The Haunted Strangler (1958)
aka …. Grip of the Strangler.
In the year 1958, Boris Karloff, found himself back in his native England starring in a pair of shockers from the team of Richard Gordon as Producer and Robert Day directing. First up was The Haunted Strangler followed by Corridors of Blood.
“Those faces, they haunt me.”
At 78 minutes, the film starts with a prologue in 1860 at Newgate Prison where one Edward Styles is being led to the hangman in front of a crowd who have gathered for the carnival like festivities. He’s been charged with the murders committed by The Haymarket Strangler. Despite his pleas of innocence he is is put to death. As the coffin is nailed shut a hand slips a scalpel into the wooden box and shortly thereafter the Doctor attending the burial collapses at the graveside.
Moving ahead 20 years we’ll find Dear Boris as a kindly gent with a wife (Elizabeth Allan) and daughter (Diane Aubrey) who has come of age with a beau at her doorstep played by Tim Turner. Boris has been fighting against the injustice of men being railroaded to the gallows without proper representation and believes that the case of Edward Styles is one of a wrongful conviction and intends to prove that an innocent man was sent to his death and that The Haymarket Strangler still walks the streets of London. He’ll have stern opposition from Anthony Dawson who suggests that Boris is wasting his time digging up the past.
With his future son-in-law in tow, Boris, sets out to question a key witness from the past. An aging dance hall Queen (Jean Kent) who swears that the right man was put to death. The dance hall segment gives Gordon and Day the opportunity to spice the film up with some lovely ladies on stage and most noticeably Vera Day as a bubbly blonde who in a very Hammer Films style has a noticeably busty bosom that sees champagne spilled over her breasts in close-up. Don’t see shots like that in Hollywood productions of 1958.
Boris comes to believe that the Doctor who attended the hanging and who collapsed at the graveside may indeed have been the killer. But the trail is cold and the medical man has all but disappeared. Tracing his movements Boris discovers the man was taken to an institution and even gets a look into the “black bag” that has been in storage all these years. All the medical instruments are neatly in place except one, the scalpel or knife if you prefer.
“Where’s the knife.”
How about a bit of gravedigging? Against everyone’s wishes, Boris, is off to the prison cemetery to unearth the coffin of Edward Styles and dig through the whitened bones to find his key piece of evidence. Of course our Dear Boris will indeed find what he seeks but had he known what the truth would lead to I’d suggest he may have had second thoughts about “digging” into the long ago closed case of The Haymarket Strangler.
Murders are quick to follow and Inspector Dawson is on the case of these new killings that harken back to the twenty year old case. No need to tell you all who is committing the killings because despite most everyone I’ve heard talk about Boris Karloff and how gentlemanly he was off camera, we know that once a director called Action! our kindly English gent was expected to commit the most heinous crimes one could capture on celluloid of the era.
At the heart of The Haunted Strangler is a nifty mystery as to the identity of the long missing Doctor and the reasons for his disappearance. What we end up with is a combination Jack the Ripper (who is even alluded to if you could your eyes peeled) and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I suspect at the time of the film’s release it may have been looked upon as one that has come along 15 to 20 years to late to be a truly effective thriller to audiences of the era. It harkens back to past glories with King Karloff in the lead/title role. But in 2020 who cares. While Karloff could have played this role in his sleep, he doesn’t and once again gives it his all and despite his monstrous deeds, he remains a character that draws on our sympathy’s. Just as we have always done with Boris’ best friend, The Monster.
Of the two films that Boris made for Gordon and Day, the second one, Corridors of Blood, didn’t see a North American release until 1962. It’s along the lines of the Burke and Hare story and with Christopher Lee in the cast it makes for a fun passing of the torch if you will. It also leaves me scratching my head as to why a distributor wouldn’t have wanted to capitalize on the rise of Lee with his name becoming identifiable within the horror genre thanks to the Hammer films of the late fifties.
Boris’ leading lady, Miss Allan, was a one time MGM contract player and had roles in films ranging from the big budgeted A Tale of Two Cities playing opposite Ronald Colman, David Copperfield for director George Cukor and even in the studios Mark of the Vampire alongside that other famous “horror star” of the early talkies, Bela Lugosi. All three titles were released in 1935. The Haunted Strangler proved to be her final big screen role.
If you’re up to a fun double bill, why not watch The Haunted Strangler paired with most any episode of TV’s Thriller, the show that Boris hosted between 1960 and 1962. A show that’s easy to recommend and highly thought of amongst classic horror fans.
Paired with Corridors of Blood, Haunted Strangler can be found on DVD thanks to a Criterion 4 pack. The other titles being The Atomic Submarine and First Man Into Space.
An original 1958 Haunted Strangler one sheet in pristine condition? No, mine isn’t available so you’ll have to look elsewhere.