‘Their wild beauty marked them for death by…’
Grip of the Strangler aka The Haunted Strangler is a 1958 British-American horror feature film directed by Robert Day (The Initiation of Sarah; First Man into Space; Corridors of Blood).
The film was adapted from “Stranglehold”, a story that screenwriter Jan Read had written especially for Boris Karloff, and was shot back-to-back with producer Richard Gordon’s Fiend Without a Face. In the US, both films were released as a double-bill by MGM.
Read’s script was rewritten by John Croydon who brought in the idea of making the killer a Jack the Ripper-style murderer and having the transformation be physical (in the original draft Rankin was only possessed by the killer’s spirit).
According to John Hamilton, writing in X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970, “Croydon also wrote in many of the elements considered by filmmakers to be essential features with a Victorian backdrop: floggings, graveyards and chirrupy chorus girls cavorting in French knickers.”
Twenty years after Edward Styles – labelled the “Haymarket Strangler” – was tried and executed for killing five women, James Rankin (Boris Karloff), a novelist and social reformer, launches an investigation to prove that Styles is innocent.
His search for clues leads him first to the sleazy Judas Hole music hall, where the Strangler picked his victims from the resident can-can dancers and loose women, and then to the prison cemetery at Newgate where Styles was buried – in order to exhume his body.
When the killings resume again, Rankin’s theory seems to be vindicated. However, his growing obsession with the case signals a most unwelcome revelation as to the true identity of the murderer…
Reviews [click links to read more]:
“A dual personality that without the knife is incomplete.” Exactly. Grip of the Strangler is bizarre, quite likeable, a bit slow, and strange. I’d recommend it, but as a bizarre oddity.” British Horror Films
“With split personalities and Can-Can girls galore, the film occasionally has a flavour of John Brahm’s two 20th Century-Fox melodramas from the mid-1940s, The Lodger and Hangover Square. In fact, John Elphick (a former designer for Gainsborough) sometimes seems quixotically intent on squeezing the opulence of Hollywood Victoriana into the pint-pot of Walton on Thames.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: a Century of Horror Cinema, Reynolds & Hearn, 2015
“Though The Haunted Strangler makes pretenses of being about greater social issues, it’s the luridness of the plot and the setting that dominates […] Multiple scenes of cancan girls and a champagne spilled down Vera Day’s cleavage also add to the idea that The Haunted Strangler wasn’t really a high-falutin’ social drama. Screams and titillation are the order of the day!” Criterion Confessions
“It’s bloodier and has a nastier edge than you would expect from a Karloff vehicle, but it has some unexpected and quite interesting story twists. Unfortunately, this is one of the very few Karloff performances I don’t like; he seems to me to be somewhat over the top, almost hysterical…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“The movie could have benefited from some type of exploration of the mental problems Rankin was suffering from and his own attempts to reconcile what he was and what he was becoming again with the rather prosaic life he was currently leading. Instead, they wanted to get “Boris Karloff the Horror Icon” out there and have him running around like Mr. Hyde hacking up strippers and dumb wives.” MonsterHunter
“The performance that Karloff gives, where he seems to twist one side of his face up into an exaggerated snarl and put his arm into a claw, cannot help but seem absurd.” Moria
“With can-can girls and even little Vera day thrown in as a dotty soubrette, it’s an incredible mishmash – but tightly moulded into a compelling whodunit thriller. Hammy? Of course. And Karloff has never been hammier. But it’s right up his gory alley. He’s still king of the bogey men.” Picturegoer, 1958
“Not surprisingly, Karloff is the best thing about this late ’50s thriller; here, the horror legend injects a real watchability into the oft-used premise of a mild-mannered gentleman transformed into a hideous creature of impulse.” The Terror Trap
Doctor Kenneth McColl: “Do you think you can cure a diseased mind by brutality?”
Main cast and characters:
- Boris Karloff … James Rankin
- Jean Kent … Cora Seth
- Elizabeth Allan … Barbara Rankin
- Anthony Dawson … Superintendent Burk
- Vera Day … Pearl
- Tim Turner … Doctor Kenneth McColl
- Diane Aubrey … Lily Rankin
- Max Brimmell … Newgate Prison Turnkey
- Leslie Perrins … Newgate Prison Governor
- Jessica Cairns … Asylum Maid
- Dorothy Gordon … Hannah
- Desmond Roberts … Doctor Johnson
- Roy Russell … Medical Superintendent
- Derek Birch … Guyse Hospital Superintendent
- Peggy Ann Clifford … Kate
- John Fabian … Young Blood
- Joan Elvin … Can-Can Girl
- Audrey Sykes … Laughing Lady at Hanging
Walton Studios, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England from 12th August 1957
Black and white
Aspect ratio: 1.66: 1
Audio: Mono (RCA Sound Recording)