The Body Snatcher was the seventh horror picture from producer Val Lewton. The previous picture, The Curse of the Cat People, was co-directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise. As the story goes, Lewton ran von Fritsch off the movie over creative differences and brought on Robert Wise to complete it. That was basically the end of Fritsch's career as a feature film director. Wise directed The Body Snatcher and went on to become one of the most important and influential directors in all of movie history.

Despite enormous critical and financial success, Wise doesn't quite get the respect from film nerds he deserves. Perhaps it's because he had no signature type of movie in his oeuvre. He made science fiction, horror, action, historical epics, and even comedy. In a way he was the Ron Howard of his time. A gifted film director who took projects for hire, delivering successful film after successful film. Wise did my favorite horror movie, The Haunting, and my favorite science fiction movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. His biggest hits were probably the musicals West Side Story and The Sound fo Music.

The Body Snatcher is an underrated gem, all-too-often overlooked or dismissed by horror historians. It was based on the Robert Lewis Stevenson story, and it featured the two biggest horror stars of all time: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Karloff is at his very best in The Body Snatcher as Cabman Gray, a sinister livery driver who supplies corpses to a medical teacher. Real-life murderers Burke and Hare are still fresh in the public mind. Burke and Hare not only delivered dead bodies to doctors, they killed people in order to do so.

Cabman Gray isn't above such unscrupulous activities. Boris Karloff is excellent in the role. He achieves the same kind of malevolent charm as Anthony Hopkins did as Hannibal Lecter. Gray has some sort of unexplained emotional blackmail over the doctor. The doctor attempts to break the hold Gray has upon him, which leads to a grisly and frightening conclusion.

Poor batty old Bela Lugosi got nice billing in The Body Snatcher, but he doesn't have much to do in the film. He was definitely on his way down, but there was still an iota of box office draw to the Lugosi name. He creaks around the sets in an undignified way, with not a lot of screen time, playing a nearly throwaway character.

Time plays funny tricks upon our minds. I watched The Body Snatcher on Shock Theater with horror host The Bowman Body when I was around twelve years old. I had not seen the movie again until very recently. The conclusion was different than I remembered it. In my mind it was much more gruesome than it actually is.

Written by Mark Sieber

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