The Body Snatcher

JANUARY 31, 2008


My Val Lewton marathon (of sorts) continues...

I hope anyone else who recorded this marathon literally recorded the entire thing (if they used DVR instead of old school programmed VHS) – the last 5 minutes of The Body Snatcher were cut off from the recording*. Luckily, as I recorded the next film that was on (Isle of the Dead, if memory serves), I only missed a few seconds. But now I’m guessing that Isle will have the same problem, and the end of THAT film will be on the beginning of the next one. The point is, I wish TCM and other cable stations would take DVR into consideration when making their schedules, or that cable companies would block their stuff in 5 minute increments instead of 15. Jerks.

As for the film itself, it’s pretty good, if nothing special. The other Lewton films offered up some pretty entertaining and somewhat unique stories, but this one seemed a bit familiar to me for whatever reason. I guess there just comes a time in every man’s life when he is bored by the idea of a grave robber turning to actually killing folks to drum up business.

Still, there were two things that stuck out. One is that I am pretty sure this was the first film to use ‘cut to the pet’ as a device in a murder scene. It’s been in lots of films – someone is being killed, and rather than show the carnage, the director or editor cuts to a shot of the victim’s (or in this case, killer’s) dog or cat (or bunny!) watching the scene, doing nothing at all to help (which is why a selfish goddamn cat works better than a loving and caring dog). Since the film has a pretty mean-spirited dog killing early on, it’s almost nice to see a human get killed while the pet is fine.

The other thing that was pretty awesome was the death of the street singer. Every few minutes, a scene would begin with this homeless woman belting out a tune. It started to get on my nerves, and literally 30 seconds after I said “Christ, kill HER”, she was indeed murdered by the killer (Boris Karloff himself!). And even though I welcomed her death, it’s an admittedly chilling scene, as is a later one of Karloff disposing of a body (Bela Lugosi!). Both of them are done off-screen, which is, when done well, usually scarier anyway.

This one was also directed by Robert Wise, who went on to direct The Haunting, a film everyone in the world except me finds really scary. I like this one better. Not only is it shorter, but I wasn’t expecting anything from it, nor has it been sullied by a truly bad remake by Jan De Bont.

What say you?

*If you’re one of the folks who missed the final few minutes, let me sum up: the older doctor guy begins hearing the voice of Karloff, and then becomes convinced that the woman they dug up was in fact Karloff’s body. He looks under the body’s sheet and sees that he is right! This sends him into a panic, and he screams, which scares the horse into running. The younger doctor guy falls out and gives a “Noooooo” as the horse and carriage carry on recklessly into the night. At one point, they separate, and the carriage (with the older doctor guy still in it) careens down a hill and crashes. Young doctor guy runs over and sees that the other doctor was just a right nutter, as the corpse really is that of the woman. YDG sort of shrugs and heads back up the hill, there’s a Hippocrates quote, and the movie ends.

1 comment:

  1. Can't say I agree with the "nothing special" comment. For me it was special because of the amazingly wicked performance Karloff gives--his gentleness with the child at the beginning juxtaposed with his viciousness with his victims later, the wonderful scenes where he's taunting "Toddy" about the information he holds over him, and the great shadowed scene where he gets Lugosi drunk and toys with him (like a cat with a mouse) before giving him a good "Burke-ing." One of Karloff's best performances, imo, and I'll stand by that.

    Incidentally, it's based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson which was based on the Burke and Hare killings they talk about a lot in the film. (A famous story, which is why it's been used so much since.)

    I was in Edinburgh over a decade ago, and found out that in the Edinburgh Medical College's museum, they actually have Burke's body--or parts of it, anyway...apparently folks were so outraged and hateful toward him after his crimes that someone actually tanned some of the criminal's hide and made purses and wallets out of it. No joke.

    Also, the "faithful dog" story is a well-known Edinburgh legend, and there's even a statue in one of the cemeteries in honor of the dog in question.

    So don't let Brian scare you off folks! This movie is great! ;)


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