Tales of Frankenstein takes a scrapbook-style approach to chronicling the various appearances of Mary Shelley's homunculus and its creator in cinema throughout the century. It presents trailers for movies from the original 1931 Universal Frankenstein through Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, with sidetrips through such oddities as Frankenstein Conquers the World and Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster.
These clips are interspersed with film and video interviews with Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, and Hammer linchpin Michael Carreras, who winces over the memory of the production of the disc's centerpiece, Tales of Frankenstein. A 1958 attempt to wed Hammer sensibility with Universal tradition, this unsold TV pilot ultimately fails at either, though Anton Diffring brings an appropriately chilly Teutonic calculation to the title role. Given the leaden presentation, it is merciful for both Hammer and the horror fan that this series got no further than the pilot stage.
Rather pointing this up are what follows Tales of Frankenstein - a few excerpts from the notorious Tales of Tomorrow production of the story with a thoroughly drunken Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster. Chaney does pretty well in the role, and overall it seems much more involving than the Hammer/ Screen Gems collaboration. Chaney, however, thought he was involved in a dress rehearsal and did not realize that he was actually performing in a live TV show. You can see him glance off-camera at the director, grab breakaway furniture, brandish it menacingly, and then carefully put it down so it would be intact for the real thing, later... never realizing he was doing the real thing.
Like most trailer compilations, the materials used are of varying quality, but All Day Entertainment obviously went the extra mile to dig up the best sources they could; an occasional soft image and dust speckling aside, these trailers look remarkably good, and Tales of Frankenstein itself is in marvelous shape.
There are two bonus trailers, one for a reissue of the 1931 Frankenstein and another for a double feature of How to Make A Monster and Teenage Caveman. There are also a couple of bloopers from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Glenn Strange laughs out loud and Bela flubs a line) and an appearance by the Monster (actor unknown) on the A&C TV show (this clip ends with a surprise appearance by the Creature from the Black Lagoon which draws gasps from the audience).
The Tales of Frankenstein pilot has an audio commentary by Ted Newsom, Gary H. Smith, and Stuart Galbraith IV, who at times trip over each other in a rush to convey information.
Rounding out the disc are a radio interview with Boris Karloff, and a lengthy taped conversation with Glenn Strange, which not only begins in the middle of a discussion of legendary stunt man Yakima Canutt, but was also apparently recorded in a restaurant, the clash of dishes and conversations at surrounding table proving quite distracting.
Not to mention, if you have a DVD-ROM, the entire text of Mary Shelley's original novel.
The disc provides an entertaining diversion for the horror aficionado, though it's probably a bit too specialized for its own good. It will take a hardcore Frankenfan to get through the whole thing in one sitting.
Dr. Freex, 12/30/2001