Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Russell Wade
Written by: Robert Louis Stevenson (short story), Philip MacDonald and Val Newton (written for the screen by)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Original Year of Release: 1945
Distributor: Scream Factory
Run Time: 1h 17min
I'll admit it up front. I was in from the moment I saw that Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were in another horror movie together. All I knew was I hadn't seen this one before and it was based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story (author of "Treasure Island"). I expected castles, graveyards, and these two stars bringing on the horror in spades. For the most part, that is exactly what I got. Well, that and a lot more.
The film takes place after the Burke and Hare murders, based on the true story of two men, Burke and Hare, who murder people/robbed graves and sold the bodies to Robert Knox for dissection at a University. Here we have Dr. Wolfe 'Toddy' MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) and his Cabman, John Gray (Boris Karloff) in a similar deal. The main story focuses on a medical student, Donald Fettes (Russell Wade), who must convince his professor, Dr. McFarlane, to perform experimental surgery on a young girl. The girl needs this surgery to walk again, however, the doctor needs to experiment on corpses first. Fettes quickly learns who and what the mysterious Gray is (a body snatcher) and the stage is then set.
Wait, where is Bela Lugosi in all that? This was actually the seventh and last time Lugosi would appear in a film with Karloff. His part is not particularly large, yet it does illustrate how uncommon the Cabman is that Karloff portrays. It's fun to see them together, but it is not the reason why one should watch this film.
The reason to watch The Body Snatcher is that Karloff has a full character here. He's not a monster or ghoul, voiceless and lurking in the shadows. In fact, he is at times likable, despite his extracurricular activities. The struggle and driving force of the film appears as if it is all about Fettes navigating the treacherous waters between his mentor and the body snatcher to save a little girl. What is really at play is another battle between Gray and Dr. MacFarlane. Gray has a lot on the good doctor and with each failed attempt at removing Gray from his life, the doctor gets more desperate. This is not what I was expecting and probably not what the audience was either in 1945. By the film's conclusion though, you remain completely satisfied.
Scream Factory has truly illuminated another gem from the horror pantheon with their 4K scan of the original camera negative. Dive deeper into producer Val Lewton's career (who also co-wrote this screenplay) with "Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy" and you have a whole new slate of pictures to discover. If I didn't convince you, the likes of Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, and William Friedkin will.
· Still Galleries – posters, lobby cards, movie stills