The Gentleman of Horror, Boris Karloff is the focus of this episode of This Is Your Life from 1957.
Few actors have such long and successful careers as had “Karloff the Uncanny”; or have thrilled so many different and disparate people across the world with his performances as “The Monster” from Frankenstein, Imhotep in The Mummy, Professor Morlant in The Ghoul, all the way up to TV series, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Michael Reeves’ The Sorcereors and Peter Bogdanovich‘s Targets.
Film director, writer and actor, Peter Bogdanovich gave critic Michael Billington a brief introduction to his father, Borislav Bogdanovich’s art work in this short clip from 1979.
Born in 1899, Borislav Bogdanovitch was a Serbian Post Impressionist / Modernist artist, who was one of Belgrade’s leading artists, and exhibited alongside Jean Renoir and Marc Chagall. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Borislav relocated with his family to New York, where he continued to work, though less successfully, until his death in 1970.
Before his death, Borislav saw Peter’s first major movie—the modern urban horror, Targets:
‘I don’t think he said more than 4 or 5 words about it, but he had obviously been very moved by the experience. It was a heavy movie, it was a tough movie, and it wasn’t very pretty about life in Los Angeles, or America, and he felt it was a tragic picture. I could see it on his his face what he thought about it—he didn’t have to say much.’
The film, which starred Boris Karloff, marked the arrival of Peter Bogdanovich as a highly original and talented film-maker, who was exceptional enough to direct, co-write and occasionally produce films as diverse as the superb The Last Picture Show; the wonderful screwball comedy What’s Up Doc? with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal; to the excellent Ryan and Tatum O’Neal comedy/drama Paper Moon; and the the greatly under-rated (and hardly seen on its release) Saint Jack with Ben Gazzara.
But Bogdanovich is magnanimous in his praise for others (see his books on Orson Welles and John Ford) and claims, at the start of this interview, that it was his father who was a considerable influence on developing his film-making skills:
‘I think it is unquestionably true that whatever I did learn, in terms of composition, or color, or the visual aspect of movies, I certainly learned from my father through osmosis—it wasn’t anything he sat down and taught me. The thing that my father was extraordinary, he had this way of influencing people—getting things across without saying, “This is what I am trying to teach you.” It wasn’t like that at all. My father wasn’t didactic in anyway, he was casual.’
From being one of the most interesting and original film-makers of his generation, Peter Bogdanovich has rarely had the opportunity to make the quality of films he is more than capable of producing. Last year, in response to the Aurora shootings, Bogdanovich wrote an article for the Hollywood Reporter in which he lamented the loss of humanity in films:
‘Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, “We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.” The respect for human life seems to be eroding.’
At night, during the making of the Frankenstein films, Boris Karloff sometimes slept with his monster make-up on, as it took so long to apply. He would sleep between 2 books to protect his neck from any harm, which could be caused by those famous glued-on bolts. Karloff spent up to 4 hours in make-up, as the legendary Jack Pierce applied his iconic design.
Over the years, I have seen quite a few hand-tinted photographs of Karloff as the Monster, but rarely any color footage. So, this brief home-movie clip from 1939, of Karloff in full make-up on the set of Son of Frankenstein, is quite delightful.
As we draw closer to Halloween, there is no better time to address the horrors of youth.
Boris Karloff narrates this 1964 Movietone featurette, Today’s Teens, on the terrifying world of teenagers and rock ‘n’ roll where no one is safe from the voodoo beat that enchants, seduces and drives kids utterly insane.
Bela Lugosi was often depressed performing the role of Dracula. He dreamt he was dead, and woke in the morning exhausted, he tells Dorothy West in this episode of Intimate Interviews from 1932.
Lugosi explains how after the First World War, he participated in the Hungarian revolution, but soon found himself on the wrong side. He therefore left the country and arrived in America, where he continued his career as an actor.
His first success was in the title role of the stage production of Dracula. This led him to starring in the classic film version, directed by Todd Browning in 1931. Thereafter, he made a series of Horror films for Universal Studios, most notably starring against that “King of Horror”, Boris Karloff.
Lugosi jokes with West telling her is learning slang and knows how to say “okay”, “baloney” and “the cat’s whiskers”. He also goes onto say he likes living in America as people know how to mind their own business - which is more a reference to the way sections of Hollywood society ostracized the actor. Lugosi ends the interview pretending to be one of the Undead.
