JAFFREY—Modern generations may know him as the voice of the meanest Grinch to ever steal Christmas, but Boris Karloff’s first identity is as the father of horror.
“Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster” is the featured film during Halloweek at the Park Theatre, a series of scary flicks—some classic, some modern—concluding on Halloween this Sunday.
Halloweek will also feature a virtual costume contest; three finalists in three categories will be selected by a panel and they will be asked to come in costume to the theatre on Halloween for the audience to vote. Winners will receive gift certificates to local restaurants.
“We wanted to jump in (to more in-person screenings) and Halloween is a great movie time,” said Steve Jackson, CEO and managing director of the Park Theatre. “We can show a wide, diverse offering of films.”
“The Man Behind the Monster,” which will have three screenings at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 29, Saturday, October 30, and Sunday, October 31, is a 2021 documentary about the life and career of the English actor Karloff (1887-1969) directed by Thomas Hamilton, who also serves as a co-writer and co-executive producer with Ron MacCloskey. The film was released September 17 to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the release of the 1931 film, “Frankenstein,” in which Karloff portrayed Frankenstein’s monster.
The film highlights his most significant roles, including Frankenstein’s monster, The Mummy, and, of course, the voice of the Grinch.
“Young people may not know the names of his black-and-white Universal films,” said Jackson. “But he gains a new audience with every generation. He was in some of the all-time best. He’s a legend.”
Jackson’s on-camera interview with co-writer/co-executive producer, Thomas Hamilton, about the film, will soon be posted on the Park Theatre’s Facebook and YouTube accounts.
He had his own experience with Karloff while growing up in Manhattan: his school was a few blocks from Karloff’s apartment adjacent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I’d heard from friends he lived on that same block,” said Jackson. “Lo and behold, one day after school I was walking around the Upper East Side with my bookbag and there he was, walking with his beautiful walking stick. He had the most distinctive face. I saw him go into a building that had a door man.”
Jackson was a fan of Karloff’s long before, having gone to see his films (“Frankenstein” was his favorite) in the city.
The film touches on Karloff’s onscreen persona but also his off-screen life, in which he was known for being professional, kind and having a self-deprecating sense of humor. His public face was defined by his devotion to the Screen Actors Guild (now SAG-AFTRA), both in recruiting members and in his determination to stand up for actors in less fortunate positions than himself at a time when his fame was still in its early days and when mere association with a Union could lead to dismissal by the studio.
Karloff worked his entire life. When horror went out of fashion after World War II, he reinvented himself on Broadway and radio. In the late 1950s, he enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity, hosting his own television series, “Thriller,” and winning new fans in such films as “The Raven” (with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre), and of course, Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“He was known for the makeup applied to his face but in a lot of important films he made, it was Karloff behind no mask—it was not monster makeup,” said Jackson. “Some did it for high camp like Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi, but Karloff would get inside the soul of the character and you believed it. Even if he was a secondary character, he had such a presence that really came through. His approach was so distinctive. You would never, ever forget this guy.”
Executive producer and co-writer Ron MacCloskey travelled internationally to conduct research for the documentary for over a period of 23 years. Since 2018, the production team has filmed 50 interviews in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, and London.
On the list of interviewees are Guillermo Del Toro, John Landis, daughter Sara Karloff, Peter Bogdanovich and actor Christopher Plummer, some of whom never discussed their time with Karloff.
“All these people interviewed Karloff and it touched them directly or indirectly in how they conceive the work they’ve done,” said Jackson. “The influence this man has had on filmmakers especially is profound. All films owe something back to Karloff.”
Also showing during Halloweek (closing Halloween evening) include movies from the “Halloween” franchise, the new animated film, “Addams Family 2,” and the 1981 horror thriller, “Possession,” starring Sam Neill.
For a full schedule of film showings and more information, visit www.theparktheatre.org.