Tales of Frankenstein
. 1958
Director: Curt Siodmak

. 1961
Host: Roald Dahl

. 1961
Host: Frank Gallop

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Tales of Frankenstein Tales of Frankenstein (1958) was the pilot for an unsold television series. Since only one episode exists, it should be singular, Tale of Frankenstein.

It has somehow found its way into dvd distribution as though it were a feature film instead of a half hour.

It's not a bad little piece, directed by Curt Siodmak who was kind of a genius at B horror whether feature films or television episodes, giving Tales of Frankenstein something of the look of an old Universal Frankenstein movie.

The idea for the story was given to Siodmak by Jerome Bixby (best known as the author of "It's a Good Life" turned into a classic Twilight Zone episode), but the script as written is the work of the talented husband/wife pulp fiction team C(atherine) L. Moore & Henry Kuttner.

The lab of Baron Frankenstein (Anton Diffrin) & the resurrection of his monster (Don Megowen) is rather spiffy in a retro cheapo way.

Tales of FrankensteinThe murderer's brain causes the monster's first awakening to be that of a sorry misbehaving murderous creature, so the Baron has got to try again, with a better brain.

Paul & Christina Halpert (Richard Bull & Helen Westcott) come to the Baron's castle seeking medical assistance for Paul's critical illness.

He turns them away & Paul dies in the village a few days later. Only then does the baron go to the grave for a fresh brain to put in the brainpan of his creation.

The monster escapes, seeking its frightened, horrified wife, then seeks to kill the baron for making him monstrous.

I'm surprised more forgotten old television programs aren't as easily located. I remember the series Way Out (1961) which had fourteen episodes in 1961, with classic short story writer Roald Dahl as droll introductionist.

The episode of Way Out that most lingers in memory was "Soft Focus" directed by Ron Winston, about a photographer (Barry Morse) who accidentally mixed a touching-up chemical that when applied to portrait photographs literally changed the appearance of the individuals he had photographed.

Tales of FrankensteinHe discovers these properties when touching up a photo of a birthmarked subject, & the birthmarks disappear on the actual child. He then uses it to make himself exceedingly handsome, & to make his cheating wife (Joan Hotchkis) look many years older.

When his prematuredly aged wife discovers what he has done, she grabs the jar containing the last of the mysterious chemical & dashes it on a photo of her husband. The last image on the television is of a nearly entirely faceless man turning toward the screen making muffled noises.

I was a young kid & just about shit a brick, even though already a die-hard little horror fan not easily made jumpy by such things. I was scared for days & had nightmares for a couple of years. But I wasn't sorry I saw it. I loved it.

Of the fourteen episodes of the series, "Soft Focus" was second-to-last, so by the time I realized this was my favorite fearful thing on television, it was just about cancelled. I don't know if it is true, but I was once informed that the series was prematurely cancelled because it too much terrorized viewers who turned in expecting Rod Serling style of fantasy moralism, not actual fear in one's living room.

Other episodes left a vaguer impression. "Slide Show" was the story of a headless woman in a carnival who is the real deal. This one was likeable because I'd lived my tot-hood in a travelling carnival called Douglas Shows, & one of the acts involved "the headless woman," & here was something on that old Zenith television set totally famililar to me.

I also have a fairly strong rememberand of "The Down Car" which startled me with its last image of a ghostly figure with a bullet hole in the brain, inviting the man who murdered him onto an elevator which I imagined was not merely going to be crashing but taking the occupents to hell. "False Face" was about an actor who put on monster make-up & then discovered it was really his face. These sorts of tales thrilled & delighted me, but only "Soft Focus" haunted me afterward, as a not-all-that-impressionable kid.

Too many of the stories were about unhappy husbands with faithless or nagging wives, so I suppose I'd be awfully disappointed if I had the chance to see the whole series again & discovered even this terrifying "Soft Focus" to be less creepy than my childhood memory has made of it. As I write this, the series has not been reissued, but is sometimes available through vendors of pirated rarities. Maybe the day will come I can see the whole set anew.

The same year that episodes of Way Out were aired, a similar show, taped live in New York City, was shown as Great Ghost Tales with just twelve episodes. In the summer of 1961, it was to be the last regular series on television to be filmed live. To the extent that live television drama was integral to television's golden age, it marks the close of that era.

Great Ghost Tales adapted truly classic tales, including Edgar Allen Poe's "William Wilson" (with Robert Duvall in the title role), Saki's "Sredni Vashtar" & Algernon Blackwood's "The Windigo." I've never seen these as an adult but would dearly like the opportunity; one's childhood memories are never complete or reliable.

Most of the episodes are evidently lost, having been recorded live on early video, which was more easily recorded over than preserved. All episodes of Way Out do survive, but by one report only two episodes of Great Ghost Tales have been preserved anywhere, & even the two may be only a rumor, though some of the scripts are preserved in the Yale University Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscripts Library.

I remember some of these as extremely good, but then, I would over the years read several of those very stories multiple times, so don't know how much from my early reading has been superimposed on my childhood memories of early viewing.

Strongest in memory, though, are W. F. Harvey's "August Heat" about a man who encounters his own gravestone & the stonecutter; & W. W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" which I watched with my great grampa, who I recall loving it as much as did I. I recall that the whole neighborhood & kids at school were talking about this episode which I seem to recall was very soonafter aired a second time due to its popularity.

"Monkey's Paw" was another of those rare ones that legitimately frightened me rather than merely gave me a simpler pleasure of artificial horror. I recall that for a week or more afterward, I was afraid of dried leaves blowing on the ground. For years afterward I remembered it as having been an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock television series, & always hoped to to see it again in order to assess its merits as an adult viewer, but could never find it in lists of the Hitchcock episodes because it wasn't one of his.

I had similarly long remembered seeing Conrad Aiken's "Mr. Arculus" (about a man dreaming of his coffin) as an episode of Thriller, but memory was wrong, it was another from Great Ghost Tales.

Since the series seems not to have been preserved, faded memories of childhood shivers is the most that can be shared, alas.

For more forgotten early weird television series, see:
Reviews of The Veil & 13 Demon Street

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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