Bonus clip, Lugosi interviewed leaving the sanitarium in 1955, after the jump…
Bishopbriggs was where the trams from Glasgow ended. It was also where Dirk Bogarde spent his early teenage years, from 1934-37, living with a well-to-do uncle and aunt, while commuting to-and-from Allan Glen School in the city.
Glasgow shaped Bogarde, and though he hated his time there, he latter admitted, in his first volume of autobiography, A Postilion Struck by Lightning:
‘The three years in Scotland were, without doubt, the most important years of my early life. I could not, I know now, have done without them. My parents, intent on giving me a solid, tough scholastic education to prepare me for my Adult Life, had no possible conception that the education I would receive there would far outweigh anything a simple school could have provided.’
What Glasgow gave the young Bogarde, after his childhood idyll of Sussex, was “a crack on the backside which shot [him] into reality so fast [he] was almost unable to catch [his] breath for the pain and disillusions which were to follow.”
At Allan Glen’s School, Bogarde soon found himself “dumped in a lavatory pan by mindless classmates” because he spoke with “the accent of a Sassenach”. It was part of the cruelty that taught the young Bogarde to build a “carapace” against his peers. In his isolation he developed his skills as an artist and writer, and dreamt of escape.
Glasgow also offered Bogarde his first sexual experience with an older man - the dressed in beige Mr. Dodd, who he met whilst skipping classes at the Paramount Picture Palace - “the meeting place of all the Evil in Glasgow”.
Mr. Dodd seduced the young schoolboy with an ice lolly and a hand on the knee, during a performance of Boris Karloff’s The Mummy. Though Bogarde had seen the film 3 times before, he was keen to replicate Karloff’s performance, and so willingly returned to Mr Dodd’s apartment, where he was tightly trussed-up in bandages, all except his pubescent genitals, which thrust through the swaddling rags “as pink and vulnerable as a sugar mouse.” Mr. Dodd flipped Bogarde onto a bed, and tossed him off. Bogarde felt something terrible was going to happen, and offered up 3 or 4 “Hail Mary’s” in the hope of being rescued. Of course, he knew God’s help wouldn’t arrive, as he knew what would happen as Mr Dodd fiddled about.
When he left Glasgow, Bogarde was changed. He had developed the drive that would bring him success, and formed a personality that would keep the world twice-removed from the creative and sensitive young man he was at heart.
The following interview with this charming man was never broadcast on TV. Recorded in London for the release of the film Permission to Kill (aka The Executioner) in 1975, Bogarde discussed the movie, and his career with interviewer, Mark Caldwell.
Sometimes there comes along a director, whose talent is so apparent that you wonder why they’re not more famous. Glenn McQuaid is such a director, and his first feature, I Sell the Dead, in 2008, offered everything I want from a horror film.
It was my brother who tapped me in to Mr. McQuaid’s work. My brother and I had grown-up under the spell of the horror films produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s (with Karloff and Lugosi, and Lon Chaney jnr.), and Hammer films (with Cushing and Lee) from the fifties and sixties. Of course there were also the Vincent Price and Roger Corman collaborations, as well as the Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg anthology films of the 1960s and ‘70s.
We also had a love of stories by Dennis Wheatley (in particular his series of classic horror novels published under his Library of the Occult - Stoker, Shelley, ”Carnaki, the Ghost Finder”, and Guy Endore), and the tales of terror penned by Poe, Blackwood and Bloch.
My brother raved about I Sell the Dead, and when I saw it I had to agree. Written and directed by McQuaid, it stars Larry Fessenden, Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman and Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm, and is near perfect - a witty, clever and engaging story, presented in the style of the best, classic horror film. I was smitten, the same way I was when Boris Karloff as the Monster first walked backwards into the laboratory; or by Oliver Reed when he turned into a werewolf. McQuaid knows his genre and its cinematic traditions.
For his next film, McQuaid is one of the directors (alongside David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard ) of the soon to be released anthology film, V/H/S, for which he wrote an directed the “unconventional killer-in-the-woods chiller Tuesday The 17th”. When V/H/S previewed at the Sundance Film Festival, it received the kind of exposure of which publicists dream.
At its screening two audience members fled in terror – one fainted, one puked. The last time I recall such a response was for The Exorcist in 1973, where there were reports of fainting, vomiting, and even an alleged possession.
When was shown at SXSW, V/H/S was described as ”an incredibly entertaining film that succeeds in being humorous, sexy, gross and scary as fuck.” While Dead Central gave it 5/5.
