Film grants rare look at Boris Karloff, ‘the man behind the monster’

The documentary is a fabulous tribute to Boris Karloff, the man who played Frankenstein’s creature.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster. Credit: Falco Ink

Having spent my formative years living a stone’s throw from the Irish Sea, summer has always been my least favorite season – perversely, I prefer my weather cold and wet. During my 1970s adolescence, however, summer did have one redeeming quality: summer vacation. Instead of going to bed at a sensible hour in anticipation of another boring day at school, I’d stay up almost every night until sunrise (Movies ‘til Dawn!) watching old flicks on television (and, of course, occasionally dozing off in front of the set).

In those pre-VHS, pre-cable, pre-everything-at-your-fingertips days one had to obsessively study each week’s TV Guide to make sure you didn’t miss something unusual or special, like that 1962 Brazilian crime drama I’ve been dying to see again for the last 40 years. If you missed a movie, there was no way of knowing if it would air again in a few weeks time — or disappear forever into a studio vault.

Always high atop my must-see list were films featuring Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. Having inherited a love of scary movies from my mother, the presence of either (or of their cross-Atlantic analogues, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) meant I’d be circling that movie in TV Guide, setting my alarm, and traipsing bleary-eyed into the living room at 1 a.m, (in those days, believe it or not, we didn’t have bedroom TVs).


While there’ve been several documentaries dedicated to Lugosi (plus Martin Landau’s remarkable, if fictionalized, depiction of the Hungarian actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood), Karloff hasn’t been treated quite as respectfully — until now. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster (screening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas beginning on Friday, Oct. 1) is a fabulous 90-minute tribute laden with rare clips and well-informed talking heads, including such luminaries as film historian Sir Christopher Frayling, archivist and author Kevin Brownlow (wearing his ubiquitous baseball cap), seemingly immortal producer Roger Corman, directors Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante and John Landis, and the late (and much missed) Dick Miller and Christopher Plummer.

It’s a tribute to Karloff’s reputation and continuing popularity that all these people (and many more, including Karloff’s daughter, Sara) agreed to participate in what was surely a labor of love for Scottish director Thomas Hamilton. Though the film doesn’t quite settle the question of Karloff’s ethnicity (born in India to English parents, there have long been rumors that he had Indian blood) and won’t offer huge surprises to seasoned monster kids, it does include very rare footage that even this devoted Karloff-ornian hadn’t seen before, including appearances on The Dinah Shore Show, The Red Skelton Show, and excerpts from his surviving pre-fame silent features. For those who first met Boris on the Late, Late Show, you won’t want to miss this.

If you have a preference for modern horror, I can happily report that Candyman (currently streaming on multiple platforms) is really rather good. Produced and written by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), directed by Nia DaCosta and superbly scored by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, the film features a breakout performance by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a Chicago artist haunted by the titular urban legend. Steeped in the political subtext that made Peele’s Get Out so memorable, this is an unsettling and hugely enjoyable Halloween treat.