Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster (2021)

For the generation that cut their teeth on classic Universal horror movies, Boris Karloff is, was, and will always be the definitive Frankenstein monster. What “The Man Behind the Monster” seeks to do is act as an appetizer for the aspiring horror buff who hasn’t quite been lucky enough see much of Karloff’s work. Karloff was a man who was powerful on-screen even in to his old age; “The Man Behind the Monster” explores the powerful actor, and his tumultuous career that survived through political controversies, and the Hays Code.

Beginning just before his debut as Frankenstein’s creation, “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster” compellingly explores the life and legacy of a cinema legend, presenting a perceptive history of the genre he personified. His films were long derided as hokum and attacked by censors. But his phenomenal popularity and pervasive influence endures, inspiring some of our greatest actors and directors into the 21st Century – among them Guillermo Del Toro, Ron Perlman, Roger Corman & John Landis all of whom and many more contribute their personal insights and anecdotes

For the folks like me that have been studying a lot of these classics for years, “The Man Behind the Monster” offers a fun review of Karloff’s career, even though it doesn’t provide any new insight or tidbits about his work. A lot of the documentary is focused on his famed roles as the Frankenstein Monster in the original James Whale film and “Bride.” This elicits some fun anecdotes, including Karloff’s battle with Whale over the very controversial scene involving the little girl with the flowers. Karloff was a very principled and committed performer who managed to survive through typecasting for most of his career, as opposed to his contemporaries.

I wish the documentary would have explored a lot of his latter day work and how much giddy fun he seemed to have working on various projects. The documentary delves in to those moments for about two or three minutes, and sadly never quite circles back, again. That said, there are some fun interviews with movie scholars, Karloff’s daughter, and Guillermo Del Toro, respectively. There are also bits of revelations that are fun, including his resurgence in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and him being the original choice for “Phantom of the Opera.” Thomas Hamilton’s “The Man Behind the Monster” doesn’t re-invent the wheel when it comes to horror movie documentaries, but it’s a respectable treat for any horror buff.

 Debuting Exclusively on Shudder Streaming Service Thursday, January 27th.