Ain't It Cool News (
Movie News

A Movie A Day: THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)
Could you be a doctor, a healing man, with the things those eyes have seen?

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day! [For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.] With this review (or pair of reviews if you put the recommendation title into the mix) I finally have caught up from my Ireland-caused stumble in the daily routine. I hit all but two films in the Val Lewton Box Set during my original AMAD run. The two that I didn’t get to are, I’m told, some of the best in that already fantastic set and both are being covered during this October Special Spooktacular run of A Movie A Day.

Based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story (which is in turn a fictional continuation of the famous Scottish grave robbers Burke & Hare) THE BODY SNATCHER is set in period Scotland as science is trying to grow beyond the rigid moral restrictions placed upon it. If the movie was set today, I’m sure there’d be some stem cell research plot shoe-horned into it, but back then it was all about needing freshly dead specimens to research and use as teaching aides for up and coming medical students. The medical side of the movie is all well and good, but the real meat and potatoes belongs with Boris Karloff’s title character, the corpse collecting Mr. Gray, a carriage driver who makes extra bread on the side by delivering corpses to Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). I know it shouldn’t be so surprising anymore, but damn Karloff plays this one to the hilt. There’s a gleam in his eye here. You can tell he’s relishing every line, every scene, every nuance of the character and why wouldn’t he? He’s got all the power and he knows it. Gray is holding something over MacFarlane, which gives him all the freedom and satisfaction he needs. There’s a subplot about a young girl with a spine problem and the aw, shucks nice guy medical student (Russell Wade) who is doing his damndest to help her and that’s all well and good, but it’s the relationship between Gray and MacFarlane that makes the movie. Gray took a bullet for MacFarlane early in their association (figuratively, not literally) and while the good doctor went on to be well-respected in his field and Gray become a fuckin’ cabbie I get the impression Gray wouldn’t have it any other way. The joy of his twisted life is watching MacFarlane squirm.

Wise’s direction is assured and showing signs of the great director he would be remembered for. His previous solo features were another Val Lewton movie, the bizarre sequel to CAT PEOPLE, and MADEMOISELLE FIFI, both starring the gorgeous Simone Simon, but this one feels particularly confident. Another attraction of this movie is seeing horror greats Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together onscreen. In fact, this was their last on-screen pairing. “Karloff? Sidekick? FUCK YOU!” That was actually in response to another film, THE INVISIBLE RAY, which I must admit I haven’t seen, but I can’t help but think of that scene from ED WOOD anytime the two share the stage. Anyway, Lugosi’s role in the movie is, unfortunately, minor, but their scenes together are fantastic, especially the final scene they share. And wow, what an ending. Almost something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Am I being vague enough? Hope so. Go watch the movie! Final Thoughts: THE BODY SNATCHER is a tour de force for Karloff and a great early Robert Wise effort. I found the film to be a bit more straightforward than most of the Val Lewton produced oddities, but that’s not a bad thing.

Since we had a Karloff/Lugosi pairing that was radically in favor of Karloff, I figured the recommendation feature (which would make a good double bill) should reverse that.

1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a greatly overlooked movie that unfortunately isn’t as iconic as either of its predecessors (or as well-directed), but it is notable for one main reason: Bela Lugosi plays a broken-necked Ygor (the townspeople tried to hang him after the events of the previous movies) and he plays him as a rat bastard son of a bitch. Karloff has very little to do in his final outing as the Monster. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is really Karloff’s movie. This one belongs to Lugosi. Also, of all the early Frankenstein movies Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN spoofs this one the most, down to the descendant returning to his roots and the wooden-armed police inspector. I grew up on YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN so it was very surprising to me just how close that film was to SON OF FRANKENSTEIN when I finally saw it. So you know the story. Son returns to father’s castle. It’s not Gene Wilder, but Basil Rathbone, Monster is still around, but now under the control of Ygor (he plays a fucked up looking woodwind, another bit taken by Brooks). The young Frankenstein picks up his father’s work just to get the monster strong enough for Ygor to set him on the townspeople that hung him. Of course the creature eventually gets wise and proves he ain’t controlled by nobody! Not no one! Not no how! As much as Karloff killed it in THE BODY SNATCHER Lugosi kills it in this movie. His Ygor is fuckin’ creepy! So good.

Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles: Thursday, October 15th: THE LEOPARD MAN (1943)

Friday, October 16th: WOLFEN (1981)

Saturday, October 17th: MADHOUSE (1981)

Sunday, October 18th: THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976)

Monday, October 19th: THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945)

Tuesday, October 20th: DEMON SEED (1977)

Wednesday, October 21th: STAGEFRIGHT (1987)

Now I collapse into a heap of sleep! Tomorrow I'm back on track with Jacques Tourneur's THE LEOPARD MAN! See you folks soon! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

AMAD Halloween Spectacular 2009: October 1st: Nothing But The Night (& The Wicker Man)
October 2nd: Beware! Children At Play (& The Devil Times Five)
October 3rd: Cameron’s Closet (& Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood)
October 4th: Afraid of the Dark (& The Lady In White)
October 5th: The Pit (& The Gate)
October 6th: Brain Damage (& Basket Case)
October 7th: Brain Dead (& Braindead, aka Dead Alive)
October 8th: Visiting Hours (& Dressed To Kill)
October 9th: Macabre (& The Beyond)
October 10th: Private Parts (& Eating Raoul)
October 11th: Road Games (& Duel)
October 12th: Dead End Drive-In (& Repo Man)
October 13th: Psychic Killer (& Alone In The Dark)
Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus