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The Body Snatcher Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

The Body Snatcher Blu Ray Large

Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Philip MacDonald and Carlos Keith (based on the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson)
1945, 77 minutes, Not Rated
Released on March 26th, 2019

Starring:
Boris Karloff as John Gray
Bela Lugosi as Joseph
Henry Daniell as Dr. Wolfe “Toddy” MacFarlane
Russell Wade as Donald Fettes
Edith Atwater as Meg Cameron
Rita Corday as Mrs. Marsh
Sharyn Moffett as Georgina Marsh

The Body Snatcher 01 The Body Snatcher 02

Review:

In 19th century Edinburgh, Donald Fettes is a medical student studying under the esteemed Dr. Wolfe MacFarlane. Having recently been promoted to the position of assistant, Fettes champions the case of a small girl paralyzed from the waist down. MacFarlane is reluctant to operate on the child even though he is the most qualified. He is more focused on teaching than practicing medicine. One of the demands of his school is the constant need for human specimens for anatomical research. Enter local cabbie John Gray, an off-putting man all too eager to supply donated cadavers, but supplies are short, so Gray switches to a different means to deliver the corpses – grave robbing. MacFarlane is well aware of Gray’s methods and loathes doing business with him, but he needs the bodies for work and on top of that Gray is blackmailing the good doctor with this sensitive information.

John Gray is a truly frightening character, one who preys on the weak and abuses any small amount of power he holds over others. In one example of feigned decency, he pressures MacFarlane to operate on the paralyzed child. Gray is an opportunist, a scoundrel, a criminal and most dangerously, a murderer. Once the grave robbing becomes too public he switches tactics and begins killing people, randomly at first and then he turns his attention toward anyone that gets too close. The legendary Boris Karloff (Die, Monster, Die!) is magnificent in the role and disappears behind his repulsive behavior. He can be quite charming when he wants to, often smiling and quick with a friendly word, at one point breaking into song, but the threat is always behind his eyes. Karloff’s performance is one of his all-time best and he really shines in this film.

The Body Snatcher is one of producer Val Lewton’s (The Cat People) most revered pictures. Based on the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson and adapted by Philip MacDonald (Rebecca) and Lewton himself (under the alias Carlos Keith), the film is dripping with atmosphere. This is a dark character drama that uses the West Port murders of Burke and Hare as inspiration. Legendary director Robert Wise (The Curse of the Cat People), still at the beginning of his impressive career, displays a confidence that offers a hint at his budding talent. His camera work helps build suspense from one scene to the next, often allowing the terror to grow in long takes. The violence is occasionally shocking for 1945 and the tension that escalates to these outbursts is palpable.

The Body Snatcher 03 The Body Snatcher 04

Karloff is the main attraction and he owns every minute of his screen time, but the supporting cast does a fine job too. Bela Lugosi (The Return of the Vampire) plays Joseph, MacFarlane’s senior assistant who happens to overhear information about Gray’s business. Lugosi and Karloff have always worked well off each other, this being their eighth film together and their chemistry is strong. In the scene where Joseph tries to blackmail Gray, Lugosi remains sympathetic even though he should have gone to the police with his findings. This would prove to be the last time the two actors appear together on film and the scene is a knockout.

Henry Daniell (The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake) co-stars as Dr. MacFarlane, the instructor caught under the thumb of a wicked man while trying to keep his school afloat. He is both haunted and hounded by Gray, making for a miserable experience that he can abide for only so long before attempting to stand up for himself. Edith Atwater (Strait-Jacket) plays his put-upon wife Meg who wants nothing to do with Gray and can barely stand to be in the same room with him. Rounding out the core cast is Russell Wade (The Ghost Ship) as our protagonist treading into troubled ground as he gets sucked into the world of body snatching. He is the only decent man in the film, with nothing but good intentions and a desire to do what is right, making him a bit vanilla.

The Body Snatcher is an excellent example of psychological horror done correctly. Karloff brings a sense of dread and menace to every scene he is in and towers over the supporting cast. Val Lewton was known for his lavish production values and he is in top form here, as the sets are gorgeous. With an accomplished script and expert direction, this is a classic film well worth checking out. If you missed the 2005 DVD box set collection of Lewton’s efforts, this is a perfect way to get introduced to the work of a true master of horror.

The Body Snatcher 05 The Body Snatcher 06

Video and Audio:

The original camera negative has been restored and given a 4K scan that exceeds all expectations. The new transfer is sharp and contains much detail absent from previous releases. This is the best the picture has ever looked in its nearly 75-year history.

The DTS-HD MA 2.0 faithfully reproduces the film’s mono recording with clean, distinct audio that is free from hiss or other distortion. Music cues are well-balanced and never intrusive upon dialogue levels.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

The Body Snatcher 07 The Body Snatcher 08

Special Features:

The vintage audio commentary with director Robert Wise sheds light on the history of the production. He reflects on the ease of working with Lewton as his producer and shares thoughts on the writing and filming process. Wise has many interesting anecdotes of life behind the scenes of 1940s Hollywood that prove well worth a listen.

The all-new featurette You’ll Never Get Rid of Me: Resurrecting the Body Snatcher (12 minutes) is a video appreciation by author Gregory William Mank who shares his thoughts on the film.

The archival documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (53 minutes) features contemporary interviews with William Friedkin, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro, and film historians Stephen Jones, Steve Haberman and critic Kim Newman among others. The piece provides biographical background information and covers Lewton’s time working for David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind) before his career as a producer at RKO Pictures. Each of his nine key films is covered with plenty of insight from a wide array of participants. This is an excellent record of the accomplishments of a legendary genre producer.

A gallery of poster art, lobby cards and newspaper ads in color and black-and-white play as a silent slideshow (5 minutes)

A second gallery offers a collection of production stills that are also presented as a silent slideshow (5 minutes).

The Body Snatcher 09 The Body Snatcher 10

Grades:

Movie: Fourstars The Body Snatcher Blu Ray Small
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fivestars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Threeandahalfstars
Overall: Fourstars

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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