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      The Body Snatcher

      Released May 25, 1945 1h 19m Horror List
      86% Tomatometer 21 Reviews 75% Audience Score 2,500+ Ratings 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. Read More Read Less Watch on Fandango at Home Premiered Oct 22 Buy Now

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      Critics Reviews

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      Wolcott Gibbs New Yorker A horror item considerably better than most. Oct 15, 2021 Full Review Variety Staff Variety Settings are inexpensive but sufficient for the needs. Production values, in general, however, aid materially in making this picture a winner. Nov 14, 2007 Full Review Time Out The film accelerates to great effect towards the end. Jun 24, 2006 Full Review Eddie Harrison ...a good example of a kind of horror style that we've lost the knack of; intelligent, thoughtful, thrilling and yet subtle in its intention... Rated: 4/5 Feb 20, 2021 Full Review Mike Massie Gone With The Twins Essentially turns the tale of famous Scotland serial killers Burke and Hare into a fictional recounting with altered protagonists, allies, cover-ups, and other elaborations. Rated: 8/10 Aug 5, 2020 Full Review David Bax Battleship Pretension As much as it's a movie about grisly killings, The Body Snatcher is also a movie about class. Apr 17, 2019 Full Review Read all reviews

      Audience Reviews

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      Ben T Boris Karloff gives another sinister performance as a supplier of bodies to a doctor. But Bela Lugosi is dreadfully wasted and his role in the film id forgettable. The story is carried out well and is creepy and exciting. It's good to see Karloff without his ‘Frankenstein' make-up. Rated 2.5 out of 5 stars 02/28/24 Full Review Alec B The Body Snatcher, a 1945 horror film directed by Robert Wise, offers a chilling, golden-era production of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel. Starring the iconic duo of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, the film unfolds in the murky shadows of 19th-century Edinburgh, where grave-robbing and medical ethics collide. Karloff's performance as the sinister cabman Gray is nothing short of chilling, exuding creepiness matched only by his performance in Frankenstein. "The Body Snatcher" is an early success in the horror genre, and slightly ahead of its time in film direction. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 11/18/23 Full Review Matthew B It is not often that a producer's name is associated more with a body of work than any of the directors with which he worked, and yet that is the case with Val Lewton. This is all the more surprising as Lewton's name was associated with horror movies – not the most prestigious of genres – and with films made on a very low budget. What marked the Lewton horror movie was an emphasis on atmosphere and mood, rather than on outright violence and terror. This was a calculated decision. If the viewer was given well-lit rooms and monstrous creatures, they would have looked woeful on the limited budget that Lewton was allowed. Better instead to keep the lighting dark and noir-ish. That way everything was left to the viewer's imagination. Horrific events happened in silhouette, or off-screen. The focus was on what the viewer heard, but did not see, perhaps what we almost thought we saw. The other notable feature of the Lewton movie was its literary pretentions. The screenplays were under-written, as the running time of the movies was too short to fully develop ideas. Nonetheless Lewton packed the movies with allusions to famous literary stories. In the case of The Body Snatcher, Lewton took his inspiration from a grisly story by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was based on the exploits of the famous grave robbers, William Burke and William Hare. There is also a sneaking side-reference to Greyfriars Bobby, a possibly apocryphal tale about a faithful Skye terrier who guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years until his death. This time Bobby is assigned a more ghastly fate. Lewton managed to bag the two most prominent Universal horror movie actors, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi to work on The Body Snatcher. This was initially not a welcome development for Lewton, who feared that Karloff's presence would move the films towards the Universal style, and compromise his own distinct brand of horror moviemaking. In the event, Lewton need not have worried. Karloff was fed up with the Frankenstein franchise that had made his name. He felt that the movies were getting absurd and containing too many monsters. Karloff welcomed the chance to appear in something fresh and more intelligent, and would later say that the three films he made with Lewton had saved his soul. This was a curious time in medical history. Doctors were expected to learn about the human body, and to find cures. However they were not given ready access to the human cadavers that would have furthered their studies. At best, the doctors had to manage with the bodies of paupers provided by the Council, but this was hardly a regular supply of corpses. As a result, a number of doctors employed grave robbers to bring them the bodies that they needed. This raised many difficult ethical questions. The bodies could be used to further medical research and help the living. However graves were being desecrated against the wishes of the law, the dead person, or their loved ones. Sometimes the task of disinterring bodies without being caught was so difficult that a few grave robbers