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I–K Entries
Steve Ihnat
Michael Jackson
Russell Johnson
Tor Johnson
Nathan Juran
Boris Karloff
Buster Keaton
DeForest Kelley
Erle C. Kenton
Val Kilmer
Akira Kubo
Stanley Kubrick
 
KARLOFF, BORIS
(William Pratt 1887–1969). British actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: The Bells (silent) (James Young 1926); Tarzan and the Golden Lion (silent) (J. P. McGowan 1927); King of the Kongo (serial) (Richard Thorpe 1929); The Unholy Night (Lionel Barrymore 1929); Frankenstein (James WHALE 1931); Behind the Mask (John Francis Dillion 1932); The Miracle Man (Norman Z. McLeod 1932); The Old Dark House (Whale 1932); The Mask of Fu Manchu (Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor 1932); The Mummy (Karl Freund 1932); The Ghoul (T. Hayes Hunter 1933); The Black Cat (Edgar ULMER 1934); The Gift of Gab (Freund 1934); Bride of Frankenstein (Whale 1935); The Black Room (Roy Wlliam Neill 1935); The Raven (Lew LANDERS 1935); The Invisible Ray (Lambert Hillyer 1936); The Walking Dead (Michael Curtiz 1936); The Man Who Lived Again (Robert STEVENSON 1936); Juggernaut (Henry Edwards 1936); Night Key (Lloyd Corrigan 1937); Mr. Wong, Detective (William Nigh 1938); Son of Frankenstein (Rowland W. LEE 1939); The Man They Could Not Hang (Nick GRINDE 1939); Tower of London (Lee 1939); Black Friday (Arthur LUBIN 1940); The Man with Nine Lives (Grinde 1940); Before I Hang (Grinde 1940); The Ape (Nigh 1940); You'll Find Out (David BUTLER 1940); The Devil Commands (Edward Dmytryk 1941); The Boogie Man Will Get You (Landers 1942); The Climax (George Waggner 1944); House of Frankenstein (Erle C. KENTON 1944); The Body Snatcher (Robert WISE 1945); Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson 1945); Bedlam (Robson 1946); The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (McLeod 1947); Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (John Rawlins 1947); Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (Charles T. Barton 1949); The Strange Door (Joseph Pevney 1951); Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Charles Lamont 1953); The Hindu (Frank Ferrin 1953); Voodoo Island (Reginald LE BORG 1957); Corridors of Blood (Robert Day 1957); The Haunted Strangler (Day 1958); Frankenstein 1970 (Howard Koch 1958); Jack the Ripper (David McDonald 1958); The Raven (Roger CORMAN 1963); The Terror (Corman 1963); Comedy of Terrors (Jacque TOURNEUR 1963); Black Sabbath (Mario BAVA 1964); Die, Monster, Die (Daniel Haller 1965); The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (Don Weis 1966); The Daydreamer (animated; voice) (Jules Bass 1966); The Venetian Affair (Jerry Thorpe 1967); The Sorcerers (Michael Reeves 1967); Mad Monster Party (animated; voice) (Bass 1967); Targets (Peter Bogdanovich 1968); The Crimson Cult (Vernon Sewell 1970); The Snake People (Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez 1971); The Incredible Invasion (Hill and Ibanez 1971); Cauldron of Blood (Edward Mann 1971).

Acted in television: Starring Boris Karloff (tv series) (1949); "Memento" (1952), episode of Tales of Tomorrow; "The Black Prophet" (1953), episode of Suspense; "White Carnation" (1954), "Bury Me Tender" (1956), episodes of Climax!; "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1955), episode of Best of Broadway; "A Connecticut Yankee" (1955), episode of Max Liebman Presents; "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1958), episode of Shirley Temple's Storybook; "Shadow of a Genius" (1958), episode of Studio One; "Treasure Island" (1960), episode of Du Pont Show of the Month; "The Prediction" (1960), "The Premature Burial," "The Last of the Sommervilles," "Dialogues with Death" (1961), "The Incredible Doctor Markesan" (1962), episodes of Thriller; "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1962), episode of Hallmark Hall of Fame; "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" (1962), episode of Route 66; "A Danish Fairy Tale" (narrator; 1963), episode of Chronicle; "The Night of the Golden Cobra" (1966), episode of The Wild, Wild West; How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated; voice) (1966); "The Mother Muffin Affair" (1967), episode of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Hosted: The Veil (Herbert L. Strock 1958); Thriller (tv series) (1960-62); Out of This World (tv series) (1962).

