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The Ape

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The Ape (1940) starring Boris Karloff
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The Ape (1940) starring Boris Karloff

The Ape is an unusual horror film. It has a kindly doctor (Boris Karloff), who’s working on a cure for polio. So, that’s good, although his cure requires human spinal fluid. He has a strong affection for Frances Clifford, suffering from polio. The audience never finds out why, but that’s okay. Then, a circus gorilla escapes. A rather vicious gorilla, that’s terrorizes the townspeople. And it breaks into the doctor’s home!

The good news is, the doctor is able to kill the ape before it has a chance to harm him. But, it’s destroyed his spinal fluid samples that he needs. And this is where the film gets weird. The kindly doctor — skins the dead gorilla. And then, goes about the town, murdering people disguised as the ape, in order to get more spinal fluid. For “the greater good”, etc. He really needs to re-read the Hippocratic oath.

Anyway, after several “ape” murders, the doctor is shot while in his gorilla outfit, exposing his murders. But, his experimental cure has worked, and Frances is cured of polio.

As I say, a weird little horror film.


  • Boris Karloff (The Ghoul, The Body Snatcher) … Dr. Bernard Adrian
  • Maris Wrixon … Miss Frances Clifford
  • Gene O’Donnell … Danny Foster
  • Dorothy Vaughan … Mother Clifford
  • Gertrude Hoffman … Jane – Adrian’s Housekeeper
  • Henry Hall … Sheriff Jeff Halliday
  • Selmer Jackson … Dr. McNulty
  • Ray “Crash” Corrigan (It! The Terror from Beyond Space) … Nabu the Gorilla

Editorial review of The Ape courtesy of

Horror legend Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Black Cat) portrays a kindly doctor who seeks to cure a young woman of polio through injections of human spinal fluid. Of course, spinal fluid is difficult to obtain, particularly as the victim must be alive. When a circus ape escapes and breaks into Karloff’s home, he finds the solution to his problems—or does he? This creepy classic was directed by William Nigh (Mr. Wu, The Mystery of Mr. Wong) and co-written by Curt Siodmak (I Walked with a Zombie, The Wolfman) and Richard Carroll (Five Came Back), with atmospheric cinematography by Harry Neumann (My Gun Is Quick).

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