The Body Snatcher – USA, 1945

‘The screen’s last word in shock sensation!’

The Body Snatcher is a 1945 American horror feature film directed by Robert Wise (Audrey Rose; The Haunting, 1963; The Day the Earth Stood Still) from a screenplay written by Philip MacDonald and producer Val Lewton [as Carlos Keith], based on the 1884 short story The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson. The RKO Radio Pictures production stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell and Edith Atwater.

Scream Factory is releasing The Body Snatchers on Blu-ray, on March 26, 2019, newly scanned at 4K from the original camera negative. Special features are:

  • You’ll Never Get Rid of Me: Resurrecting The Body Snatcher (new)
  • Audio commentary with director Robert Wise and writer/film historian Steve Haberman
  • Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy – 2005 documentary
  • Still galleries – posters, lobby cards, movie stills

Plot:

Dr. Toddy MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) needs cadavers for his medical experiments, ultimately intended to treat a young disabled girl. However, they are not easy to come by, so he enlists the help of cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff) and his assistant, Joseph (Bela Lugosi), to unearth bodies from the cemetery. When Donald (Russell Wade), Dr. MacFarlane’s assistant, recognises one of the corpses Gray delivers, the true source of the bodies is called into question…

Reviews:

“A genuinely macabre, yet undeniably sophisticated film that despite its lack of budget, has managed to retain its effectiveness and ability to chill throughout the years – and one that features a career best performance from Mr Karloff.” James Gracey, Behind the Couch

“It’s dynamically propelled by the barnstorming star playing from Karloff and Daniell, and the tautly atmospheric direction from Wise, taking full advantage of Lewton’s famous RKO B-unit production. The team makes full use of the splendid, costly sets constructed for RKO’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).” Derek Winnert

“Karloff made so many films that wasted his potential, it’s really gratifying to see him cut loose and show what he can do. Sitting alone in his stable or downing a pint, his bitterness comes out in long speeches and shows though his feigned friendliness. Unlike the greedy ghouls of the other body-snatching movies, Gray has more on his mind than money.” Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

“The whole movie is about moral ambiguity; it’s very hard to make easy moral judgments about much of what happens, because so much of it is tied to curing the little girl. Karloff’s performance is magnificent […] One sad thing about the movie is the presence of Bela Lugosi, once again shuttled off to a minor role as a servant. He does quite well in this small role…” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

The Body Snatcher contains one of Boris Karloff’s finest performances. The character is one of sharp ambiguity – on one hand kind to children and full of overly exaggerated genteel but capable of turning cold at a moment’s notice and delivering wonderfully implied threats. Even Bela Lugosi manages to give a good performance…” Richard Scheib, Moria

“This new gloom-lodger, though not as nerve-parlyzing as the performers might lead you to expect, has enough suspense and atmospheric terror to make it one of the better of its genre. Boris Karloff, sporting a days-old beard, is in there pitching with ghoulish delight…” Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, May 26, 1945

” …this Val Lewton-produced effort is consummate horror making, thanks to an unforgettably sleazy performance from Karloff, lean direction from Wise, and a superbly nuanced turn from Daniell as the conflicted MacFarlaine. Downside? Lugosi is woefully underused here…” The Terror Trap

” …one of Lewton’s greatest works and contains what is arguably Karloff’s finest performance. Lewton’s obsession with historical detail is evident throughout, and, although the film was shot on the lot at RKO, the filmmakers manage to create an unforgettable vision of Edinburgh through judicious use of sets, lighting, camera placement, sound, and editing.” TV Guide

“Wise balances the melodrama and the horror elements perfectly. Because it’s a Lewton film, you know the flick is going to be saturated in atmosphere. Daniell’s final coach ride through a raging storm is pretty creepy and Wise gives us one of the eeriest murder scenes in screen history…” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

 

Choice dialogue:

Cabman John Gray: “You wouldn’t want it said of you that you refused a glass to an old friend.”

Cabman John Gray: “Well, I’ve no wish for a rope cravat. I never liked the smell of hemp.”

Cast and characters:

  • Boris Karloff … Cabman John Gray
  • Bela Lugosi … Joseph
  • Henry Daniell … Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane
  • Edith Atwater … Meg Cameron
  • Russell Wade … Donald Fettes
  • Rita Corday … Mrs. Marsh
  • Sharyn Moffett … Georgina Marsh
  • Donna Lee … Street Singer

Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!

Related:

The Unsubtle Art of Body Snatching – article

Burke and Hare: Notorious Murderers – article

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