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Film Review: “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster” Tells the Famous Actor’s Life in the Bluntest Way Possible

Written by: Adam Vaughn | January 27th, 2022

Film poster: “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster”

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster (Thomas Hamilton, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars. 

One of Hollywood’s most recognized horror players finally gets the documentary coverage that he deserves in Thomas Hamilton’s Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster. Covering Karloff’s beginnings as an actor in Hollywood to his breakthrough role as the famous “Frankenstein’s Monster,” the film highlights not only his struggles as an actor but also traces the changes that occurred in Hollywood from the 1920s to the ‘50s as they pertain to Karloff’s career. While The Man Behind the Monster proves comprehensive, it is also rather dry and generic.

Boris Karloff (born William Henry Pratt) as “Frankenstein’s Monster” in the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN ©Universal Pictures

The documentary starts off well, putting to the forefront Karloff’s most intriguing stories while on the set of the 1931 Frankenstein, such as how the original director Robert Florey wished to cast Dracula star Bella Lugosi before Karloff, and how Karloff was extremely uncomfortable with the infamous “Maria and the Monster” scene. Most importantly, the film, through various interviews from famous Hollywood icons such as Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, and Dick Miller, shows how Karloff’s performances and life impacted today’s generation of filmmakers and actors. Truly, the information in The Man Behind the Monster does Boris Karloff justice.

The problem is that the information delivered is done so in a very bland and disorganized manner. Director Hamilton seems to put all the juicy, pertinent information about Karloff’s life at the beginning, and what follows, while interesting, is treated as supplemental. The overall story points of the documentary also bounce around chronologically, which disorients the viewer. There is also a lack of originality in the way interviews, stock footage, and overall story are presented.

Regardless of the film’s form, The Man Behind the Monster does paint a solid picture of Boris Karloff’s acting achievements and his legacy as a Hollywood icon. Much of this is merely due to the fact that Karloff himself was an extraordinary performer, having overcome “bit part” adversity and made his mark in cinema history. Regardless of the individual viewer’s thoughts on the cinematic form of the film, The Man Behind the Monster serves as a fitting celebration for a tremendous horror legend.

l-r: Ernest Thesiger and Boris Karloff (born William Henry Pratt) as “Frankenstein’s Monster” in the 1935 BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN ©Universal Pictures
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Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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