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Saturday, August 17, 2013

KREATING KARLOFF -- DVD review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at back in 2006.)

Here's an idea--if you want to be cast in the lead role of a Boris Karloff biopic that Universal Studios isn't even making, just film your own elaborate screen test and submit it for their approval.  If all goes according to plan, this will prompt the studio bigwigs to (a.) start production on a Boris Karloff biopic, and (b.) cast you as Boris Karloff.  Simple, right?

Well, that's exactly what I was planning to do until Conor Timmis beat me to it.  Drat!  In the hour-long documentary KREATING KARLOFF (2006), actor Timmis goes to great lengths to show that he means business when it comes to playing the immortal horror star.  First, he gets thirty-year makeup veteran Norman Bryn (CLOVERFIELD) to transform him into two of Karloff's greatest characters, the Mummy and the Frankenstein Monster.  Then he assembles a cast and crew to help him duplicate certain scenes from each film, shooting in black-and-white HD on sets that look as good as his low budget will allow.  After that, the rest is up to him, and he acquits himself admirably.

There's a lot here that will appeal greatly to Karloff fans.  We see Bryn skillfully applying those famous makeups on Timmis using many of the same painstaking methods employed by the original Universal makeup genius, Jack Pierce.  Then we watch Timmis at work, paying tribute to Karloff through his reenactments of key scenes from THE MUMMY and FRANKENSTEIN.  He's of slighter build than Karloff and there's not that much of a facial resemblance, but his talent and enthusiasm for the project make up for this.  And judging from the frequent interview clips with various cast and crew, this enthusiasm for the unique and fun project was infectious.

Filling in for Zita Johann in the MUMMY scenes is a vivacious blonde actress named Liesl Ehardt, who, as fate would have it, is a distant relative of Karloff's original co-star and even bears a resemblance to her when dressed in period costume.  These scenes, while much less elaborately staged than the originals, manage to capture much of their mood and style.  Especially effective is Timmis' recreation of that famous closeup of Karloff as the sinister Ardeth Bay, his piercing eyes leering into the lens.  Later in the FRANKENSTEIN segment, his embodiment of the Monster duplicates some of the pantomimed movements that Karloff used to both chill the blood and pluck the heartstrings.  The scene in which the Monster clutches desperately for a ray of sunlight is represented, as well as his chain-ripping jailhouse escape in the sequel, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

The DVD comes with a booklet featuring a detailed recap of Karloff's life and career, with several interesting photographs.  Extras include bloopers (not very bloopery, really--more like behind-the-scenes stuff), a music video for heavy metal group Not For Nothing's "Frankenstein" which is heard during the closing credits, the short film "Booth" in which Timmis portrays Abraham Lincoln's assassin, and a terrific three-minute adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West: Re-Animator" entitled "Re-Animator: 1942."  Derek Meinecke is a great Herbert West and, with a little polish, this would've made a perfect segment of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery." 

As a bonus bonus, we get Gary Fierro's creepy 2008 Lovecraft short "Pickman's Model" (with Timmis as Richard Upton Pickman), along with its own making-of featurette and a look at Norman Bryn applying the Pickman makeup--basically, almost everything that was included in the PICKMAN'S MODEL disc that we reviewed previously.

I don't know how likely Timmis actually thinks it is that KREATING KARLOFF will jump-start Universal into doing a Karloff biography and then casting him in the lead instead of Hugh Jackman, Leonardo diCaprio, or Jack Black.  At any rate, one gets the impression that his main intent here is to create a reverent tribute to the legendary actor that will spark renewed interest in his films, and to share the fun of doing so with the viewer.  With this entertaining and unusual documentary, he seems to have succeeded on both counts.

Read our interview with Conor Timmis HERE.


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