Monday, January 11, 2021

A Movie You Might Have Missed #32 — The Body Snatcher

It's been 11 years since I began this series highlighting movies I wished more people knew about. I'm rerunning it from the beginning because I still think these are movies you might have missed.

Here's the real benefit of going to an actual video rental store. You walk in looking for I Walked With a Zombie because B-Movie Catechism and Zombie Parent's Guide both recommended this "Jane Eyre in Haiti" flick.

You leave with the double-feature dvd including The Body Snatcher because that's the only way it comes. I Walked With a Zombie was fine but short and rather light-weight. Go to the above linked blogs to read full reviews.

We looked dubiously at the art for The Body Snatcher. I could vaguely remember the Robert Louis Stephenson short story upon which it was based. What the heck, we had the rest of the evening so we started watching ... and were rewarded with a real prize.

In 1831 Edinburgh, Dr. Wolf MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) needs corpses for his students to learn anatomy. When young medical student Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) is promoted to his assistant, he makes the acquaintance of cabbie John Gray who provides the corpses. After a sinister conversation about the hospital not having enough dead poor people to provide the need, it becomes clear that Cabman Gray (Boris Karloff) is all too resourceful about providing supplies for the school.

There's a subplot about a poor little girl who needs spinal surgery (the very thought of such a thing in 1980s Edinburgh should send shivers down your spine if nothing else does) but it is not important. The key is Karloff's fantastic acting as the sinister Gray. I never saw him as Frankenstein but fell in love with his portrayal of this jovially menacing character. Yes. Jovially menacing. That is just how good he was.

The atmosphere is appropriately dark and spooky, the subject ghastly, and the doctor provides a lovely study in habitual actions turning you into someone who will do things that you'd never have thought possible when you began practicing medicine. Directed by Robert Wise and produced by Val Lewton, this is a dream team combination that hits every point perfectly. Yes, even factoring in the sweet little girl needing surgery.

Highly recommended for any time but especially now that Halloween is coming up.

And if it comes with I Walked With a Zombie, that movie make a perfect atmosphere provider before you launch into the main attraction.


  1. I must have rented the same disc from Netflix because I remember seeing that movie and also loving Karloff's performance. Years ago I went to a book signing by the director Peter Bogdanovich where someone asked what actor was the hardest to work with. I thought that was a pretty crummy question to ask, so when I got his book signed, I asked him who was the best to work with. He was a little taken aback, but said that Boris Karloff was the most polite, humble, and gentlemanly actor he had ever worked with.

    Thanks for the link!

  2. What a wonderful thing to learn about Karloff! Thank you for telling that story! :-)

  3. Love the movie. Love the original story.

  4. That Bogdanovich story is great, especially since his film Targets was such a great swan song for Karloff.

  5. I never heard of that movie and now am longing to see it but, based on the description, I am also afraid to see it!

  6. Well, it's definitely not the feel good movie of the year. Don't expect a classic and you might find the ideas interesting. And Karloff is great in it.