movie that moves at a snail’s pace. Boris Karloff is a kindly old doctor who runs a clinic for children on an Italian island, but it’s really a front for his drug cartel. An Italian officer is sent to the island to help the local police uncover the drug ring and confusion, terrible acting, and annoying dubbing ensue. The officer’s little girl’s trained dog is the highlight of this one. Sorry Boris, you flunk. F.

Voodoo Island (1957)- I’m a Boris Karloff fan and this one made me sad. Boris was getting pretty old and here he was stumbling around a pretend jungle uttering some of the worst dialogue ever written, not that other movies he made after this were quality but at least he was in a castle or lab or somewhere decent. I really like most of Boris’ Z grade stuff but this one was just sad. The plot? A rich man realizes he owns a small Pacific island that has a reputation as a place of voodoo (in the Pacific? Seriously?) Anyway, he sends a group of engineers there to scout locations for a resort and only one returns and he is all but comatose. Another expedition goes to find out what happened to the first. It includes a famous ‘debunker’ (Karloff), his assistant, and a couple of others, including a designer who will look for color schemes for the resort?!? Of course she’s just there to create sexual tension, as she’s obviously a lesbian who has it for Karloff’s assistant, but it is about as racy as you’d expect from 1957. Anyway, the island is full of carnivorous plants, voodoo dolls, death wish fetishes, bad radio communication, and we crawl along to a pretty terrible ending. I’ll give this a B on the craptacular scale as it is almost a must see for lovers of 50s man-eating-plant type schlock.

The Terror (1963)- Another beloved thriller from my youth. Roger Corman had Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff as well as production staff and sets under contract for a couple more days after flying through one of his famous quickies. What do you do with those actors, crew, and sets for four days? You make another movie of course. "The Terror" was obviously made very quickly for no money. The lighting and sound give that much away. Get beyond the cheapness of those elements and I think you have a fairly classic little piece. Pretty well acted and directed, although it is slow moving at times, it still maintained my interest. Nicholson is a French officer separated from his regiment during the Napoleonic Wars. He stumbles across some strange folk and then stays for a while at Karloff's castle. Some strange happenings are going on at the castle as Karloff carries guilt for deeds he did years before and may be punishing himself for it, or is someone... or something... else punishing him? Nice twists at the end. B+.

Comedy of Terrors (1963)- A very fitting name! Here we have some of the greatest horror movie actors ever (Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone), one of the great directors (Jacques Tourneur) and one of the greatest horror writers ever (Richard Matheson) all coming together for this horror/comedy about a funeral parlor owner who is falling on hard times and needs some new ‘customers’. There is plenty of scenery chewing over-the-top, 110% or nothing acting and writing going on, all of which is completely spoiled by ‘zaniness’. This falls pretty quickly into piss-poor sound effects, fast motion, and 3 Stooges slapstick (which had to even feel dated in 1963), and well, pretty much sucks because of that. Seriously, I hated this, just not my cup of tea, F.

Raven, The (1963)- Classic from my youth pulling together an old Boris Karloff, a young Jack Nicholson, and Vincent Price and Peter Lorre to boot. Peter Lorre is a magician who is turned into a raven by the magician Grand Master (Karloff) and goes to a reluctant magician (Price) for help. Price ends up back at the Grand Master’s castle for what winds up being an all or nothing battle of magic. Yeah, it is as goofy as it sounds and yet, unlike a similar ‘Comedy of Terrors’, works. Why did this work for me and not the other? This pretends for the most part to take itself seriously, even though it very obviously isn’t, whereas ‘Comedy of Terrors’ goes slapstick from scene one. Still, I realize many folks will hate this, but if you like the low budget Corman quickies (goofy like ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ or serious like ‘Masque of the Red Death’) then you’ll appreciate this I think. I will give it a strong A, keeping in mind it is meant to be goofy stuff.

Black Sabbath (1963)- A tight little trilogy directed by Mario Bava and hosted by Boris Karloff. Story one deals with a woman who turned her boyfriend in for a crime and he has now escaped and is terrorizing her. A great little suspense piece. Story two deals with the warduluck, which is basically a vampire that preys on its own family. This is a good story but too slow moving. Karloff stars and is effective but it still drags. The third story is one of those 'put the hook in me' works. I was pretty young, 9 or 10, when I first saw this movie. The odd thing is I don't even remember the first two stories but I sure remember this one. It's the story of a woman who goes to sit with the corpse of an old woman who recently passed. She was into séances and such and tended to scare folks when she was alive. She's pretty hideous in death too. The woman decides to steal a ring from the corpse's body, bad idea. The corpse in this movie scared the crap out of me when I was young and, although now it's not really scary, it is still pretty effective. Story one gets an A, story two gets a C, and story 3 gets an A+ which averages to a B+.

