As a young horror fan, Boris Karloff was the first of my horror heroes, and all of these years later, remains my all-time favorite. He was the first one that I knew the name of the person who was behind the monsters that he played. That came from probably his most famous role as the creature in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), or possibly because he narrated the Grinch, but I would later learn and appreciate more and more of his roles.
One reason for this was due to Richard Bojarski’s book The Films of Boris Karloff, which I checked out so often from my middle school library that I was told I couldn’t check it out any longer, to apparently give others a chance to check it out. I would page through there, looking at all the different roles that he appeared in, especially the horror ones, and dream of the day when I might be able to stumble across it on TV some Saturday afternoon. Oh, how naïve we were back then, huh?
His performance as Frankenstein’s creature made a real impact on me in my youth, showing me that it seemed pretty normal for the outside world to shun and fear something they don’t understand, as well as how someone that is different is treated by them. As a young boy who wasn’t a sports fan but loved movies instead, quickly set me apart from a lot of kids in my school. So, I immediately felt a connection to this outsider. Karloff helped bring the pathos with his performance, one that even children felt, saying that children would come to him stating they weren’t afraid of the creature because they understood that he wasn’t really a monster.
But Karloff’s talent goes so far beyond those performances as the creature, to the countless other roles he took on throughout his long career. While he was usually known and typecast as the villain, he could still bring these characters to life, whether they were truly evil, as in Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher (1945), or even the comedic ones, such as in Jacques Tourneur’s Comedy of Terrors (1963). He could play it all.
Out of all the celebrities and heroes in the genre that I’ve met over the decades, Karloff is one that I would have loved to have met in real life. Just to shake his hand and thank him for all those years of entertainment that he has given me, and for all the ones he will continue to give me. That is the great thing about being a movie lover. At any point, I can bust out one of Karloff’s films, pop it in the player, sit down and once again be entranced by this amazing actor. In fact, I just may have to bust out The Body Snatcher tonight and revisit what is probably my favorite film of his.
So Happy Birthday, Mr. Karloff, and thank you. Thank you for the entertainment you’ve given us, with the wonderous characters, both good, bad, monstrous, and truly evil, that you continue to give to this day.