“Pain and the knife are inseperable.”

You would be forgiven for assuming that a film titled Corridors of Blood and starring none other than Boris Karloff would be a classic horror flick about a murderous count and his castle or a tunnel-dwelling vampire.

But, brushing off all expectations, Corridors of Blood takes us back to London in the mid-19th century, where Karloff is a well-intentioned doctor doing his best to serve a struggling community.

Corridors of Blood Poster
(Image via IMDb)

Dr. Thomas Bolton (Karloff) not only wants to serve his community but wants to transform the medical establishment and improve treatment. He’s experimenting with anesthetic in an attempt to deliver pain-free surgeries.

Bolton’s colleagues think he’s nuts — especially after, during a demonstration of his new technique, a patient awakens during surgery.

Complications ensue for Bolton as he struggles to perfect his idea, and convince others to accept it. Meanwhile, the community is plagued by a string of terrible crimes led by Black Ben (Francis De Wolff) and Resurrection Joe (Christopher Lee).

Corridors of Blood was directed by Robert Day. The screenplay was written by Jean Scott Rogers.

NOTE: The rest of this review will contain mild spoilers regarding some of the crimes that occur in the film. Read with caution if you’ve never seen the film and would like to go in totally unspoiled!

I don’t want to think of how poorly I’d do in a world without pain meds, so some of this film’s medical scenes (namely, that amputation early on) were pretty horrifying to me. The film itself isn’t quite what I’d consider horror, but if you’re squeamish like me, you’re in for a few shocking moments.

My terror only grew when I realized that this film involves another non-horror thing I find scary: human greed so intense that it leads to murder.

Perhaps I watch too much Investigation Discovery, but there are few things worse than people who are willing to kill over money, and this film has several of them. How does one kill for money in the slums of Seven Dials, you ask? The twisted criminals in Corridors of Blood sell the bodies of their victims to the hospital!

Adrienne Corri’s character of Rachel is one of the worst people and best villains I’ve seen on screen in recent memory. Corri plays the role as pure evil and is an incredibly effective addition to the film. (Rachel’s husband is a piece of work, too, but Corri’s performance really stood out to me.)

Corridors of Blood Still
(Image via The Criterion Collection)

Equally fantastic is Boris Karloff in his role of Dr. Bolton. This role bears so little resemblance to Karloff’s best-known at the beginning of the film that I wondered for a moment whether I was actually watching Karloff or another British actor that just happened to look a lot like him! He really transforms throughout the film, too, as Bolton sees his dream shattered and begins to lose hope.

I also very much enjoyed the work of Christopher Lee and Betta St. John in this film. (And “Resurrection Joe” has to be one of the all-time great character names!)

Corridors of Blood offers up suspense, crime, medical experimentation, social commentary, and even an amazing nightmare/hallucination sequence! It certainly makes for an intriguing and attention-keeping plot. Recommended for a wildly dramatic and highly enjoyable watch.