took to murdering people, and passing their bodies on to medical practitioners in exchange for money. MacFarlane represents the respectable end of the body snatching business. He receives the bodies and uses them in his work. He is not the most charming of men. He speaks in clipped sentences. He is cold in demeanour towards a mother and her disabled child, and intimidates the girl so much that she will not answer his questions. His ability to cure the girl is hindered by his lack of empathy. The modern viewer will understand that her illness has a psychosomatic component to it. He is accompanied by Donald Fettes (Russell Wade), a young idealistic student who impresses the doctor. Fettes has the better bedside manner, and is able to persuade MacFarlane to help the mother and child. The darker side of the work is represented by John Gray (Boris Karloff). A cabman by profession, Gray also provides the bodies for MacFarlane and Fettes. With his cruel, knowing smile, dark sense of humour (asked if he knows about the human body, he replies "I've had some experience") and unshaven face, Gray is an unprepossessing character, who clearly enjoys his work in digging up the dead. As his name suggests though, he is grey, rather than completely evil. He shows kindness to the mother and her disabled child. He is affectionate towards his cat, even as he brutally murders a man with his bare hands. On the whole Gray is a nasty piece of work, and the doctors' involvement with him leaves them morally compromised. The distastefulness of body snatching is brought home to the viewer early when Gray robs the grave of a young boy, and murders a dog who is guarding the grave. Earlier we saw the mourning mother of the dead boy. While the film has no supernatural elements to it, the ending has a ghostly presence, at least in the mind of one of the characters. It is more likely that the film's final victim is punished by the ghost of his own actions rather than by an other-worldly force. Nonetheless the last word in the film is a quotation from Hippocrates that seems to partly endorse the actions of MacFarlane and Fettes. Wise uses a number of the familiar Lewton methods to create suspense. Several deaths are shown in silhouette, leaving the killings to our imagination. These include the killing of the dog with a spade, and the brutal murder of Joseph. In one chilling scene the singing beggar walks away from the screen into the darkness followed by Gray's carriage. We see nothing more, but her singing stops in mid-note. The Body Snatcher was censored in some areas due to its gruesome subject matter. Nonetheless it was commercially successful, leading to other films on the subject of body snatching. However none of them achieved the same level of macabre understatement as Robert Wise's movie. I wrote a longer appreciation of The Body Snatcher on my blog page i you would like to read more: Rated 4 out of 5 stars 08/16/23 Full Review dave s More of a macabre period piece than a horror film, The Body Snatcher tells the story of medical research being conducted in 1831 Edinburgh. When cadavers are required, Dr Toddy MacFarlane commissions local cabby John Gray (Boris Karloff) to provide fresh corpses. Directed by Robert Wise and produced by Val Lewton, the movie isn't terribly complex but succeeds in establishing a distinctly eerie atmosphere thanks to some nice cinematography and creative lighting. Karloff is fantastic as the graverobber and, as an added bonus, horror icon Bela Lugosi makes a brief appearance. Other than the genuinely creepy final scene, there's not a whole lot in the way of thrills or chills, but it's still a fun ride based on the star power and the sense of dread that is established. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/30/23 Full Review georgan g Perfect classic horror film. Big stars, unique plot & pretty creepy! Gotta see this one. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review William L Karloff is known all too often as the man behind the makeup in Frankenstein, which is a shame because the man was a fantastic actor and had exceptional capability when it came to dialogue delivery. Though often remembered as the last time that Lugosi and Karloff would appear in the same production, the former finds himself shoehorned into a very small and rather insignificant role; Karloff is the main attraction. Though billed as horror, The Body Snatcher is more thriller, focusing predominantly on the human element of Gray's complex relationship with Dr. MacFarlane, introducing elements of obsession, past experiences, and class conflicts to flesh out their strange, deadly dynamic. Admittedly the film falls flat in certain areas, particularly the resolution of their pairing and the finale, which seems like a misunderstood retreading of a Poe first draft, but there are some undeniably great elements to this film that are often overlooked, inclduing a top performance from Karloff, who outclasses everyone he shares the screen with. (3/5) Rated 3 out of 5 stars 01/11/21 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

      Cast & Crew

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      Movie Info

      Synopsis 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.
      Robert Wise
      Philip MacDonald, Val Lewton
      RKO Home Video, Nostalgia Merchant, Image Entertainment Inc., RKO Radio Pictures
      Production Co
      RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
      Original Language
      Release Date (Theaters)
      May 25, 1945, Wide
      Release Date (Streaming)
      Jan 1, 2009
      1h 19m
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