Boris Karloff is a man whose name is synonymous with horror movies. He is the Frankenstein’s monster even today its his image that we have in our heads when we say Frankenstein whether we have even heard of Boris Karloff or not.
Of course throughout his long and very successful career Karloff would play many memorable characters and in this article I am going to look at what I feel where his top 10 performances.
10/Dr Savaard/ The Man They Could Not Hang
“The Man they Could Not Hang” is entirely carried by Boris Karloff’s performance as the vengeful Dr Savaard. The highlight for me of the entire movie is when Karloff vows revenge on the judge and jury who sentence him to death. Karloff captures the bitter madness and hatred of the character beautifully. He genuinely makes us believe that nothing not even death can silence Savaard’s rage.
9/John Gray/ The Bodysnatcher
One of Karloff’s most sinister creations, Gray is on the surface a charming, icy, yet somewhat unnerving character, whilst behind closed doors he is a brutal murderer who kills his victims by smothering them to death with his own bare hands. John Gray was unlike a lot of the other characters Karloff played. Karloff’s most iconic roles tended to be more misunderstood characters which is why Gray was somewhat refreshing as he allowed Karloff a chance to really show his villainous side, though that’s not to say Karloff didn’t play a few other total monsters in his long career.
8/ Dr Scarabus/ The Raven
Another villainous performance, Dr Scarabous however is a much less sinister character than John Gray. Scarabous is a much more comical character even when he is doing nasty things such as turning Peter Lorre into a raven. Scarabus gave Karloff a chance to show off his comedic side more than many of the other sinister characters he played throughout his career and his interactions with his co-stars Lorre and Price is priceless.
7/ The Grinch/How the Grinch Stole Christmas
One of Karloff’s most iconic performances was not a horror role. Karloff provided the voice for The Grinch in this animated classic and also narrated it. His distinctive yet soft voice proved to be the perfect match for the character and to this day the movie remains a festive classic. Karloff ended up winning a Grammy award for his performance.
6/ Morgan/ The Old Dark House
At first glance Karloff’s role in “The Old Dark House” seemed like a knock off of his performance as the Frankenstein’s monster. Another big lumbering brute. However Karloff was able to inject more comedy into this character than he had done into the monster. However he was still at the same time able to make us feel sorry the character at certain moments too such as near the end of the film where he carries his only friends corpse up the stairs grief stricken.
5/ Baron Gregor De Berghmann/ Anton De Berghmann/ The Dark Room
Now I do not think this was one of Karloff’s better movies, but I would still rate it as one of his better performances nonetheless. This movie see’s Karloff play a duel role as two brothers one good Anton the other evil Gregor. Karloff truly makes the audience believe that they are watching two different characters. At no point do you think that you are watching the same actor Karloff plays both the villain and the victim perfectly in this movie.
This was probably Karloff’s most celebrated horror role in the later years of his career. Its also one of his most frightening. Karloff truly strikes a terrifying pose as the Vampire hunter turned Vampire who later returns to feast on his family’s blood.
3/ Hjalmar Poelzig/ The Black Cat
Karloff’s most heinous character, Poelzig the main antagonist in “The Black Cat” is also one of Horrors most brutal villains. He is a satan worshipper who kills and embalms his wives and it is implied molests their corpses. Its fitting then that he gets the most horrifying death known to man when Bela Lugosi flays or “fayrs” him alive.
2/ Imohtep/ The Mummy
One of Karloff’s most iconic performances, Karloff brought a real gravitas to the character. He played the character as a tragic, lovestruck victim rather than an out and out villain. Whilst the character was driven by his emotions there was at the same time a kind of eerie coldness to him as well. It felt like you were watching a living corpse at times.
1/ Frankenstein’s Monster/ Frankenstein/ The Bride of Frankenstein/ The Son of Frankenstein
Yes its an obvious choice, but that’s only because it is Karloff’s best performance, well at least I think so. In much the same way as everything we think of as Dracula comes from Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi’s performance and everything we think of as Van Helsing comes from Peter Cushing’s performance then everything we think of as the Monster comes from Boris Karloff. The image of the creature as a tall, hulking, green skinned brute with bolts in its neck as well as its character as a dumb, violent brute with a somewhat childlike innocence all stems from Karloff. It was the role that made him a household name and secured his place among the pantheon of Horror icons. I would say that his best performance as the monster is actually in the sequel “The Bride of Frankenstein” The scene where the monster comforts a lonely old hermit is a real tear jerker. I defy anyone to watch it and not cry.