Documentary’s Rondo win, video release
By Mark Voger, author
‘Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture’
Hooray! I finally got to see “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster,” the 2021 documentary about Our Hero directed by Scotland native Thomas Hamilton and co-produced/co-written by Westfield native Ron MacCloskey. This happened on Oct. 15 at the grand old Union County Performing Arts Center on Irving Street in Rahway.
When the movie first came out in the summer of 2021, it screened in Manhattan. But for me, the COVID situation then was too scary to travel and sit in a theater. (Not that we’re now out of the woods by any stretch.)
My hope was always to see it on the big screen first, since this was the milieu in which Karloff established himself. But I figured I’d have to eventually settle for home video or streaming.
I’m glad I held out. It was comforting to see the doc on a big screen with an audience, even if I did watch it from the nearly empty balcony. (Above is a view of my tickets from the balcony.)
The documentary was enlightening, even for a Karloff freak like me. A case in point was its examination of Karloff’s important but little-known role as one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild. All of those uncompensated hours sitting in Jack Pierce‘s makeup chair made Karloff one motivated organizer.
Since I was 10, when I saw Karloff’s obit on the front page of The Philadelphia Bulletin, I’ve read every word about him that I could lay my hands on. But thanks to the doc, I now know (via its interview with his daughter, Sara Karloff) that the actor received his diagnosis of emphysema on the day he was (unpleasantly) surprised by host Ralph Edwards on “You Bet Your Life,” the hokey TV biography program. Karloff lived — and worked — for another 12 years. Between the emphysema and his crippling arthritis, the man truly suffered for his art in those final years.
Also interviewed for “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster” were Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Plummer, Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, Stefanie Powers, Joe Dante, David J. Skal, and many others.
In Rahway, MacCloskey was on-hand for a post-screening Q&A, during which he explained that after watching Hamilton’s documentary about Leslie Howard, he tracked down the filmmaker and pitched his dream project of a Karloff doc.
At his table in the UCPAC lobby, MacCloskey had the earliest DVD and Blu-ray copies of the documentary for sale. The Voltage Films release includes the bonus features “Boris Karloff: The Rest of the Story,” a 122-minute companion piece to the documentary, and “Ron’s Story,” a personal anecdote from MacCloskey.
The table had a neat decoration: the film’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Documentary. The namesake of the awards, another horror movie star, never worked with Karloff, although he did once share the screen with Karloff’s frequent co-star Basil Rathbone. (According to imdb, Hamilton is at work on a documentary about Rathbone, for my money the screen’s greatest Sherlock Holmes.)
Something cool happened for me after the screening. In the lobby, I spotted an old compatriot, actor Michael Townsend Wright, manning MacCloskey’s table. I had not seen Michael in seven years, since I appeared on behalf of “Monster Mash” at the Chiller Theatre expo in Parsippany in 2015. Michael had been on my mind lately because of his role in “Funny Pages,” writer-director Owen Kline’s indie comedy set in the comic book world. (I have yet to see the film, but the trailer is a riot.) It looks like Michael scored some golden screen time in this film.
In that lobby, I saw Michael before he saw me. I was wearing a mask (of course). I sidled up to him, picked up a DVD, and said in a weird voice, “These are overpriced!” Michael just smiled at me — one of those smiles that said, “Apparently, this unfortunate gentleman does not have all of his faculties.” I then unmasked myself, and we had a nice little reunion.
Above: The trailer for “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster.”
Above: The trailer for “Funny Pages.”