Though all the directors have been praised for the quality of their films, the reviews have singled out McQuaid for the excellence and originality of his contribution.
Before all this kicked off, I contacted Glenn McQuaid to organize an interview. Over the following weeks emails went back-and-forth, until the following arrived. The interview covers Mr McQuaid’s background, his influences, early work, The Resurrection Apprentice, working with Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan on I Sell the Dead, to V/H/S.
The full interview with Glenn McQuaid, after the jump….
O, Vincent Price - wasn’t he fab? He had this terrific ability to sound both menacing and amused at the same time. It was part of the reason why his performances were always so enjoyable to watch, he brought a dark humor to the most chilling of horror, as seen in Theater of Blood, Tales of Terror, or House on Haunted Hill. No matter how gruesome the thrill (pet dogs fed to their owner, a puppet skeleton scaring a victim into an acid bath), one instinctively knew that at heart Price was fun, guaranteed to always be good company. As can be seen from this short interview from French TV in 1986, where Mr Price talked about working with Roger Corman, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, James Whale, reminiscing about past successes and unmitigated failures.
Mad Monster Party is a 1968 Halloween-themed children’s film created by the Rankin/Bass animation house and written by Mad magazine’s creator, Harvey Kurtzman (with Len Korobin).
Rankin/Bass were famous for their stop motion Christmas favorites like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. The film was directed by Jack Bass in their signature “Animagic” process.
Many of the characters in Mad Monster Party were designed by Mad’s Jack Davis, a man well-suited for the gig by his earlier comedy/horror work in the pages of EC Comics. The film featured the vocal talents of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller who were represented onscreen by their own likenesses.
Mad Monster Party was very influential on Tim Burton’s short film Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. Some of the monster characters in Corpse Bride seem to be in homage to the earlier film. It would also appear that the Sesame Street character, “The Count” made his first appearance here, too…
Marc Campbell previously drew our attention to Mondo Balordo, with his post on Franz Drago: 27 inches of swingin’ dynamite. Though not a classic of the shockumentary genre, Mondo Balordo (1964) continued the trend of exploitation documentary devised by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, with Mondo Cane (1962) and La Donna nel Mondo (aka Women of the World).
Directed by Roberto Bianchi Montero and Albert T Viola, Mondo Balordo has some classic bizarre moments, and a commentary by none other than horror legend, Boris Karloff.
Our World…What a wild and fascinating place it is! Filled with love, hate, lust and all the hungers and driving passions by which the strange creature called man is possessed.
Karloff’s association with the film, and billing, gave it a certain amount of respectability. However, the sixties was an odd decade for Karloff as the great septuagenarian actor continued to churn out a volume of films enviable in a man half his age. Though he made some excellent films during that decade, Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, Roger Corman’s The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors, and Michael ReevesThe Sorcerers, he did make some of his worst Cauldron of Blood, The Incredible Invasion, La muerte viviente.
Mondo Balordo is a novelty for Karloff fans, a distracting piece of bizarro movie-making, tasteless in places, though not necessarily for the reasons the film-makers originally intended. The whole film is available below, and here’s how the producers sold it:
Horror icon Boris Karloff wittily narrates Mondo Balordo, a shocking and depraved mondo movie that chronicles perversions and abnormalities from around the globe. You will be unable to look away as your eyes fill with shocking images that will burn scars into your retina and render you paralyzed in your seat. Grotesque and exploitive, but also riveting and defiant of taboo, Mondo Balordo seeks out the most twisted and surprising images. Subjects explored in graphic detail are dwarf love, white female sex slavery, Eastern brothels, black-market smuggling, marijuana, lesbianism, needless dog surgery and the phenomenon of raincoat-clad peeping toms. Experience Mondo Balordo if you dare!
Michael Reeves was just twenty-three when he wrote and directed Witchfinder General. It would prove to be his most critically acclaimed and successful film, and would also be his last. For Reeves died not long after the film’s release from an accidental overdose - a tragic demise for a director of such immense talent, who had proven himself with three distinct horror films: Revenge of the Blood Beast, The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm).
Reeves’ precocious talent and early death led to a mythologizing of his life. The film writer David Pirie likened him to the Romantic poets Shelley, Byron and Keats, and as his death came at the end of the sixties, there was the inevitable twinning with the untimely deaths of troubled rock musicians, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. Add to this the belief that Reeves may have killed himself, then we have the beginning of a cinematic legend - which is all good copy, but sadly removes the man from his art.
