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The Body Snatcher

Posted by martinteller on December 22, 2012

Let me preface this review with a bit of backstory.  I’ve been eyeing the “Val Lewton Horror Collection” DVD box set for some time.  I mainly wanted it for The Seventh Victim which I love, but I also liked — to a lesser degree — Cat People, Curse of the Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie.  I considered buying just Victim but the box seemed like such a good bargain.  When the price dipped to $18.99 — for 9 movies — on Amazon, I could no longer resist.  It arrived this morning, and instantly there were two problems.  One, it’s a really bulky set.  I’m spoiled by streamlined box sets, like the “Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection”, which takes up less space despite having what must be twice the total running time.  I didn’t care enough about these films to justify devoting that much shelf space (which is scarce these days) to them.  The other problem is the damn thing had two Zombie discs and no Cat People disc.  Thus, I’d have to return it anyway, and given my reservations about buying it in the first place and its large footprint, I decided to go for the refund instead of the replacement.  But… since I’ve got it here, I might as well watch the ones I haven’t seen, and give Victim a second look.

All this isn’t necessary, but the fact is I don’t have a lot to say about this movie.  It concerns a 19th century Scottish doctor (Henry Daniell) and his young assistant (Russell Wade) who rely on the sinister graverobber Gray (Boris Karloff) to furnish them with cadavers.  When the bodies get more difficult to procure, Gray starts producing his own corpses.  Bela Lugosi also appears as the doctor’s manservant, but despite getting second billing, his part is rather small.

It has enough gothic creepiness to lend it atmosphere, although I would have hoped for a little more.  Robert Wise isn’t one of my favorite directors (though he is responsible for two of my favorite noirs) but I’d expect a little more style from him.  The script is solid, with interesting turns for Daniell, who does a very good job.  The main attraction is Karloff, who imbues his role with a lot of character, very sly and manipulative, finding the humor in the darkness and vice versa.  The “singing girl” is a really nice touch.

But I dunno… I appreciate the talent and even like the morbid story, but it just didn’t push my buttons that much.  It feels like it needs something more.  Or maybe something less… there’s a fair bit of dead weight in the script, short as the film is.  It’s a fine movie and Karloff is excellent, but so far I haven’t changed my mind about keeping the set.  We’ll see what the other films bring.  Rating: Good (79)


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