Corridors of Blood
Monsters and Madmen Collection
U.K. | 1958
Directed by Robert Day
Boris Karloff
Francis Matthews
Christopher Lee
| 87 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC | 4-disc set)
Criterion Collection
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    9   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
One of the films in the Monsters and Madmen Collection
DVD Rating is for entire set
London, 1840: Dr. Thomas Bolton (Boris Karloff) experiments with drugs in an attempt to develop a surgical anesthetic...
    Following the success of The Haunted Strangler, producer Richard Gordon exercised an option in his contract with Boris Karloff to make another picture, subject to the actor's approval. A Technicolor, Cinemascope remake of Dracula was bandied about before the project was squashed by Universal, then partnering with Hammer Films to make the first of their many Dracula projects, Horror of Dracula (1958). Eventually, it was decided to go for a mixture of history, melodrama and barnstorming horror the end result, released in England as Doctor Of The Seven Dials but held up due to legal problems for several years in the U.S., where it came out in 1963 as Corridors of Blood, would mark an improvement on the previous Karloff/Gordon collaboration.
    The story uses a great deal of historical information as its basis, even if it changes the names and locales for the benefit of dramatic license. Karloff is cast as a well-meaning scientist in the mold of his characters in such earlier horror thrillers as The Invisible Ray (1936) or The Man with Nine Lives (1940), the difference being that this time his work has a very realistic goal. A sort of composite of Drs. James Watt and Joseph Lister, he toils selflessly to develop a pain-free method of surgery. His experiments turn him into a drug addict, and lead him to dealing with a pair of "resurrectionists" loosely patterned on the infamous duo of Burke and Hare. Here the duo, renamed as Black Ben (Francis De Wolff) and Resurrection Joe (Christopher Lee), assist the doctor before attempting to blackmail him, leading to the usual consequences in a melodrama of this nature. The story itself follows a fairly traditional trajectory, but director Robert Day gives the production the gloss and attention to detail that makes it seem far more lavish than it really was. It has been said that some of the larger crowd scenes were stock shots from David Lean's Oliver Twist, but there are no shortcuts in evidence in the finished product. As in The Haunted Strangler, Day falters a bit where padding is concerned there's a little too much 'colorful' activity in the Seven Dials pub, for example but he otherwise proves to be intelligent and judicious in his use of camera setups and story construction.
    In addition to the slick production values, the film is well served by its cast. Karloff underplays the drug addiction angle, opting for pathos in place of melodramatic histrionics, and he's all the more effective because of it. He is never minimalized as a far-fetched madman, and knowing that much of what he endures was also endured by the real life figures he was modeled on gives the film a touch of verisimilitude. The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces. Christopher Lee impresses as the mostly silent graverobber; with his imposing height and slim build he makes for an almost expressionistic presence, darting in and out of the shadows like a spectre of death. The film was shot shortly after Lee first found recognition as the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein, and his big break as Dracula in Hammer's Horror of Dracula was right around the corner; it's a great joy to see him sharing the screen with Karloff, and he certainly holds his own against the legendary icon. Francis Matthews (Revenge of Frankenstein, Dracula Prince of Darkness) adds a great deal to his stock role as Karloff's concerned son he infuses the character with intelligence and charm, and is largely able to keep the intrusive romantic subplot from becoming a nuisance. Francis De Wolff (Hammer's Hound of the Baskervilles) is also impressive as Black Ben, the bear-like owner of the Seven Dials who assists Resurrection Joe with his 'livelihood', while Nigel Green (Play Dirty, Countess Dracula), Adrienne Corri (Vampire Circus, A Clockwork Orange), Finlay Currie (Great Expectations) and others do solid work in their character parts.
    Corridors of Blood remains Karloff's most impressive film of the period
a nicely detailed, intelligently produced amalgam of history and horror that sometimes falls in between the two stools but remains interesting and engaging throughout.

Criterion's release of Corridors Of Blood, as part of their Monsters and Madmen collection, is a gem. The film is presented in its intended full-frame aspect ratio. The source material is in very good shape, with only occasional signs of wear and tear. The mono soundtrack is clear and forceful dialogue is always easy to discern, and Buxton Orr's full-blooded score has all the presence it demands. Extras include a commentary track with Richard Gordon, moderated by Tom Weaver; notes on the film's censorship troubles (including battered glimpses of some material trimmed from all prints); a featurette that includes interviews with Day and surviving cast members (excluding Christopher Lee); an audio interview with actress Yvonne Romain ("Rosa"); a trailer, still gallery and liner notes.
    The commentary is particularly satisfying, though one regrets that Tom Weaver (an avowed Hammer "hater") felt it necessary to goad Gordon into making some disparaging comments about Christopher Lee true to form, Gordon has nothing but nice things to say about the man's acting, but is less charitable about the man himself; Weaver takes advantage of the opportunity to mock Lee's anger over being cut out of the last Lord of the Rings movie. It's a catty misstep, and one that doesn't add anything to one's enjoyment of the supplements. 4/17/07

NOTE The 4-disc Monsters and Madmen Collection also contains The Haunted Strangler and the '50s sci-fi chestnuts The Atomic Submarine and First Man Into Space, along with additional commentaries and featurettes.