My first exposure to Boris Karloff came on a Friday night in the mid-seventies. Our local ABC affiliate was playing Frankenstein (1931). I was instantly hooked and became a monster kid for life. While I certainly love Bela Lugosi, my favorite by far has always been Boris Karloff. Back in 2015, I reviewed many of his films during my annual Countdown to Halloween. At that time, I was given the rare opportunity to sit down and enter the world of KARLOFF, a one person play by Randy Bowser. It was amazing and now you can share in that experience. But first, let’s take a look at Randy Bowser and what his play all about.
I first became aware of this stage performance in 2014 courtesy of my friend Derek M. Koch and his Monster Kid Radio podcast. I became excited over the news that a gentleman by the name of Randy Bowser was doing a play on the life of Boris Karloff. Then, my excitement quickly became envy over the people who could see the show as I discovered the play was for four nights only in Oregon. Fortunately, Randy soon decided to make a very limited number of DVDs available in an effort to continue funding his dream. I quickly acquired a copy and it has been a cherish part of my personal home video library ever since.
Now, first and foremost, please understand that I cannot review KARLOFF. It is a stage performance and the only way to properly do so would have been to attend in person. However, this professional DVD presentation allowed me to take a glimpse into what the experience would have been like. From the opening menu of the DVD, I knew I was in for something special. Randy’s love and dedication to this project is evident in every second of his performance. From the twinkle in his eye to the changing tones of his voice to the subtle physical decline as Karloff gets older, Randy gives an amazing and most believable performance.
The sparse stage presentation worked incredibly well. The colorful lighting reminded me of a Mario Bava film. However, I could also see how a grander production would not take away from the essence of the play. Randy has written an amazing tale on the life of Boris Karloff. He doesn’t cover every single film, nor should he, but he offers highlights from his journey in Hollywood, Broadway and beyond. There are props to help enhance the various segments, such as a mad scientist wig or the furry Monster jacket. But most importantly, what Randy does not give us is a Karloff impersonation. That was a vital key to making this performance a dramatic effort rather than simply a cartoonish homage. Yes, there are subtle moments where you can hear the Karloff lisp but it’s always done lovingly and never in jest.
Randy Bowser did extensive research for this project and received some invaluable input from Stephen Jacobs, author of the definitive Karloff biography, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. He also used Dear Boris by Cynthia Lindsey for some source material. Most importantly, he received an official endorsement from Sara Karloff, the daughter of Boris. Sara was present for both nights of the opening weekend performances. A wonderful Q&A was included on the DVD along with some fun pre-show moments. Sara stated that Randy nailed it and I wholeheartedly agree.
Now, KARLOFF is available for everyone to enjoy on home media. By going to the KARLOFF website and clicking on the Premiere Video! link, you can purchase video files to download and watch on any device, or you can receive DVD folders ready to burn to your own disc. All of the content from the DVD I have is now available for you to purchase. You’ll receive the pre-show video, the play in two acts and the Q&A session with Sara Karloff. All of this for just $15 via PayPal. Absolutely amazing!
Of course, the play is still available to be licensed for local productions. I know I would gladly attend if this ever came to Kansas City. If you’re interested in making that a reality near you, check out the website for more information.
KARLOFF is an amazing piece of work and I cannot highly recommend it enough. It’s a loving tribute made for the monster kid in all of us.
Photos by Steve Anchell