Die, Monster, Die (1965)- Based on Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space", this little American International flick moves along at a nice pace. A guy heads to not so jolly old England to visit his college sweetie and soon finds no one will help him find his way to the house. Cursed it must be. He eventually makes it to the house, after walking through some barren landscapes that is. Turns out the girl's family has a dim past of demonology and insanity. The girl's father, played by Karloff, will have none of that and looks for scientific reasons for what has happened there in the past, with typical devastating results. A great line that sums it all up "It's like a zoo from Hell... A menagerie of horrors." This is great fluff that sits somewhere between horror and sci-fi. The actors are just going through the motions (except Karloff who always took his roles seriously), most of the sets look good. If you like 60s goof then you'll like this, if not stay away. C-.

Mad Monster Party (1967)- Rankin and Bass made a lot of classic Christmas stop-motion cartoons like ‘A Year Without Santa Clause’, ‘Rudolph’ etc. And here they played their hand at a feature length Halloween show with all the monsters, Frankenstein (and his monster and the bride of the monster), Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature (from the Black Lagoon), Dr. Jekyll, The Hunchback, various zombies etc. all in a cartoon about Dr. Frankenstein, who heads up the monster union, getting ready to retire and hand over the leadership role to his less than capable nephew. It’s not a bad try, some parts are good and I’m sure had I saw this when I was young I probably would’ve dug it, but seeing it for the first time now it felt kind of poorly edited (setup-bad pun- fade to next shot), the voices (other than Karloff’s of course) were bad (why does Dracula at times sound like Mel Brooks?) and the songs just didn’t seem to quite fit either. I was a little disappointed, being a fan of their Christmas shows, but I am admittedly not exactly the target audience. C+

Targets (1968)- Byron Orlock is retiring. He realizes his brand of horror isn't scary anymore. Why would "painted monsters" scare people in a society so full of violence? People are laughing at his old movies that were once considered the scariest movies made. He agrees to make one more appearance to promote what will be his last movie. And his 'brand' of horror comes face to face with the real thing. This is an almost forgotten classic movie. One of the first in a line of 'realistic' horror movies that directors like Wes Craven ("Last House on the Left") and Tobe Hooper ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre") would run with a few years later. Boris Karloff plays Byron Orlock, but he is really just playing himself. Old, fragile, and no longer taken seriously, let alone considered 'scary' he knows his time has come and gone, but the seeds he planted have long roots as he comes to realize. A low budget classic. A+.

Crimson Cult, The (1968)- Tigon tried to clone Hammer’s formula and comes close in this groovy 60s witchcraft, psychedelic, orgy, partying piece of nostalgia. Ahh, the 60s, they must have been fun, as long as you stayed away from Satanism and witchcraft! Christopher Lee plays his part straight as an arrow as the descendent of a witch burned at the stake, when antique dealer brothers show up in town, and Lee finds out they are the descendants of the judges who burned his ancestor, pay they must. Toss in witch expert Boris Karloff, who adds a little needed camp, and this turns out to be a pretty good one, despite the weak ending. Masterpiece? Not even close! But if you like the British 60s era horror then this is a good representative. B-.

Snake People, The (1971)- Another sad entry into the final days of Boris Karloff. This low budget Spanish/Mexican zombie-voodoo-sci-fi-mad-scientist train wreck I believe was his 2nd to last film. Here Boris plays a super rich guy who lives on an island melting pot of folks, which makes sense since the island may be in the Caribbean, but when they show it on the map it is the South Pacific, but it looks more like a desert than the tropics either way. Why can’t low budget film makers set their movies in places that at least look like where there are filming? Anyway, Karloff’s niece comes to visit at the same time a police captain shows up. They are both there to clean up the island, her by trying to spread the temperance movement, him by stopping the laziness and corruption in the police force. Mexicans with French accents and Americans who are supposed to be French but have no accent abound as we find out some islanders have telekinesis, which is what Karloff is there studying. They are also into cannibalism, snakes, and bringing zombies back from the dead to work in the fields, scratch their backs, and fan them. The cult is getting ready for a major ceremony in which it must sacrifice a human in order to bring back their great deity Baron somethingorother. Will the police be able to stop them? Who is the cult’s true leader (you won’t see that one coming for miles)? This movie barely made any sense and rather than try and be scary I think the director just tried to be psychedelic and ‘sexy’ by tossing in tons of belly dancing sequencing, lots of women holding (and sucking) phallic snakes, and an odd dream sequence where the goody temperance niece unveils her penis envy and deep seated love for herself! Oh and there’s also a midget called Midget. This was pretty craptacular but by the same token it was just too tedious to really be fun, for Karloff completists only. I will give it a D+ because the plot, where it was visible at all, was pretty good and would be done with more success in "The Serpent and the Rainbow".

Hello Mummy