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12+1 Best Movies of Boris Karloff: Legacy of the Gentle Monster

Top movies of Boris Karloff

Welcome to the Memorial Film Collection of Boris Karloff

Watching the best movies of Boris Karloff is more than just having a really good time. It’s also about paying tribute to the uncanny hero of classic horror.

He may have passed away, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, he will never be really gone.

Whenever you feel like traveling back in time to witness Karloff’s chilling performance, see his heavy eyebrows or hear his characteristic lisp, all you have to do, is sit back, relax, and enjoy one (or more) of his greatest films.

But which Boris Karloff movies should you watch?
Well, if that’s your question for the day, you came to the right place. We’re just about to present the Top 12+1 Films of Boris Karloff.

The Best Movies of Boris Karloff is an episode of FrameTrek’s Hall of Legends: A mega-journey dedicated to identify the greatest artists of World Cinema, and their most significant works.


Meet Boris Karloff, the Uncanny Hero of Classic Horror

Boris Karloff young

Boris Karloff is recognized as one of the true icons of horror cinema, and the actor most closely identified with the general public’s perception of the “monster” from the classic Mary Shelley book entitled Frankenstein.

Starting out his career as a stage actor, he toured back and forth across the USA for over ten years, appearing in a variety of low-budget theater shows.

He eventually ended up in Hollywood, working as a motion-picture extra, playing minor roles in silent films.

His big break came in 1931 when he was cast as “the monster” in the Universal production of Frankenstein. The film was a commercial and critical success, and Karloff was instantly established as a hot property in Hollywood.

When I was nine, I played the demon king in “Cinderella” and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster.

Boris Karloff

He was considered a late bloomer, as he was 44 years old and he appeared in 80 films before his breakthrough role.

Frankenstein dramatically changed the course of Karloff’s career, making him play mostly imposing, sinister villains for the rest of his life.

He earned the nickname “Gentle Monster” as he had a unique way of making the audiences feel sorry for his evil characters by displaying extreme frailty and vulnerability, even when the material didn’t call for this.

He never took himself too seriously as an actor and had a tendency to downplay his acting accomplishments.

You could heave a brick out of the window and hit ten actors who could play my parts. I just happened to be on the right corner at the right time.

Boris Karloff

In contrast to the image he presented in most of his films, the private Karloff was, by every account, a quiet, bookish man off-screen, renowned as a refined, warm-hearted gentleman. His hobbies included growing roses, drinking tea, cricket and watching rugby.

He was particularly fond of children, with a sincere affection for their welfare. Karloff recorded many successful albums of children’s stories, and he often dressed as Santa Claus during Christmas, handing out presents to physically disabled children.

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about, when it comes to Boris Karloff, but we are here to concentrate on his Top 12+1 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, an actor is as good as his greatest performances. Thus, the finest way to familiarize yourself with Boris Karloff, is through watching his finest films.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best movies of Boris Karloff carry you to the bone-chilling lands of classic horror!



Presenting the 12+1 Best Films of Boris Karloff

Chronologically

The “+1” is a Bonus Movie. Wait for it!


Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931), James Whale, Best movies of Boris Karloff
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Pre-Code science fiction horror film directed by James Whale.

Story: Henry Frankenstein is a doctor who is trying to discover a way to make the dead walk. He succeeds and creates a monster that has to deal with living again. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The Monster’s make-up took four hours each day to apply, and his cumbersome costume weighed 48 pounds in the uncomfortable heat of summer. His thick-soled boots weighed 13 pounds each.
✪ Karloff had to have three major back surgeries in his lifetime as a result of carrying his co-star Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein) up the stairs of the windmill in full costume, in the climax of the film.
✪ The aura of mystery surrounding Karloff was highlighted in the opening credits, as he was listed as simply “?”

Still unnerving to this day, Frankenstein adroitly explores the fine line between genius and madness, and features Boris Karloff’s legendary, frightening performance as the monster.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Frankenstein among the best films of Boris Karloff?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The film was a commercial success upon release, well received by both critics and audiences. It had a significant and long lasting impact on popular culture.


The Old Dark House (1932)

The Old Dark House (1932), James Whale, Best Boris Karloff films
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Pre-Code comedy horror film directed by James Whale.

Story: Seeking shelter from a storm, five travelers are in for a bizarre and terrifying night when they stumble upon the Femm family estate. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ This was Boris Karloff’s first credited starring role. His name had been left off the Frankenstein publicity packages and only shown in the end credits of that film.
✪ A quarrel broke up the secret dalliance between Boris Karloff and James Whale, who never spoke again. The former partners would only communicate via messages delivered by other cast members.

