A new documentary about “Frankenstein” actor Boris Karloff is in the works.
Voltage Films is currently in production on the feature documentary “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster.” Co-produced and co-written by Ron MacCloskey and Thomas Hamilton with Hamilton directing and Tracy Jenkins producing, the film offers a fascinating portrait of Karloff, examining his illustrious 60-year career in the entertainment industry and his enduring legacy as one of the icons of 20th century popular culture.
The film follows on from the acclaimed 2010 biography “Boris Karloff: More Than A Monster,” written by Karloff’s official biographer Stephen Jacobs, who serves as the film’s historical consultant.
MacCloskey dedicated 23 years to the project, travelling the world to conduct extensive research. Since 2018, the team has filmed 50 interviews in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and London. Contributors include Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Plummer, John Landis, Roger Corman and Kevin Brownlow.
The doc is scheduled for release in October to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Universal’s “Frankenstein” in November 2021.
Hamilton produced and directed the 2016 documentary “Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave A Damn.” With two well-received screenings at the Cannes Film Festival, the documentary won first prize in its category at The San Francisco British Awards, and made its television debut on Talking Pictures UK and Turner Classic Movies.
Hamilton and Jenkins are also developing “Horror Icon,” a new documentary series looking at the life and career of horror stars including Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, whilst Jenkins has penned the multi-award-winning screenplay “The Spirit Bead,” chronicling the mental breakdown of a war photographer gone rogue on a Canadian cross-country road trip.
“Boris Karloff was the ultimate professional. He demonstrated incredible work ethic and gave everything to his roles,” explains Hamilton. “He brings humanity and vulnerability to all his performances, especially in his portrayal as Frankenstein’s monster. Karloff communicates a powerful sense of yearning in the creature, hoping for a gesture of human warmth from his creator, and he conveys its forlorn sense of confusion through his extraordinary eyes.”
Born William Henry Pratt in Camberwell, South London, Karloff came from a distinguished family of Anglo-Indian civil servants. He began his career in the film industry as a character actor in silent movies, making his screen debut in George B. Seitz’s action serial “The Lightning Raider” in 1918.
After appearing in 80 films, he was “discovered” at the age of 43 by the British director James Whale, who cast him as the monster in “Frankenstein” (1931), “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and “Son of Frankenstein” (1939).
He made his Broadway debut in 1941 as Jonathan Brewster in the black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and performed the role on Broadway for the next three years, while retaining a share of the profits. Collaborating on three pictures with RKO producer Val Lewton, he carved out a niche in historical period dramas, excelling as the monster and madman in “The Body Snatcher” (1945), “Isle of The Dead” (1945) and “Bedlam” (1946).
Karloff won a Tony nomination in 1955 for his role on Broadway as Bishop Pierre Cauchon in Jean Anouilh’s “The Lark,” opposite Julie Harris as Joan of Arc. Moving to New York, he embraced the medium of ‘live’ television, starring as Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” opposite Roddy McDowell and as King Arthur in “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court.”
In later years, Karloff lent his voice to the role of the narrator and the Grinch in Chuck Jones’s animated CBS-TV special “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966), which won him the Grammy for Best Children’s recording. Karloff died in 1969 at the age of 81, but still captivated audiences with five posthumous screen appearances in “Fear Chamber” (1968), “House of Evil” (1968), “Cauldron of Blood” (1971), “The Invisible Invasion” (1971) and “Isle of The Snake People” (1971).
A founding member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933, Karloff is also remembered for his strong commitment to protecting the rights of up-and-coming actors, who were afraid to speak out against the studio heads.
“He cared so much about the working actor,” says Ron MacCloskey. “He didn’t have to do it; he had fame and money and it posed a serious risk to his career, but he knew how bit-part actors were treated.”
Voltage Films are currently in discussion with Shout Factory in America and European broadcaster ARTE, who have both expressed an interest in airing the film. Hamilton will also liaise with Universal, Sky, Talking Pictures UK and Turner Classic Movies in the lead up to the 90th anniversary of “Frankenstein,” and will consult with leading U.K. organizations, including London’s National Film Theatre.