But the bulk of the Balboa's 26 titles are horror, made by studio talents who never got near an Academy Award — though god knows James Whale's witty The Old Dark House (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) have aged better than whatever won Oscars those years. Ditto The Body Snatcher a decade later, innovative producer Val Lewton's take on real-life grave robbers Burke and Hare. Body costarred Lugosi, who'd earlier joined Karloff in expat Hungarian director Edgar G. Ulmer's tardy riot of German expressionism, The Black Cat (1934). Another gem is 1932's The Mask of Fu Manchu, a rare horror effort for sniffy MGM that compensated via high art-deco gloss, sexual sadism, and racial stereotypes pushed to the point of absurdist camp. Under such conditions, Karloff often seems as amused as he is sinister, shading his material not with condescension but with delicate irony. He was never undignified, though the films often were. He gladly participated in ridiculing his own image, however — notably in the stage smash Arsenic and Old Lace, in which his thug character confesses, "I killed him because he said I looked like Boris Karloff."
The gentlemanly offscreen Karloff loved children, and had mixed feelings about his professional prowess at scaring the bejesus out of them. His daughter Sara Karloff kicks off the Balboa series with an evening of home movies and live chat. You can safely bet her reminiscences will land at a safe distance from Mommie Dearest territory. SFBG
"As Sure as My Name is Boris Karloff"
June 2–8, June 16–22
3630 Balboa, SF
For showtimes, see Rep Clock