Plot: Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) runs a small medical school and while he is a gifted surgeon, he chooses to exercise his skills to help other learn, rather than practice much medicine himself. One of his students, Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) moves from a top pupil to MacFarlane’s assistant. This promotion allows him to work closely with his teacher and as some time passes, he becomes more curious about the instructor, especially as some strange events begin to transpire. Fettes learns that MacFarlane has a very unusual relationship with John Gray (Boris Karloff), a man from his past who works as a cab driver, but is involved with the school as well. Gray is a harsh man and Fettes wonders why MacFarlane puts up with his abuses, but little does he know the secret that lurks just beneath the surface…
Entertainment Value: This is a true classic, a dark, atmospheric chiller that features some terrific performances. I’ve seen numerous adaptations of this narrative, but this is one of the eeriest and most memorable, especially thanks to Boris Karloff’s remarkable performance. The movie has obvious horror elements, but also centers on the personal drama between Karloff’s Gray and Henry Daniell’s MacFarlane, so while creepy, it is also grounded in most ways. And I think believable stories make the horror elements shine, so when combined with the eerie atmosphere and haunting visuals, The Body Snatcher packs a potent punch. I also love that the focus on character development leads to a big dose of dysfunctional interactions, as shady people try to get the upper hand on each other in escalating ways. I think this darker approach adds so much to the movie, as the evil in these characters is all too believable, which can be more effective than a ghost or monster of some kind. As expected, there is a hint of the supernatural, but this is much more grounded than most films of this kind. I can’t recommend this one enough, as The Body Snatcher is a genre classic.
In a career rich with memorable performances and some truly iconic roles, this still stands as some of Boris Karloff’s best work. As usual, he is able to convey so much with just his look and his screen presence is powerful here, he casts an ominous and quite unpredictable persona in this one. The menace he projects drives the movie, but he is able to do much more than loom over the picture, as he rises to the challenge when it comes to the dialogue as well. His exchanges with Henry Daniell were the highlights of the movie to me, as the two play off each other so well and the tension goes through the roof in some of those sequences. While Karloff commands the screen here, Daniell more than holds his own and helps elevate any scene he appears in. Bela Lugosi has a smaller than normal role in The Body Snatcher, but he makes the most of his screen time and really brings a lot to the table. The cast also includes Rita Corday, Russell Wade, and Edith Atwater, while Robert Wise serves as the film’s director.
The Disc: The Body Snatcher looks superb in this Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, thanks to a new 4k scan sourced from the original camera negative. This movie was released in 1945, but looks pristine in this presentation and shows the kind of sharp, fine detail we want from high definition. The print is nearly flawless, so the black & white visuals showcase such rich visuals here, it is almost impossible to believe the film could look this remarkable. As for supplements, an almost hour long piece on Val Lewton is present, as well as director Robert Wise’s audio comments. You can also check out a new featurette on the film’s legacy, some still photos, and the film’s trailer.
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