He reeks of death. But death is his trade and he has a taste for it. Yet he’s never “killed in hot blood” before, never killed in war.
As Mord, the royal executioner and ally to King Richard III (Basil Rathbone), Karloff personifies the cruel representation of political violence behind the throne, the workmanlike brute force that does his master’s bidding to preserve the peace.
Mord may hide behind the throne, but Karloff’s gleefully morbid turn is nakedly, aggressively terrifying. He is the prototypical executioner, the death dealer of our childhood nightmares. The first moment we see the powerfully built but cadaverous looking Mord–hunched over his grinding wheel, sharpening his oversize axe with a black raven perched on his shoulder–it’s like watching Cain himself readying the next murder. But where Cain acted impulsively, emotionally… Mord is pure professional. There is little overt art to his blood-letting, hence why he yearns for something a little more exciting, creative, arousing. Karloff is almost touching as he pleads to Rathbone to take him into battle. Warfare must be a wonderful, crimson bounty for a man like Mord. The opportunities for passion are no doubt endless. God knows how energized Mord will be when he returns from murder on such scale.