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Movie Review - “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster” (2021)


“Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster” Is a Valentine to One of the True Legends of Horror Cinema 

Growing up as a Monster Kid in the 1960s and 1970s, I first learned of the legendary Boris Karloff through his classic turn as the monster in 1931’s Frankenstein when the film played on TV and through the Gold Key Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery comic books. I was instantly a fan, and have remained so to this day, which made the new documentary Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster must-see viewing for me. The film is a highly engaging and entertaining look at Karloff’s life and career.

Director/cowriter Thomas Hamilton and cowriter Ron MacCloskey look at the entire 60-year entertainment career of Karloff, as well as his personal life from childhood to his passing. Regarding the latter, the duo does a nice job of discussing such elements as Karloff’s troubled family life growing up and his multiple marriages without going into sordid details or gossipy style. 

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster naturally examines the impact that Karloff’s portrayal of the Frankenstein monster had in the past and its legacy today, but also spends time on the fascinating story of how Karloff got into acting in the first place — as the man himself tells it, being untruthful about past experience to get his first acting job — and focuses on later performances of which he was proud, such as director Peter Bogdonavich’s 1968 cult classic Targets. Karloff lived to entertain to the end, and touching recollections of how this fragile and ailing actor wowed crew members and audiences alike with unexpected surges of energy in his latter years.

The talking heads in the documentary all provide unique pop culture insights or first-hand accounts of working with Karloff. Filmmakers Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, and Bogdonavich, actors Orson Bean, Dick Miller, Stefanie Powers, and Ron Perlman, writers David J. Skal and Gregory W. Mank, and daughter Sara Karloff are among the interviewees who give heartwarming, humorous, and moving accounts of what Karloff means and meant to them.

Hamilton has crafted a super documentary that will intrigue lifelong Karloff fans and those new to the actor’s work and life, alike. Highly recommended, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster, from Shout! Studios and Abramorama, is currently in theaters. 

Reviewed by Joseph Perry

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster
Directed by: Thomas Hamilton
Written by: Thomas Hamilton and Ron MacCloskey
Produced by: Thomas Hamilton, Ron MacCloskey, et al
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Sara Karloff, Guillermo del Toro, Dick Miller, Roger Corman
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: September 17, 2021 from Shout! Studios and Abramorama

Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast ( He also writes for When It Was Cool (, the film websites Diabolique Magazine (, Gruesome Magazine (, The Scariest Things (, and Horror Fuel (, and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope ( and Drive-In Asylum (


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