London 1840, before the invention of anaestheisia, and the bell begins to toll for assistance in an operation. Because every cut of the knife or saw of the blade is felt by every patient, it is necessary for them to be held down by some burly men, and so it is today when Doctor Bolton (Boris Karloff) is in surgery. He has a good reputation for speed, which is about the most the patients can hope for, but he yearns for a day when they need not feel the pain any longer, and often tells his fellow medical men that he is researching the correct chemical compound that will produce a gas to send the patients unconscious for the duration of the procedure. His colleagues think this is pie in the sky thinking, and tell him so, but for Bolton he feels this achievement is within his grasp, all he needs is further investigation...
Around the same time as Karloff was making The Haunted Strangler in Britain, the late nineteen-fifties, he also made this historical horror, though it suffered an ignominious fate compared to its sister production when its release was largely delayed for four years, by which time it was beginning to look out of date. The premise was a variation on the Burke and Hare efforts where the meeting of the medical fraternity and the criminal element led to all sorts of grimy ghastliness, only here the subject was not so much resurrection men but unsavoury souls like Christopher Lee's Resurrection Joe who bumps off his victims for money, though not necessarily to sell their corpses to science, indeed he looks as if he commits these crimes because he thoroughly enjoys himself doing it. This did mean the old guard represented by Karloff was meeting the new generation of fright flick stars with Lee.
This has offered Corridors of Blood a certain cachet among vintage horror fans thanks to the pairing of those two gentlemen, though in truth they did not share many scenes together and Lee may have been a newly minted star thanks to his Hammer movies, but in 1958 he simply received his own credit in the opening titles as if the producers were cottoning onto the fact they had a major new celebrity in this field who they had lucked into securing the services of. All that said, it was Karloff who was the leading man and Lee the glowering heavy, the second in command to Black Ben (Francis De Wolff) who owns a tavern where director Robert Day obviously instructed his extras to do the same thing in every scene set there: dancing and lots of it, added to a spot of snogging to offer that impression of decadence so we would fear for the terribly nice and kind Bolton as he descended into this lion's den.
Back home, he frets over his experiments as he tries nitrous oxide that works, but also sends him delirious; he attempts to subdue one patient who in a somewhat over the top reaction wakes up because he has not been given a strong enough dose, and proceeds to try and beat up all the students and doctors in the gallery, thus harming Bolton's schemes. Then the surgeon goes further when he tries tincture of opium, which also works, but all too well when he goes into a daze that foolishly sees him visit Black Ben's once again to worry after an ex-patient who wound up there before he was supposed to be released from hospital. While there, Bolton's notebook is pickpocketed and an opportunity for the rogues to blackmail him arises. So you see, there were some fears being played upon such as the horror of surgery and drug addiction, but also a class mistrust where the underdog Bolton meets the underclass at the tavern, yet for all that Corridors of Blood wasn't really a full-on shocker, it hewed closer to the historical drama or thriller, albeit with an entirely invented plotline. For all its genre muddiness, it was fairly well presented, and Karloff did his tragic thing once more to fine effect. Music by Buxton Orr.