Reeves was precocious, he made his first film at the age of 8. Whether the resulting home-movie was good or bad is irrelevant, for what is important here is the realization of Reeves’ youthful ambition. At school he met and became friends with Ian Ogilvy, who went on to become an actor and star of all his films. From school, Reeves traveled to Hollywood at 16, where he door-stepped Don Siegel, director of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Siegel was Reeves’ favorite director, and let’s be frank, it takes balls to turn up at someone’s door and convince them, then and there, that they need to employ you. Siegel was convinced and gave Reeves a job as his assistant - now, there’s a lesson here we all can learn from. Working for Siegel gave Reeves the opportunity to make the contacts and raise the cash for his own first feature film, Revenge of the Blood Beast, which starred Ogilvy and horror queen Barbara Steele. The film was well regarded and if not exactly brilliant, it marked the arrival of a new and original cinematic vision, and as with all young film-makers, there was soon the predictable murmur of Reeves being the next Orson Welles. Nice thought, but not exactly correct.
Two years later, in 1967, Reeves made his first important horror film, The Sorcerers, a trippy slasher which starred Ogilvy and film legend, Boris Karloff, who was at a stage of making many strange and often dreadful films, but had this time, as he did later with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, made a wise choice by agreeing to star in Reeves’ film. While Post-Modernism has made it easy to intellectualize anything, it is fair to say that in this case there is enough meat on this film’s bones to justify a more rigorous examination. The Sorcerers is more than a horror film, it has a subtext about voyeurism and cinema, and questions the cultural obsession with youth. The movie, and especially Karloff’s association with it, propelled Reeves into the top rank of British film directors, which saw him listed as the-man-most-likely-to, alongside the older and more experienced film-makers Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson and Ken Loach. Don’t forget, at this point, Reeves was just 22.
But it is Witchfinder General that is Reeves most important and best film, a grisly horror that starred Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Hilary Dwyer and Patrick Wymark.
The film had depth as it was based on the true story of Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General, who carried out the torture and execution of alleged sorcerers/witches during the English Civil War, in the 1640s. Hopkins was a notorious figure who made a fortune out of his activities, being paid roughly two bucks for every soul he saved by hanging, burning or drowning.
Vincent Price was brilliant as Matthew Hopkins, for Reeves had coaxed a more measured performance from the usually “camp and hammy” film star. The story goes Price was so annoyed by Reeves continual directions to underplay that one day he turned on Reeves and said, “I have made 84 movies, how many have you made?” To which Reeves replied, “Two good ones.” Price laughed, and thereafter, did as he was told. Of course, this may be apocryphal for, as years later, Price talked about his unhappiness in working with Reeves:
Well he hated me. He didn’t want me at all for the part. He wanted some other actor, and he got me and that was it. I didn’t like him, either, and it was one of the first times in my life that I’ve been in a picture where really the director and I just clashed [twists his hands], like that. He didn’t know how to talk to actors, he hadn’t had the experience, or talked to enough of them, so all the actors on the picture had a very bad time. I knew though, that in a funny, uneducated sort of way, he was right in his desire for me to approach the part in a certain way. He wanted it very serious and straight, and he was right, but he just didn’t know how to communicate with actors.
Hindsight is a great thing, and Price has the upperhand here, able to score points after the director’s dead and the film has been highly praised. Whatever the disagreements between the two on set, Reeves got Price to deliver one of his best cinematic performances.
The film’s release captured the public’s imagination, as many saw Witchfinder General‘s barbarism as a damning comment on the Vietnam War. Despite criticisms of the film’s shocking, documentary-like violence, Witchfinder proved to be Reeves biggest commercial success.
Yet after it, Reeves seemed to lose his way. He became unraveled, started to drink heavily, medicated himself with uppers and downers, and started a slow spiral into depression. Those who were witness to this give different accounts: some, the strain of working with Vincent Price; others, a failed romance; others still, Reeves’ nihilism. When visiting the composer Paul Ferris in hospital, where Ferris was recuperating from his own failed suicide attempt, Reeves joked, which between the two would be first to succeed in killing himself?
In February 1969, Reeves returned home after a night’s drinking, and swallowed a handful of anti-depressants. Whether intentionally or not is open to conjecture, but what’s known is Reeves died in the early hours of the 11th February from an overdose of barbiturates - his death robbed British film, and the horror world, of one of its most brilliant and original talents.
Parts 2 & 3 on Michael Reeves plus bonus trailer after the jump…
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