The film's stereotypical representation of
Karloff like Lugosi in The Raven approaches the role of John Gray with a certain degree of playfulness, and the fun he has with such a despicable and amoral character who at heart is a true capitalist, profiting from the misfortune of others, comes through in the horror repertoire of malevolent facial distortions and menacing eye movements that had become iconic representations of Karloff as a studio star.
Gray has been in the services of McFarlane for a long time and his aspirations of excelling in the field of anatomy is curtailed by Gray’s existence, a casual reminder of the macabre extremes to which McFarlane has been prepared to go in the past so that he can pursue his own fascinations with the dead. Both Gray and McFarlane are men who have been pushed to the margins of a society that prides itself on reputation, but McFarlane’s attempts to distance and isolate himself from the estranged figure of Gray ends in tragedy and ultimately murder.
The fact that Gray is a working class character means that for McFarlane it becomes acceptable to take his life as it is as worthless as the lives of the dead people he operates on for his studies. The Body Snatcher was one of many low budget horror and noir films directed by Robert Wise in the 40s and 50s before he would go on to transform himself into an internationally bankable film maker with hits like The Sound of Music and West Side Story. However, it is the minor films that seemed to confirm his talent and capture his economical skills as a film maker.