Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster
Hello, handsome! The face above needs no introductions. Frankenstein’s monster is as synonymous with horror movies and Halloween as Fred Astaire is with musicals. You could argue that the wonderful Boris Karloff is the Fred Astaire of horror films and, as far as I’m concerned you’d be right. Dead right. Sorry, I couldn’t pass that one up.
With Halloween right around the creepy corner, I thought it’d be the ideal time to look at classic horror movies and the stars who brought them to life.
When they first hit the scene in 1912, Universal Studios focused primarily on melodramas and action films (such as Westerns). However, in 1923 they found a deliciously fun new niche and rode it like a cowboy on caffeine. This is the year Lon Chaney (one of the studios biggest silent movie stars) rocked the movie world when he starred as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It was also around this time (late 1920s – early 1930s) that several actors and directors from Germany immigrated to America and went to work at Universal.
Universal, and the world, would never be the same!
“Most had worked in German Expressionism, which they introduced to Hollywood through low-key lighting techniques, set design preferences, and a penchant for visual symbolism. This was the birth of the American horror genre as we know it.” – Armchair Reader Goes Hollywood
William Henry Pratt was born on November 23, 1887, in London, England. When he entered the entertainment industry, he took the stage name Boris Karloff. When he came to Hollywood, he worked as a truck driver to help support himself while picking up work in the silent film industry.
The Deadlier Sex (1920), Omar the Tentmaker (1922), Dynamite Dan(1924) and Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927) are a few of his pre-Horror movie films.
His big.. and I mean huge… break came in 1931 when he was cast as “the monster” in Universal’s Frankenstein (1931). While the film ultimately made Boris Karloff a star, he was actually billed as a punctuation mark in this film’s credits! He’s listed simply as “?” in the opening credits. The movie and Boris were hits and he quickly racked up other memorable roles in movies including the The Old Dark House (1932), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), The Mummy (1932), The Ghoul (1933), and The Lost Patrol (1934).
Karloff returned to his neck bolts in 1935 with the wonderful Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and in 1939 film, Son of Frankenstein, which if we’re being honest, is one we Karloff fans want to forget.
I mean, everyone else has.
The Mummy was directed by Karl Freund, Germany’s greatest Cinematographer. Karloff starred as Im-Ho-Tep (the monster who returns to life). The lighting, angles, and use of shadows Freund employed in The Mummy defined classic horror films for years to come.
Karloff is also remembered for his appearances in several Abbott and Costello monster movies (always FUN!): Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff in 1949 and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953.
While his career included a wealth of interesting roles and movies, he is most associated with his monstrous performances and for being one of the talents that defined the horror film industry.
Personally, I remember him for these wonderful roles and for one another, equally wonderful role… as the narrator of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch…”
Boris Karloff died in 1969 at the age of 81.