For most of the movie watching public, Boris Karloff will always be known as Frankenstein’s Monster. This fact relegated Mr. Karloff in his lifetime to B-movie pictures where he riffed on different variations of the deranged monster. But he wasn’t one to fuss about the shortcomings of his movies. Instead he worked hard to portray each deranged character he did with an emotional resonance that made them interesting to watch. The Haunted Strangler is a great example of this.
Karloff plays James Rankin, a sweet older writer who is obsessed with a man who was hung twenty years ago. He sets out to prove that the man who died for a series of murders of young cabaret women was innocent. As he gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, he begins to transform into the killer himself. No one believes that this sweet old man could be the serial killer from so long ago. Rankin sets out to prove himself right but it only results in him being declared insane. This of course leads to disastrous results.
The plot of this movie is obvious and some of the dialogue is annoyingly simple. But I think it is worth a watch purely to see Karloff transform from a kindly old man to a vicious killer with a paralyzed arm. The legend goes that the director and producer were looking for a good cheap way to portray the transformation cheaply and Karloff said that he could just take out his dentures. This results in a truly frightening face. But also it also illustrates Karloff’s ability to physical change so little and still be two distinct characters. He was such a great actor that I wish he could have gotten the chance to become more of a Hollywood draw. But I guess you can’t have everything.