By – Gareth Jones
For fans of Boris Karloff, late 50’s fun horror films, British character actors
In 1958 Boris Karloff had been a star for over 27 years thanks to his perfect performance as Frankenstein’s monster. Unlike Bela Lugosi, Karloff embraced the horror genre and was always grateful for the opportunities it provided. He had three horror films released in 1958 including two directed by Robert Day and produced by Richard Gordon’s British company Amalgamated Productions. These two films, The Corridors of Blood and The Haunted Strangler, were shot back to back with minimal budgets but plenty of ingenuity and energy. In both films, Karloff gets to shine as first a scientist and then a writer, in both cases men driven by their curiosity and desire for knowledge. Day does a fantastic job at using the restrictions of a small budget and limited locations as a creative inspiration and focusing on the smaller details. He creates a rousing, entertaining film that in spite of its lurid aspects, also shines a light on the state of asylums and the treatment of the mentally ill.
The Haunted Strangler was written by Boris Karloff’s friend Jan Read, but it changed considerably from that original version. In its final form, it tells the story of a writer, James Rankin, who is investigating the case of the Haymarket Strangler in 1860. By all appearances, he has a good life with a supportive wife and a loving daughter who has fallen in love with his assistant. As he uncovers more evidence and information about the Strangler’s killings, he uncovers things that will challenge his entire world. I don’t want to give away too much, but needless to say, the role gives Karloff plenty of opportunity to chew every bit of scenery. Some reviewers at the time, and even some modern viewers are critical of the film, but I found his performance to have a foundation of pathos that is in all of his roles. Boris Karloff was one of the best actors at finding ways for audiences to connect and empathize with even the worst of killers. His physicality did often limit roles that he was offered but he always brings a warm sadness to his performances. Very often it is in his deep set eyes, and no amount of makeup or facial contortion could hide this emotional connection.
Karloff is surrounded by many great British character actors that also enliven the film and move it beyond the other low budget horror films of the era. Of special note is Anthony Dawson as Superintendent Burk who is Rankin’s friend and the police officer assigned to solve the case. Like Karloff, Dawson’s physicality led to being cast in villainous roles but here he can be a hero.
Both of these films were released as part of a box set by the Criterion Collection and are both worth seeing for Karloff’s performances and for capturing a moment of creative independent filmmaking in England in the late 1950’s.
The Haunted Strangler is available to rent on Amazon or
watch it for free on Kanopy through your local library.
Written by: Gareth Jones
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