Reviews | Written by Martin Unsworth 24/01/2022


For fans of classic horror - or those of a certain age - the name Boris Karloff will bring both a smile and a shiver. A versatile actor, he was thrust into the public consciousness when he was cast as the Frankenstein monster in Universal’s 1931 movie.

It was no overnight success story for the British actor, who had appeared in around 80 films by the time he was discovered in the Universal canteen. He was 44 at the time, but his sympathetic yet terrifying performance as the creation in James Whale’s movie set him on a path that would gain him fans worldwide.

Thomas Hamilton’s feature-length documentary celebrates Karloff’s accomplishments with input from his daughter, Sara, as well as a host of well-known filmmakers who themselves were influenced by the actor. These include John Landis, Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, Ron Perlman, and the late Peter Bogdanovich, whose feature directorial debut was one of Boris’ final movies, Targets (1968). These famous faces echo the feelings of Karloff’s many fans of all ages. Sara Karloff even acknowledges that her father’s legacy is being kept alive by the passion of the people who admire his work.

The Man Behind the Monster does a fantastic job of reminding us of Karloff’s range as an actor. His horror work might have made him a star but his talent kept him in the spotlight and he never wanted for work throughout the rest of his career. He appeared on stage, on the radio in audio dramas (and famously narrated the perennial animated short The Grinch who Stole Christmas), and appeared on TV, not only acting but as the host of his own anthology series, Thriller.

However, for all the movies he made, it’s a clip from Boris’ appearance on the US version of This is Your Life that sums up the man: when a friend reveals his charitable side, he genuinely is embarrassed and bats away the praise. Whether you’re a fan of classic horror or cinema in general, this is an essential watch.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster is available on Shudder from January 27th