Born in England in 1887 with the much less sinister name of William Henry Pratt, Boris Karloff rose to lasting Hollywood fame as one of the great stars of classic horror. Although he is best remembered today as the heavily disguised and largely silent monster in James Whale’s iconic adaptation of Frankenstein (1931), Karloff also made many screen appearances that showcased his saturnine features and elegantly menacing voice. By the time he died in 1969, Karloff was an undisputed master of the genre, rivaled only by the likes of Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Vincent Price. Here are ten classic movies that highlight the best of Karloff’s career.
1. Frankenstein (1931) – Karloff first gained fame on the strength of his terrifying yet pitiable portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creation. Karloff’s version of the character remains the definitive image, despite dozens of later films that have also adapted Mary Shelley’s novel for the screen.
2. Scarface (1932) – Early in his career, Karloff also played heavies of a more ordinary sort, and he makes a memorable appearance as one of Paul Muni’s enemies in Howard Hawks’ influential gangster classic.
3. The Mummy (1932) – Karloff is brilliant in another classic monster role, but this time he also gets all the good lines as the resurrected Egyptian, Imhotep, whose passion for his lost beloved transcends even death. The 1999 film, The Mummy, pays tribute to this picture in almost every character and scene, and the original version remains the touchstone for all mummy movies.
4. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – Karloff returns for another outing as the monster in this sequel to the 1931 film, also directed by James Whale. Often considered superior to the first Frankenstein movie, this take on the story also features Elsa Lanchester as the titular bride.
5. Bedlam (1946) – Karloff worked with horror producer Val Lewton on a number of films in the 1940s, including this artistic tale of England’s infamous madhouse. As the keeper of the asylum, Karloff exudes mannerly menace toward his prisoners and suffers a grisly fate at their hands in the picture’s climax.
6. Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949) – Comedians Abbott and Costello met all kinds of horror icons in a series of films that began with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Karloff appears in two films with the duo, including this picture and one in which he plays the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
7. Corridors of Blood (1958) – Karloff appears with Christopher Lee and Finlay Currie in this English horror film about a doctor whose experiments with anesthetic have terrible, unintended consequences.
8. The Raven (1963) – In this horror comedy from Roger Corman, Karloff unites with fellow genre stars Peter Lorre and Vincent Price to pay ghoulishly humorous tribute to the poem by Edgar Allan Poe.
9. The Comedy of Terrors (1963) – Another horror comedy, this time directed by the brilliant Jacques Tourneur, reunites Karloff with Lorre and Price for more macabre fun. Joining the other actors on this outing is Basil Rathbone, which makes The Comedy of Terrors a particularly wonderful place to see some of Hollywood’s greatest heavies collected in a single film.
10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) – Near the end of his career, Karloff made several lesser horror films as well as television appearances, but his vocal performance in this holiday television special would be his last great work. Karloff voices both the narrator and the Grinch in this beloved Christmas tale adapted from the book by Dr. Seuss.
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