 
Instead of writing an entry on Boris Karloff, I am tempted to provide a list of references; surely no other performer of central importance to this volume has been so extensively discussed and celebrated, so much so that further commentary might seem superfluous. Still, since I am not always kind to the giants of horror cinema, I should not pass up the opportunity to offer praise where it is due.

As the story goes, James WHALE decided to cast Karloff as the monster in Frankenstein because he saw a look of suffering in his eyes; and certainly, the genius of his performance in that film was that the monster was both genuinely horrifying and easy to sympathize with. Yet Karloff realized that the unknown, the alien being must not become too sympathetic, as this tends to transform the horror film into sentimental comedy. This is exactly what happened in Bride of Frankenstein, where the monster is given the power of speech and revealed to be, despite its ugliness and awkwardness, a person very much like us; and this is exactly why Karloff insisted that the monster become mute again in the third film, Son of Frankenstein. But with the monster firmly suspended between the inhuman and the human, there was no way to further develop the character, which is why that film for the first time shifts its primary attention to the other characters. The decline of the monster in later films is typically, and correctly, explained by the fact that Karloff abandoned the role to other, lesser performers; but part of the reason the monster became little more than a colorful prop also was, paradoxically, Karloff's original devotion to the integrity of its divided character.

Karloff brought the same balance between horror and accessibility to the other role that made him famous, the mad scientist. Always someone with visible good intentions, Karloff's scientists nonetheless became obsessed, not fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and eventually deranged and dangerous. Karloff's mad scientist films are not uniformly excellent, though he always devoted all of his energies to his portrayals, unlike certain other performers who in this entry shall remain nameless; and The Man They Could Not Hang, The Man with Nine Lives, and Before I Hang—all skillfully directed by Nick GRINDE from better-than-average scripts—remain memorable achievements. One might summarize the problems with the Hammer horror films by noting that Peter CUSHING lacked Karloff's ability to be horrifying, while Christopher LEE lacked Karloff's ability to be sympathetic.

Karloff at times attempted to break out of horror films, though that was clearly where he belonged; in "mainstream" films, his acting could appear histrionic, most obviously in John Ford's The Last Patrol (1934). Still, he achieved great success on Broadway in Arsenic and Old Lace (though contractual obligations kept him out of the film, he twice reprised the role on television) and, later, as Captain Hook in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan; and he was reasonably effective as an Indian in two Cecil B. De Mille films, Undefeated (1947) and Tap Roots (1948). In the 1950s, while still making a few old-style horror films (like the feeble Frankenstein 1970), Karloff worked more on television, eventually hosting and occasionally appearing in the unremarkable anthology series Thriller.

Regarding his very mixed performances of the 1960s, one wonders why he continued to work while in declining health. He said that it was because he knew that his fans still wanted to see him; one might charitably speculate that he sought to build bridges between generations by lending his presence to the films of new filmmakers; or one might uncharitably speculate that he needed the money and enjoyed the attention. There are undoubtedly films that one wishes he had never made, like Roger CORMAN's vastly overrated The Raven or the unwatchable Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Still, there are occasional gems to look for. He was an inspired choice to narrate the television cartoon How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and his distinctive vocal talents are one reason it has become a perennial classic; he enjoyably hammed it up in drag in an episode of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.; and there is of course Targets, Peter Bogdonavich's carefully crafted tribute to Karloff, the less than classic film that everyone wishes were a classic. However, my own choice for the final film in a Karloff festival might be the enjoyable and unpretentious The Sorcerers, which harkens back to the themes of his classic horror films. But his career ended inauspiciously, with four inept, and fortunately rarely seen, Mexican films.

More so than any other performer in this volume, Karloff has survived after death as a visual and vocal icon: Bobby "Boris" Pickett imitated his voice for the popular song "The Monster Mash" (Karloff himself later performed it on the television series Shindig) and images of the Karloff monster persist in versions of The Munsters and innumerable homages and cartoons. In this kindly gentleman who retained the power to terrify, we observe, epitomized, our ambivalent responses to the unknown and unfamiliar—which is why he cannot be forgotten.

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