A deft blend of well-chosen ingredients, The Old Dark House is a delightfully scary horror comedy that benefits from James Whale’s suspenseful direction.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Old Dark House among the best Boris Karloff movies?
✓ Although it wasn’t successful upon release, as years passed, with the re-evaluation of Whale’s filmography, The Old Dark House has garnered widespread critical acclaim, and is now recognized as a cult classic.


The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy (1932), Karl Freund, Best movies of Boris Karloff
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Pre-Code horror film directed by Karl Freund.

Story: A resurrected Egyptian mummy stalks a beautiful woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover and bride. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Unlike its predecessors, Dracula and Frankenstein, The Mummy was not based on a novel and was inspired by the real-life opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and the alleged curse it contained.
✪ The mummy makeup is based on the appearance of Ramses III and it took eight hours a day to apply.
✪ Boris Karloff created such a sensation with Frankenstein that when this movie was made, Universal only had to advertise “KARLOFF . . . ‘The Mummy’.”

Relying more on mood and atmosphere than the thrills typical of modern horror fare, Universal’s The Mummy sets a masterful template for mummy-themed films to follow.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Mummy among the best films of Boris Karloff?
✓ A critical and commercial success, with critics and audiences praising the film’s mood and Karloff’s performance.
✓ Widely regarded as a timeless classic and an influential horror.



The Black Cat (1934)

The Black Cat (1934), Edgar G. Ulmer, Bela Lugosi, Best Boris Karloff films
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Pre-Code horror film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and co-starring Bela Lugosi.

Story: American honeymooners in Hungary become trapped in the home of a Satan-worshipping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The first of eight film collaborations of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, who at the time were unquestionably the two biggest stars of horror film. Despite rumors that the two stars were personally very competitive, this marked the beginning of a pleasant working relationship between the two.

Making the most of its Karloff-Lugosi star pairing and loads of creepy atmosphere, The Black Cat is an early classic in the Universal monster movie library.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Black Cat among the best Boris Karloff movies?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ The film helped to create and popularize the psychological horror subgenre, emphasizing on atmosphere, eerie sounds, the darker side of the human psyche, and emotions like fear and guilt to deliver its scares.


Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935), James Whale, Top movies of Boris Karloff
Where to Watch?   More info

Science fiction horror film directed by James Whale.

Story: The Monster demands a mate, and he does not take ‘no’ for an answer. Dr. Frankenstein joins forces with Dr. Pretorius, an even madder scientist then he is, and together they attempt to fulfill the monster’s wish.

Between Frames:
✪ Boris Karloff protested against the decision to make The Monster speak, but was overruled.
✪ He sweated off 20 pounds laboring in the hot costume and makeup and had to lie down and rest between takes.

An eccentric, campy, technically impressive, and frightening picture, James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein has aged remarkably well.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Bride of Frankenstein among the top films of Boris Karloff?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Widely regarded as one of the greatest sequels in cinematic history, with many fans and critics considering it to be an improvement on the original Frankenstein.


The Raven (1935)

The Raven (1935), Bela Lugosi, Top Boris Karloff movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Crime horror film co-starring Bela Lugosi.

Story: Dr. Vollin is a brilliant but unstable surgeon with a morbid obsession for instruments of torture. He saves the life of Jean Thatcher, a beautiful young socialite injured in an automobile accident and becomes increasingly attracted to her. (IMDB)



Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Son of Frankenstein (1939), Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Top Boris Karloff films
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Science fiction horror film co-starring Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi.

Story: One of Dr. Frankenstein’s son finds out that the Monster is kept alive in a coma-like state, by Ygor, his father’s assistant. Together, they attempt to revive him, but the consequences turn out to be worse than expected.

Between Frames:
✪ Boris Karloff became a father for the first time while filming this movie.

Boris Karloff’s final appearance as the Monster is a fitting farewell before the series descended into self-parody.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Son of Frankenstein among the greatest movies of Boris Karloff?
✓ A major box office success, well received by critics and audiences.
✓ Widely considered an influential horror classic with a significant impact on popular culture.


The Body Snatcher (1945)

The Body Snatcher (1945), Bela Lugosi, Greatest films of Boris Karloff
Where to Watch?   More info

Horror thriller film co-starring Bela Lugosi.

Story: A ruthless doctor and his young prize student find themselves continually harassed by their murderous supplier of illegal cadavers. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ This film features the 8th and last on-screen teaming of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.


