“Some day you’ll wiggle that bottom of yours just once too often”
Aw, this wasn’t much of a horror movie. I guess the idea of surgery without anesthesia is pretty horrific, and the local innkeeper is killing homeless people for fun and profit, and it costars two Frankensteins (Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee), so you could definitely call it a horror movie, but it didn’t much feel like one – more of a dark medical drama. Preston Sturges’ The Great Moment comes to mind. I’ve never seen it, but I thought it was also an invention-of-anesthesia drama. IMDB’s summary makes it sound like more of a patent-infringement thriller, so maybe it’s Corridors of Blood meets Flash of Genius (that intermittent-windshield-wiper-invention drama). Of all the horror movies in the world, why did Criterion pick this one?
A tale of two Frankensteins:
Anyway, it wasn’t bad, for what it was. Lee, in only his third horror movie after Hammer’s earliest Frankenstein and Dracula movies, was deliciously sinister, and Karloff is a surprisingly great actor (guess I’d only seen him as Frankenstein before). Greatly enjoyed the scene where he invents laughing gas and goes on a rampage of hilarity, smashing up his lab. So he overdid it there, but usually he’s quite good.
Karloff is powerless before Black Ben:
While Karloff spends the whole movie experimenting on himself, being mocked by his peers and ultimately becoming a useless opium addict tricked into signing false death certificates for the evil innkeeper, the movie blows some time on our romantic young couple (every movie needs one!): his son Jonathan (Francis Matthews of Terence Fisher’s Revenge of Frankenstein and Dracula: Prince of Darkness) and the housekeeper Susan (Betta St. John of The Robe and Horror Hotel). A haughty white-haired fellow at the hospital (Finlay Currie, who played a man with unpronounceable name in I Know Where I’m Going!) mocks Karloff at every opportunity, with a pinched-mouth arched-eyebrow movie-villain expression on his face.
Finlay Currie to young Jonathan: “your tie is ridiculous.”
Karloff dies in the end (Lee might die also – someone threw “vitriol” in his face) but his son picks up his papers and proves him right, demonstrating the importance of anesthesia in a scene which was probably funnier in the Preston Sturges version. Additional players: the evil innkeeper Black Ben is Francis De Wolff (Hound of the Baskervilles, Under Capricorn) and his even-more-evil wife is Adrienne Corri, who went from playing the neighbor girl in Renoir’s The River to a gang-rape victim (not the one killed with a giant phallus) in A Clockwork Orange. As far as anyone knows the director is still alive. His last theatrical feature was 1980’s The Man With Bogart’s Face, which has a hilarious VHS cover.