He cannot be contained, Groovy Ghoulies! The sheer strength of Boris Karloff on the screen was huge in 1932, and he appeared in two very different films. I thought it would be fun to throw them together and see what came out the other side. Fans were treated to The Old Dark House and The Mummy. Boris was able to play really two different characters at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Savagery vs. Smarts, which side would win?
The Old Dark House was released to movie goers in October of ’32. Looking back at Halloween during that time, it was more of a glamorous affair, and not the scary, spooky celebration of today. It was customary to have huge town-wide parties and not dwell on it’s Samhain Celtic roots. I think this would have been a great way to celebrate my favorite holiday back then. It’s based on the book “Benighted” by J.B. Priestly and was directed by James Whale of Frankenstein fame.
The story involves several travelers who, because of a horrible storm, end up at (you guessed it): the old dark house! The first set of travelers include: Gloria Stuart, who is just great in this film. The 30s had some of the most beautiful actresses, and she is at the top of the list. I would come to enjoy her turn as old Rose in Titanic years later. She plays the role of Margaret very well. Her fear rises throughout the film, with good cause, and your heart just pounds along with her. Her husband, Phillip is played by Raymond Massey. Their trio is rounded out by Melvyn Douglas. I loved his character Roger, he was very smooth in this film and had some great lines.
The strange house they end up at is the Femm family mansion. This is quite the family. To say they are all nuts would be an understatement. We have the brother Horace played by Ernest Thesiger. The look of this character and fear of his own house is worth the admission. Horror host fans, he has a slight resemblance to Zacherly. Ernest would go on to play Dr. Septimus Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein. Horace is one of my favorite on screen characters. And as good as he was, Eva Moore as his cranky sister, Rebecca, had me in stitches every time she was onscreen. She wouldn’t let them sleep in any beds, complained about them leaving the window in her bedroom open, and just tried to make life miserable for everyone involved. Boris played manservant Morgan. He was a mute, alcoholic lumbering beast in the house. He mumbled out some lines here and there and gets to go on a booze fueled tirade through the house. He smashes windows, destroys the dining room, tries to catch Margaret, and oh yeah, lets loose his crazy, pyromaniac brother to try and torch the house. Real fun guy.
We’re also joined by two others in the house, Sir William Porterhouse and Gladys Perkins. William seems to be trying to get over his wife’s death and Gladys comforts him, but develops feelings for Roger. Gladys is played by Lillian Bond. She would go on to have a score of B movie roles. I look forward to more from her.
The house itself is old and creaky, just the way I like them in these movies. And watching this in the middle of a real thunderstorm, added a nice surround sound experience. I really liked this one. Karloff played a character not too far off from The Frankenstein monster, and it was cool to watch something else that he and Whale worked on together.
Boris’ role in The Mummy was not anything like his two roles under the guidance of James Whale. In December of ’32, movie goers were given the Christmas gift of Universal Pictures next chapter in the growing Universal Monsters story. Boris plays Imhotep, a Egyptian priest come back to life, wanting to reincarnate the soul of his dead love.
I was somewhat bummed with The Mummy. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is a classic. I have only two gripes with this film. The first is that we don’t get to see much of Boris in the Mummy make-up that was in all the publicity stills. I read it took over 7 hours to apply the make up and bandages. Yet, we’re only treated to a bit of in the beginning. And then, it’s mostly a hand or some rags dragging off screen. I would have liked to see him more like this in the film. My second small gripe fits in with the first one. Once Imhotep is awakened, there’s supposed to be a curse on those that opened the scroll. Well, instead we fast forward ten years. What? I would have loved to see The Mummy lumbering around and doing mummy-like things.
The story picks up ten years later and Imhotep “helps” some other archeologists discover the tomb of his princess, Anck-es-en-amon’s tomb. The make-up job by Jack Pierce here isn’t as involved as the earlier Mummy make-up. I think we see more of the real Boris Karloff’s face than his other horror entries until this point.
Imhotep meets Helen Grosvenor played by Zita Johann, who is the spitting resemblance of his princess. She didn’t really jump out as one of my favorites. I did like her channeling the original Princess towards the end. We also get Edward Van Sloan along for the ride again playing another scholar role as Dr. Muller. He plays these roles so well. The rest of the cast did well with the material too.
We get some great Egyptian sets in this movie, and there’s a scene where Imhotep sets fire to Anck-es-en-Amon’s sarcophagus that sent a shiver down my spine. And the way Imhotep crumbles at the end, was a nice effect.
All in all, I really enjoyed these two Karloff films. And having the chance to watch them so close together, made me appreciate the range that he had. He’s become my favorite of the Universal actors, and I look forward to more of his films. Do yourself a favor, and set yourself up with a Karloff double feature soon!
We have a neat treat this time around. Back in the ’60s, there was a comic book company called Gold Key which started publishing in the early ’60s and lasted to the early ’80s. They produced many different comics based on just about any popular licensed property. Many horror and Sci-Fi movies and television shows saw some kind of comic based on them.
Boris Karloff was no exception. What started out as “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” turned into “Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery”. It was a horror anthology series. The stories would be introduced by Karloff, and the series continued into the ’80s. I think I might have one issue of it somewhere, but hope to track some more down to read by candlelight, here in the crypt.
I see its time to lock the place down for the night, you never know when a drunk mute monster or mummy may wander in, but we’ll be together again soon, Groovy Ghoulies. Until next time, watch the skies!
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