Merv Blanco is an American tourist who had landed in London from Los Angeles. But despite his t-shirt, sneakers and voluble affability, he’s not the typical sightseer. A fan of horror films, Merv is actually in search of the birthplace of his hero Boris Karloff, the iconic actor who portrayed Frankenstein’s monster.
The last thing expects at such a historical venue is a rundown kebab shop, run by people who seemingly have no clue who Karloff is. But the intrepid Karloff devotee hasn’t come this far not to see where his idol was born and lived, but what he discovers is not at all what he expects.
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of Boris Karloff’s death, director Robert Hackett, along with writer Mike Goldfarb, has crafted a sly, drily humorous horror short distinguished by its exemplary sense of craft and clever, sleight-of-hand storytelling prowess.
While many films in the genre ratchet up a certain, suspense-filled craftsmanship based on building tension and exploiting narrative uncertainty (as well as many jump scares), this story begins in a quieter, almost naturalistic way, tracking Merv’s arrival in England. He’s clearly an eager, friendly American, wide-eyed and excited about an attraction that he’s long anticipated, and the juxtaposition between him and his new environment is often observed with a wry, funny objectivity and luminously muted images, beautifully shot on 35mm.
Actor Mac McDonald plays Merv with great skill and subtlety. The role could easily become a caricature of a gauche American abroad, but both the writing and acting make clear the immense respect and reverent passion that Merv has for Karloff, which actually earns the audience’s own affection and interest for Merv. Merv does have an almost down-home, charming naïveté to his demeanor, but it’s more due to how his deep and abiding interest in Karloff blinkers him, even as it tows him deeper into the film’s central mystery.
By this point, “Boris In the Forest” shifts into elegantly crafted classical scary-movie mode, with an expertly crafted sequence full of unforgettable dread, chills and an ending that will make audiences squirm in their seat. But it arrives at its climax in such an unexpected, idiosyncratic way — and with such a fully realized character — that it feels like a fresh, unique and intelligent take on the genre.
It genuinely feels like Merv has wandered in from another film — a quirky California indie, perhaps — and realizes too late that he’s found himself in one of the horror films he loves and adores so passionately, much to both his excitement and eventual dismay.