I'll admit that it's pretty intimidating to check out the list of incredible entries for the Boris Karloff Blogathon taking place this week. A combination of interesting viewpoints, impressive scholarship, and skillful writing leaves me sitting here, wondering what on earth I can add to the discourse! Coming up EMPTY in finding a nunsploitation film featuring Karloff (who would've mad a FANTASTIC evil priest in the classic gothic mold--just sayin'), I figured I could contribute some tiny paintings of the man who has become a key face of 20th Century Horror. The paintings below are Art Trading Cards--each one is 2.5" by 3.5", executed in watercolor paint on paper.
Boris Karloff is one of an elite group of actors who embodies the Gentleman Ghoul, both on-screen and off. Like Lon Chaney before him, and like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price after him, Karloff's sinisterness is balanced by a dignity of carriage that makes his films a delight to watch.
Achieving fame with his turn in James Whale's production of "Frankenstein" for Universal Studios, Karloff went from character actor to top-billed heavy. His performance as the monster lab-created from cadavers has a sense of pathos even under all those layers of makeup. It's easy to see, even after almost eighty years, why this was a star-making role for the actor.
"The Mummy" is probably my favorite of the Classic Monsters, with the character's Ancient Egyptian origin story, romantic story arc, and--it has to be said--rockin' fez. Once again, there's a sense of pathos to this monster that is well-realized by Karloff.
Even while playing a role as fraught with un-PC peril as that of Dr. Fu Manchu, the Chinese criminal mastermind hell-bent on eliminating Western Decorum in favor of the insidious ways of the Far East, Karloff invests his portrayal with a regal carriage. Here, indeed, is a man with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, just like Sax Rohmer would've wanted him!
Karloff's role as Hjalmar Poelzig in "The Black Cat" is just one of the many marvelous things about that particular entry into the Universal Horror canon. Seeing him act opposite Bela Lugosi while both actors were in prime form is a treat not to be overstated! I geeked out about this film at some length on the Classic Horror podcast with Nate Yapp--check it out here if you haven't downloaded your copy yet.
Even late in his career, Karloff continued to choose interesting projects and worked with talented directors. In Mario Bava's anthology film "Black Sabbath," Karloff is featured in a supernatural period piece titled "The Wurdulak" in addition to providing narration for the film. The actor's distinctive features are only enhanced by the colored gels favored by the master of the Italian Gothic.