From the Video Shop: Four B-Horror Flicks Starring Boris Karloff
Before I Hang
- 1940 - United States - 62 minutes
- Writers - Robert Hardy Andrews and Karl Brown
The Black Room
- 1935 - United States - 70 minutes
- Writers - Henry Myers and Arthur Strawn
- Director - Roy William Neill
The Boogie Man Will Get You
- 1942 - United States - 66 minutes
- Writers - Edwin Blum and Hal Fimberg
The Man They Could Not Hang
- 1939 - Country - 64 minutes
- Writers - Karl Brown and George Wallace Sayre
Four of Boris Karloff's B-horror films have just been released on DVD packaged as "double feature" discs. Of course, Karloff is best known for his roles as the Frankenstein monster and the mummy, but during his long career, he starred in many very entertaining films. My all-time favorite of those little known films is The Black Cat in which he costars with Bela Lugosi. It has recently been released in a collection of Lugosi films.
For those of you too young to know what a B-movie is, they were the television programs before television. They usually played as a double feature in local movie houses - usually on Saturday mornings with the evening showing being reserved for a major movie. My neighborhood movie theater was the Seminole Theater in Seminole Heights, a suburb of Tampa, Florida. Admission to the Saturday morning movies was fifteen cents. This was a time when it was safe for a ten-year old boy to walk the mile of so to the movie and enjoy some good entertainment. This is where Roy Rogers became my hero. Enough of this stroll down memory lane!
I remember laughing uncontrollably at The Boogie Man Will Get You when I saw it as a youth. Of course, my latest viewing did not tickle my funny bone as much. It is a very silly comedy with no less than Peter Lorre as the co-star. Karloff plays a mad professor type who is in the process of killing a number of traveling salesmen while experimenting to create a super man with intentions of providing the secret for the war - WWII that is - effort. A young woman buys the inn that Karloff owns with intentions of restoring it to a productive business. Lots of slapstick comedy takes place. It is interesting to note that this film was an intentional rip-off of Arsenic and Old Lace. Karloff had starred in the play but was not available for the movie version.
Karloff is a scientist again - this time not mad until later in the film- in Before I Hang. This time he's working on a serum that prolongs life and causes the death of a test subject. He is sent to prison to hang, but in the month he has left, is allowed to carry on his experiments with the prison doctor. Karloff gets to prison doctor to inject him with the serum that was made with the blood of an executed killer. It doesn't take too much to imagine what happens to Karloff once he gets that "killer blood" in him. The plot of this one is pretty weak, but the acting - especially by Karloff - is excellent as is the black and white photography. It is interesting in seeing the profession skill applied to a film everyone knew was just going to be a Saturday morning double feature.
The Black Room harkens back to the Frankenstein mode in that it takes place in the 1800's in and about a small Bavarian village. This time Karloff plays the twin sons of a baron whose family is cursed by a legend that states that in the event of twin sons, the younger will murder the elder in The Black Room. In order to stave off the curse, the baron has the black room sealed off when his twin sons are born. In adulthood, the elder is the evil twin and the reining baron. It seems that young maidens go to the castle and never return. The young, good twin has been away, but is called home by his brother to help with the estate. Karloff is great as both the good and evil twin, and the movie has its fair share of angry villagers uprising and storming the castle. And don't forget the obligatory damsel in distress who is forced to marry the evil twin all the while thinking that he is the good twin. The whole thing is great fun.
Probably the best of the four is The Man They Could Not Hang. Karloff is a doctor who is experimenting with a machine that will circulate the blood in a person's body while all the patient's body functions are stopped. This is in order to be able to perform complicated operations. In other words, it's a 1939 science fiction heart-lung machine. This time the kindly doctor is betrayed by his nurse who happens to be the girlfriend of his medical student who has agreed to be the first human experimental subject. The doctor is sentenced to be hanged, but his colleague claims his body and uses the machine to repair his broken neck and bring him back to life. Needless-to-say, the doctor decides to seek revenge upon all of those who contributed in his arrest and conviction. The final conflict takes place à la Ten Little Indians where all the remaining transgressors are trapped in a house being killed off one at a time. This one has all the great elements of the old B-horror/mystery flicks including the beautiful young daughter and the go-getting investigative reporter. It is definitely the best and most entertaining of the four.
So whether you want to revisit some memories of your youth or check out the sort of light entertainment enjoyed by your parents or grandparents, you'll probably find one or more of these Boris Karloff treasures some good, mindless fun.
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