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The Body Snatcher (Blu-ray Review)

Coming later in June, Scream Factory will be releasing a set that highlights the work of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi outside of the respective monster franchise characters. With The Body Snatcher, not included in that set (Different studio production), they are giving a little taste of what’s to come with the 1945 Robert Wise film based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name. Scream Factory looks to have some good assets on this release including some vintage materials to go along with a new featurette for the release. The Body Snatcher is coming out at the end of the month on March 26th, and you can pre-order it (And help the site out a little) to have ready on release day by using the Amazon link located following the review. 

Film 

Dr. Toddy MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) needs cadavers for his medical experiments, ultimately intended to treat a young disabled girl. However, they are not easy to come by, so he enlists the help of taxi driver John Gray (Boris Karloff) and his assistant, Joseph (Bela Lugosi), to unearth bodies from the cemetery. When Donald (Russell Wade), Dr. MacFarlane’s assistant, recognizes one of the corpses Gray delivers, the true source of the bodies is called into question.

The Body Snatcher is an outstanding period horror piece from the 1940s that really clicks in all departments and holds up today as a wonderful piece of vintage cinema. Its firing on all cylinders from script to direction, camera-work, sets/costumes and performances. Its telling looking back that this was handled by people who were on their way to later become master craftsman while also working with those were currently at their peak for the time.

Of course, the highlight of this whole thing is Boris Karloff as the creepy guy referred to in the title (Or is it really our doctor? Lotta snatching of bodies going on). Karloff is having an absolute blast in this movie, chewing scenery and providing and wonderful menace in a character he turns into a very well rounded one. Bela Lugosi teams with him again in a pair of scenes that is more of a cameo, but the two absolutely nail their big one together. There’s a grin and delight in Karloff’s voice and a committed performance that linger on to make this one of his career-best outings.

One of the reasons the film holds so well is the man behind it all, Robert Wise. This is an early film from the man who’d give us West Side Story, The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but his expertise is fully on display in this smaller scale horror tale. Everything feels absolutely lived in and genuine. Its all highlighted by an all-timer scene where Karloff’s character takes note of street singer and we watch a cleverly staged and expertly shot and cut portrayal of said “body snatching”. Its beautiful, haunting, surprising and just horror cinema at its very best.

This horror tale from the 1940s really offers it all in terms of jump scares, atmosphere, performances and overall just drama and horror clashing together. It has that science versus morality kind of tale as many mad scientist offerings often do. What sets the film apart is just having amazing people in building the telling of the story to enrich it and keep it as a sort of ageless wonder. This vintage horror film truly is a work of art and holds together as a really tight and thoroughly engaging experience.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Body Snatcher arrives on Blu-ray with a brand new 4K transfer from the original camera negative. And this one looks pretty impressive and as modern as a film of its day could in 2019. Details are quite strong in this crisp picture with beautiful texturing and saturation of the blacks, whites and grays on display here.

Depth: Depth of field is pretty terrific and impresses in this black and white display. Scale and spacing feel a good deal of distancing and push-back. Actors and cameras move freely and smoothly through every environment.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty delicious with great saturation throughout the film. The drape of nightfall comes off with deep wonder and a natural essence that adds to the haunts. Details and textures manage to protrude through no matter how dimly lit or dark the fabric on display is.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones keep to shades of gray and white throughout with no issues of timing changes, displaying consistency from start to finish. Details and textures can be made out with ease in close up and medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The Body Snatcher comes with a very nice original mono track here that retains some of its original analog hiss underlying every scene. Vocals, effects and the score feel very pronounces and it can impress on the the lower frequencies at times, giving a deeper feel that expected. Nothing Earth shattering, but a better than expected presentation.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and carry the aforementioned soft hiss on its bass. Diction is impressively restored and carried over as Karloff’s voice is translated deviously and wonderful here.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Robert Wise and Film Historian Steve Haberman

Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (SD, 53:7) – A vintage documentary that talks of Val Lewton’s taking over at RKO from Orson Welles and the legacy of his horror films during that time with input from the likes of William Friedkin, Joe Dantes, Guillermo del Toro, Kim Newman, Steve Haberman and others. Narrated by James Cromwell, this is a biographical piece on Lewton and talks of the films bearing his touch and input in the finished product.

You’ll Never Get Rid Of Me: Resurrecting The Body Snatcher (HD, 11:55) – Gregory William Mank (Author of Karloff and Lugosi: The Story of a Haunting Collaboration) discusses the “smart, sophisticated film” that is The Body Snatcher which he calls the “greatest horror film of the 40s”. Mank provides anecdotes told to him from Robert Wise as well as going over the the themes, performances and notes on production of the film. One of my favorite parts of his analysis is discussing how things played to audiences in the theaters back when it was released.

Poster And Lobby Card Still Gallery (HD, 4:37)

Still Gallery (HD, 5:28)

Summary 

The Body Snatcher is an outstanding display of gothic horror of yesteryear. Its one of the best non-Universal offerings you’ll find from the 1930s and 1940s. Boris Karloff is on the top of his game and Robert Wise is launching his career with fantastic touches. Scream Factory has brought its terrific touches here with an impressive 4K restoration and some great complimentary extras to give a complete experience to the horror classic.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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