THE BODY SNATCHER is probably the most underrated of the films produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s and early 50s. Based on the story of the same name by Robert Lewis Stevenson, Val Lewton assembled a team that created one of the creepiest and most haunting of the black-and-white Horror films.
For the director, Lewton hired a young man named Robert Wise - who would later go on to receive three Oscar nominations and two wins, along with directing numerous film classics. Although the THE BODY SNATCHER, set in Victorian London, is stately in temperament and pacing, there is such a palpable sense of menace that it seems as if the sewers of London themselves are seeping into the borders of the screen. Though much of this is due to the masterful direction of Wise and the flawless art direction of Albert D’Agostino and Walter Keller, the main responsibility for the success of this film rests solely on the shoulders of the great Boris Karloff.
That Boris Karloff was never nominated for any major award in his long, brilliant career is bad enough. Once one sees his work in THE BODY SNATCHER, that fact seems criminal. THE BODY SNATCHER showcases the amazing acting chops Karloff possessed. As John Gray, the titular grave robber, Karloff turns in a truly towering performance - completely dwarfing everyone else on the screen, and that includes a terrific supporting role by Bela Lugosi, who shares the screen with Karloff in their last appearance in film together.
Lewton, Wise, and Karloff ended up creating a film that lingers in your mind far more thoroughly than most films of that era. Especially the insane, disturbing ending that haunts my own nightmares to this very day…
THE BODY SNATCHER fun facts - The outdoor scenes were filmed on the sets constructed for the silent-film classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
The story is partly based on the exploits of infamous grave robbers Burke and Hare.
Meg Camden - “You may deny him, Toddy, but you'll not rid yourself of him by saying the devil's dead.”
John Gray - “Well, I've no wish for a rope cravat. I’ve never liked the smell of hemp. So I'll bid you good night, Dr McFarlane.”
John Gray - “You've no need to be anxious, Meg. MacFarlane has been drunk and away before. He'll be beck in good time. Meanwhile, you have me to keep you company...”