The Raven (1963)

The Raven (1963), Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Greatest Boris Karloff movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Comedy horror film co-starring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre.

Story: A magician, who has been turned into a raven, turns to a former sorcerer for help. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Peter Lorre was fond of ad-libbing his lines, much to the annoyance of Boris Karloff, who was working from the script and got confused by the improvisations of his co-star.



Black Sabbath (1963)

Black Sabbath (1963), Mario Bava, Greatest Boris Karloff films
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Horror anthology film directed by Mario Bava.

Story: Boris Karloff hosts a trio of horror stories concerning a stalked call girl, a vampire-like monster who preys on his family, and a nurse who is haunted by her ring’s rightful owner. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ This is the only film in which horror icon Boris Karloff plays a vampire.

Why is Black Sabbath among the most popular movies of Boris Karloff?
✓ It was a failure upon release, but over the years it has received positive reviews from critics, influenced pop culture and is now considered a classic.


The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

The Comedy of Terrors (1963), Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Most popular films of Boris Karloff
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Horror comedy film co-starring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre.

Story: Dishonest undertaker Waldo Trumbull and his sidekick Felix Gillie are creating their own customers when they cannot find willing ones. (IMDB)

Why is The Comedy of Terrors among the most popular Boris Karloff movies?
✓ Received mixed to negative reviews upon its initial release, but the film’s reputation grew over the years and now it is considered a true classic.


Targets (1968)

Targets (1968), Peter Bogdanovich, Most popular Boris Karloff films
Where to Watch?   More info

Crime thriller film directed by Peter Bogdanovich.

Story: An elderly horror film star, while making a personal appearance at a drive-in theatre, confronts a psychotic Vietnam War veteran who has turned into a mass-murdering sniper. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ By the time this film was made, 80-year-old Boris Karloff was in very poor health suffering from emphysema along with rheumatoid arthritis and had only half of one lung and spent the time between takes in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask on.

A startling directorial debut by Peter Bogdanovich mixes an homage to Boris Karloff horror films with a timely sniper story to create a thriller with modern baggage and old school shock and awe.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Targets among the famous movies of Boris Karloff?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.


…and as promised: The BONUS Movie!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), Dr. Seuss, Famous films of Boris Karloff
Where to Watch?   More info

Animated Christmas movie narrated by Boris Karloff.

Story: A grumpy hermit hatches a plan to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Dr. Seuss disputed casting Boris Karloff for fear that he would make the Grinch too scary.
✪ This half-hour cartoon took 10 months and 25,000 drawings to complete.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas brings an impressive array of talent to bear on an adaptation that honors a classic holiday story — and has rightfully become a yuletide tradition of its own.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is How the Grinch Stole Christmas! among the famous Boris Karloff movies?
✓ A perennial holiday special with a memorable voice performance from Karloff.



The end of Boris Karloff’s story

Old Boris Karloff

In the final years of his life, walking, and even just standing, became a painful ordeal. He was mostly wheelchair bound, yet he was still in demand.

Some directors would change the script to place Karloff’s character in a wheelchair, so that he would be more comfortable.

His last film appearances were all filmed in England as by then he was refusing to travel abroad.

A longtime heavy smoker, he had emphysema which left him with only half of one lung still functioning. He contracted bronchitis and about a year later he died of pneumonia in 1969, at the age of 81.

Respectful of his Indian roots and in true Hindu fashion, his body was cremated. Only 4 people attended his private funeral. Karloff’s ashes were buried in the Garden of Remembrance, Godalming, England where he is commemorated by a plaque.

For his contribution to film and television, Karloff was awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

If you’d like to dig deeper into the story of Boris Karloff, you may want to read their biography by Scott Allen Nollen entitled Boris Karloff: A Gentleman’s Life.


…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 12+1 Greatest Films of Boris Karloff

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

12+1 Best Movies of Boris Karloff
Legacy of the Gentle Monster
Frankenstein 1931
Frankenstein (1931)
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
The Mummy 1932
The Mummy (1932)
The Old Dark House 1932
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Black Cat 1934
The Black Cat (1934)
Bride of Frankenstein 1935
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
The Raven 1935
The Raven (1935)
Son of Frankenstein 1939
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
*Part of the Collection: Wolfrancula Cinematic Universe
The Body Snatcher 1945
The Body Snatcher (1945)
The Raven 1963
The Raven (1963)
Black Sabbath 1963
Black Sabbath (1963)
The Comedy of Terrors 1963
The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Targets 1968
Targets (1968)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 1966
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

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