The Body Snatcher – Blu-ray Review


Film Title: The Body Snatcher
Release Date: 1945
Runtime: 77 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Scream Factory (Shout! Factory)
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 03/26/19
Director: Robert Wise
Cast: Boris KarloffBela LugosiHenry Daniell, Russell Wade, Edith Atwater, Rita Corday, Sharyn Moffett, Donna Lee, Mary Gordon

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The Movie

“The Body Snatcher” from 1945 was directed by Robert Wise, best known for directing other such classic films as “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956), “West Side Story” (1961), “The Sound of Music” (1965), “The Sand Pebbles” (1966), “The Andromeda Strain” (1971), and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979). The film is based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson. The screenplay adaptation of Stevenson’s story was co-written by Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton. Lewton also served as producer on this film as well as on other 1940s RKO horror films like “Cat People” (1942), “The Ghost Ship” (1943), “I Walked with a Zombie” (1943), “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944), “Isle of the Dead” (1945), and “Bedlam” (1946).

This takes place in Edinburgh during the year 1831. The main characters to the film are a horse coach cabman “John Gray” (Boris Karloff), a young medical student “Donald Fettes” (Russell Wade), and his teacher Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). As we are first introduced to Donald he’s sitting in a graveyard oddly beside a freshly buried grave being guarded by a small dog. It’s not what you think, seriously. In fact, Donald talks to a woman who comes up and tells that her son has just passed away and that his dog will not leave the grave. The woman also mentions that she fears herself of grave robbers. It’s pretty much from there we start things off.

Next thing you know we are introduced to Cabman John Gray as he drops off a woman and her handicapped young daughter at the home of Dr. MacFarlane. The woman has brought her daughter to see if the doctor can help and eventually the medical student about to be doctor Donald arrives at his teacher’s home. Dr. MacFarlane asks that Donald help in working with the young girl to test out his bedside manner. That is how the film begins, and then we start to get some clues about things.

For instance, how do these two men of medicine have a friendship here so important it’s part of the plot to the story with a simple horse coach cabman? Well, the first thing you need to know is that history tells us that medical science at this point in time had not fully developed and lacked respect from the community. The real reasoning communities disliked the medical field was because grave robbers actually stole bodies which were bought by doctors and used as cadavers to teach medical students.

One of the most infamous instances of this type of behavior at its most extreme occurred with the murders done in Edinburgh back just three years earlier (1828) by two men named Burke and Hare, which are referenced many times throughout the film. The term body snatching doesn’t mean anything science fiction but more in the realm of science fact. Stealing a body from a grave to sell to medical field people to use as cadaver was something done by a body snatcher or snatchers. Hence the film’s title.

See, the men of medicine are guilty of buying the corpses from our wicked Cabman Gray, and they are tortured by him with constant harassment because he can get away with it. Should anyone find out, or if he were to confess, these men would be taken in with him for body snatching. So he decides to especially be verbally abusive to Dr. ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane as if perhaps these two men had a long relationship – not to be confused with friendship. It’s not just all bodies and such, as there is a subplot of sorts here that you’ll see come together by the end of the film. It’s a great film with a great performance from Boris Karloff and features a small supporting role by Bela Lugosi.

Movie Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)

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Video Quality

“The Body Snatcher” is Black & White and presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, although it was said to have been shown in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio during its theatrical run. This was shot on 35mm film with cameras using spherical lenses, according to IMDb. This has received a new 4K scan from the original camera negative.

This has a great presentation for a 1945 35mm film print. There’s a lot of film grain left fully intact here, beautiful all throughout. There are some occasional tiny visual imperfections along the way such as minuscule scratches. Tiny things like that still left in are to be expected with just a scan, but visually this looks rather clean for the most part. The amount of detail really is impressive, especially in the character close-ups.

One thing that proves to be really important about this transfer is that you get a perfectly solid black level, something even more crucial considering that this film is in black & white. The solid black level actually helps to emphasize shadows and such, now even more so in high definition. Some scenes with near dark shadowy areas come across almost pitch black with only the ever so slight pepper of film grain visible. That really makes this presentation all the more visually pleasing.

You would honestly, at times, think this was perhaps a restoration of the film, as it comes across that impressive on a consistent level. That being said, I don’t think this film really needs a restoration because it looks near perfect from the 4K scan in 1080p found here on Blu-ray. This is one of the best-looking transfers that I’ve seen of a film this age in quite some time. Congratulations go out to Scream Factory on a job very well done here.

Video Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)

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Audio Quality

Audio here on this Blu-ray is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono, which makes sense considering this came from a mono RCA sound system recording. To be a 1945 film it’s to be expected you’ll get some slight hiss and the occasional crackle or pop in the sound mix. It’s not at all bothersome, especially to those accustomed to older films, in fact, this actually sounds really good. The original music (composed by Roy Webb) comes across nicely in the mix, as do the sound effects and dialogue are delivered just spot-on all throughout the film.

The mix found here really sounds great. Sure, it’s not perfectly clean but it sounds just as good if not better than most 1945 films that have come to Blu-ray. This lossless Mono mix does the film justice and certainly proves to be effective.

Audio Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

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Bonus Materials

Bonus materials on this release are presented in both SD (standard definition) and HD (high definition) video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. They include the following:

  • Audio commentary with director Robert Wise and film historian Steve Haberman
  • Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (53:27 – SD) is a full-length documentary/biography about the producer of this and countless other horror films. This documentary was directed by Constantine Nasr, and the narrator was James Cromwell. This was originally included on a 2005 Warner DVD release of the film. There are lots of interviews here with filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, Joe Dante, William Friedkin, Mick Garris, and George A. Romero.
  • NEW “You’ll Never Get Rid of Me: Resurrecting The Body Snatcher (11:55 – HD) includes an interview with Gregory William Mank (Author, Karloff And Lugosi: The Story of a Haunting Collaboration) discussing this classic film. Mank does a great job here and also very briefly discusses the working relationship between the two legendary horror actors Karloff and Lugosi. This proves to be very informative and entertaining just the same.
  • Poster and Lobby Card Still Gallery (4:37 – HD) plays like a slideshow, meaning you will have to pause if there’s a particular image you’d like to look at for a bit more than five seconds or so.
  • Still Gallery (5:28 – HD) plays like a slideshow, meaning you will have to pause if there’s a particular image you’d like to look at for a bit more than five seconds or so. This gallery consists of still images from scenes in the film as well as some promotional photos of Boris Karloff, doing poses as the iconic character.

Overall the bonus materials you get here are pretty lengthy (a little over an hour long) with a full-length documentary included, a new interview, two still image galleries (both in HD), and the audio commentary by the film’s director. This is about as much as one really can imagine getting on this release in terms of extras.

Bonus Materials Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

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Closing Thoughts

“The Body Snatcher” from 1945 was a great horror film from the era and also contains one of Boris Karloff‘s best (speaking) performances in movie history. The film offers a nice supporting performance from Bela Lugosi in what would be the final film these two would do together.

What you get here on the Blu-ray release is one very impressive (near perfect) video presentation and a very nice lossless mono sound mix that is actually a pleasure to listen to. The new 4K scan this received certainly paid off visually as this looks as good as some restoration efforts have for films of this age. Finally, the bonus materials you get here are certainly worthwhile as you get a full-length documentary about the film’s co-writer & producer, a new interview, two still galleries in HD, and an audio commentary with the film’s director.

In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
5 (out of 5) for video quality
4.5 (out of 5) for audio quality
3.5 (out of 5) for bonus materials

Overall Verdict:

A Recommended Classic

Available As:

2019 Blu-ray Release

Blu-ray Disc Screenshots: