Todd Gault's Movie Serial Experience

Todd Gault's Film Serial Experience: Movie serials, cliffhangers and reviews. A gallery of movie serial stars.
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Publicity Photo, Universal Studios.

When Halloween comes around it always brings to mind those great old Universal horror movies that starred Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Since I've already covered Lugosi's serial career on a previous Halloween, I thought I would take a look at Karloff this time. A bit part actor in his youth, he made many appearances in silent serials. Mascot Studio's first sound serial, the part talkie "King of the Kongo" (1929), gave Karloff a major role as a villain who is searching for a lost treasure. He is later revealed to be the heroine's father, but was suffering from amnesia.

The next year Karloff was cast as the evil Mustapha, a renegade Arab searching for a hidden diamond mine in Mascot's "King of the Wild" (1930). According to Leonard J. Kohl's book "Sinister Serials" (2000), Karloff has the unbilled part of supplying the voice of the mystery villain, The Voice, in Mascot's "The Vanishing Legion" (1931).

After appearing in Howard Hawks's "The Criminal Code" (1931), Karloff was spotted in a studio commissary by director James Whale, who promptly cast Karloff as the Monster in "Frankenstein" (1931). The film catapulted Karloff into instant stardom. He was quickly cast in other horror films like "The Mummy" (1932), "Mask of Fu Manchu" (1931), "The Black Cat" (1934) with Bela Lugosi, and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935).

When the unofficial horror ban went into effect in 1936, Karloff starred as Mr. Wong in a series of detective films at Monogram. Horror came back in style two years later, and Karloff made his final film appearance as the Monster in "Son of Frankenstein" (1939), where he was teamed with Lugosi again.

After a series of mad scientist films at Columbia, Boris Karloff conquered Broadway in "Arsenic and Old Lace", playing a homocidal maniac who is upset because his plastic surgeon partner made him look like Boris Karloff.

Returning to films, RKO featured him in a series of low budget horror films produced by Val Lewton. Moving into the fifties saw Karloff alternate between doing films at Universal with Abbott and Costello, as well as Lon Chaney, Jr.. He ended the decade working in England with producer Richard Gordon.

Karloff rang in the sixties as the host of his own horror anthology show, "Thriller". Most of the decade he made films for AIP, like "Targets" (1968), a Peter Bogdonovich film in which Karloff basically played himself.

Boris Karloff's last film was "Sinister Invasion" (1971). He died soon after filming was completed in 1969, in Mexico, but the film wasn't released in this country until two years later.

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