From the beginning of time, many men have sought the unknown, delving into dark regions, where lie those truths, which are destined to destroy him. Of all these eerie adventurers into darkness, none was more driven by insatiable curiosity, nor went further into the unknown than the unforgettable Baron Frankenstein.
So infamous were his exploits that his name stands forever as a symbol of all that is shocking, unspeakable, forbidden. Thus, in our day, many a story, which chills the soul and freezes the blood, is truly a tale of Frankenstein.
Now, join us in the mystery, the excitement, and the stimulation that comes when we tell a story so weird, so dark, so harrowing, that it deserves to be called one of the many Tales of Frankenstein.
Wow, what a narration to introduce the show!
In 1958, just as England’s Hammer Film Productions had started to revive and revolutionize the horror movie genre, they teamed up with Columbia Pictures to take a stab (Get it?!? Stab???) at producing an American weekly television series based on the character of Baron Frankenstein. The idea was that the series would focus on the many experiments and creations of Baron Frankenstein. With 26 episodes planned (with each studio producing 13 episodes a piece), the series never made it past producing and airing the pilot, “The Face in the Tombstone Mirror”. The title of the episode is not listed during the program, but online sources cite that as the story’s name.
Of course, with Hammer Films having their own take on Frankenstein with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), naturally, they wanted Tales of Frankenstein to resemble that series. At the time, Columbia Pictures owned the TV rights to the Universal Monster movies, so naturally, they wanted the series to reflect the Universal version. This explains why one of the scenes in the opening of the show inexplicably features the three vampire brides of Dracula from 1931’s Dracula.
The Frankenstein monster’s appearance is definitely inspired by Universal’s portrayal of the character. While Karloff’s performance is absolute the measuring stick for the Frankenstein monster, the make-up job done on actor Don Megowan is fantastic. They’ve made him look much more brutish, rather than the emaciated look of Karloff’s monster. Megowan was a mainstay of TV westerns and would portray another horror icon in the form of the Gill-Man for The Creature Walks Among Us. Some type of compromise must’ve been reached by the two studios as Anton Diffring in the role of Baron Frankenstein seems to be influenced by Peter Cushing’s suave and cunning portrayal of the doctor for the Hammer movies.
Overall, I think the pilot has more of a Universal atmosphere to it rather than Hammer. Set pieces and dark moody lighting and even the score lend itself to what Universal had been doing in the 1930s and 1940s. All of this is owed no doubt to Curt Siodmak, who directed and co-wrote this pilot, in addition to being an associate producer. Siodmak was an author and screenwriter of many horror titles. He wrote a lot of Universal horror films throughout the 1940s, most famously, The Wolf Man.
Unfortunately, the partnership between Hammer and Columbia was not meant to be. Frustrated with a lack of input on the pilot, nearest I can gather is that Hammer studio execs walked away from the project and that spelled its doom. Too bad. I would’ve loved to have seen the path this series would have taken. Just think, every episode featuring Baron Frankenstein in a new place, with a new supporting cast, with a new type of experiment and monster. I think it could’ve been a lot of fun. The horror version of Doctor Who, maybe!
Check Tales of Frankenstein out for yourself below. It’s an interesting curiosity in the world of classic horror. As a standalone short story, I found it to be very enjoyable.