Covering the third of Boris Karloff’s three anthologies of dark tales.
The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology, first published in 1965, is rather different from Karloff’s previous two anthologies. Tales of Terror and And the Darkness Falls were both collaborations with Karloff’s friend, the editor Edmund Speare. Both those anthologies highlighted stories that, while macabre, could mostly be considered “mainstream” or “literary” tales from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology, on the other hand, has more of a pulp magazine feel, and features almost all stories from the mid-twentieth century (nothing earlier than 1936; Table of Contents here). The one exception is Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which is included because John Jake’s story “The Opener of the Crypt” is a sequel to Poe’s classic tale.
This difference raises a number of possibilities about the editorship of the anthologies:
Speare had more to do with the editing of the first two anthologies than one might think.
Karloff had less to do with the editing of the third anthology than one might think.
Karloff’s tastes, and his thoughts on the definition of terror, had evolved in the intervening two decades.
Covering the second of Boris Karloff’s three anthologies of dark tales.
And the Darkness Falls is the second anthology of “terror tales” edited by Boris Karloff (with Edmund Speare’s assistance). It was published in 1946 by World Publishing, apparently to coincide with the release of the film Bedlam, Karloff’s third and final collaboration with producer Val Lewton (Cat People). While Tales of Terroris an anthology of mostly ghost stories, about half the stories in And the Darkness Falls have no supernatural element, but are naturalistic tales of the macabre. Reading it reminded me a little of an old Alfred Hitchcock anthology. This is not a bad thing; the Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks put out by Dell in the ’60s and ’70s were a staple at my local library when I was growing up, and I adored them.
And the Darkness Falls is a more ambitious and eclectic anthology than Tales of Terror: a whopping 69 stories and poems (Table of Contents here), each with a brief introduction by Karloff that gives biographical information about the author, and often a short rationale for the story’s selection, or its thematic connections with other stories in the book. The main criterion for inclusion in the anthology seems to be that the story be in some way dark. Karloff and Speare interpret the idea of dark broadly, leading to an interesting and diverse selection of tales. Karloff also wrote a short introduction to the entire anthology.
Covering the first of Boris Karloff’s three anthologies of dark tales.
Some time in the early 1940s, Boris Karloff was approached by his friend Dr. Edmund Speare, editor for Pocket Books and Knopf, as well as the author of several books of literary criticism and editor of World’s Great Short Stories; Masterpieces of American, English and Continental Literature (World Publishing, 1942). Speare pitched to Karloff the idea of “a collection of bogey stories selected by a professional bogey man” — Karloff. The deal was for Speare to gather the first round of candidate stories, and for Karloff to winnow them down for the final selection, as well as to write the introduction to the anthology. The result was Tales of Terror, released by World Publishing in 1943 with Karloff credited as editor.
Tales of Terror collects fourteen tales, most of them quite well known by aficionados of the genre today, though perhaps they were less well known at the time (Table of Contents here). The collection is still a fine introduction to some classics of the genre for newcomers, but the real delight is Karloff’s introduction. Reading it (I like to imagine Karloff’s deep distinctive voice while doing so), we learn of Karloff’s distinction between terror and horror. To Karloff, horror carries a connotation of revulsion; the gory, the grisly, the Grand Guignol: that’s horror. The basis of terror, on the other hand, is simply fear: “fear of the unknown and the unknowable.” I’ve read elsewhere that Karloff preferred to call his own films “terror films” rather than “horror films” for this same reason.
Here’s a clip of Boris Karloff, showing off his vocal chops on the Rosemary Clooney Show in 1957. It’s a duet with Rosemary in the middle of a Little Red Riding Hood skit—Boris is the Big Bad Wolf, disguised as Grandma. (Length: 2:32):
He’s got a great voice, though the song seems slightly creepy by today’s standards…
You can also hear Boris singing a children’s song on the same show, here (from a
video of the entire show; the link should start playing 18:43 in).
Good evening. Tonight I’m going to tell you another strange and unusual story of the unexplainable which lies behind The Veil.
I’ve been on a bit of a Boris Karloff kick since the beginning of the year, after rewatching Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. So I was pleased to discover The Veil, a supernatural-themed anthology series from 1958, which, unfortunately was never broadcast. Only ten episodes were made (and an additional one acquired from another studio), all with intros and outros by Karloff. Karloff also played a character in all the episodes but one. Counting the “unofficial pilot,” there are twelve episodes total.
The Veil isn’t as strong a show as Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, but it’s not bad at all, and some of the episodes are excellent. Unlike Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, The Veil supposedly presents real-life supernatural episodes, what we might call Forteana. Karloff even sometimes refers to his “research” in his episode commentary, as if he himself had discovered the stories. I don’t believe that these stories are based on real incidents, but many episodes do have that open-ended feel of true-life anecdotes, without the neat tied-together structure of fictional tales.
It’s a pleasure to watch Karloff and several other excellent actors in each story. I recognized a few faces (several from Twilight Zone), and people who are real classic TV or classic film buffs may recognize a few more. If you recognize someone in an episode that I didn’t call out, please do let me know in the comments.
The episodes are short, a perfect snack sized TV break when you need one. They are (at least mostly) in the public domain, and you can find them on YouTube or the Internet Archive. Ten of the episodes are on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. In the mini-reviews below, I link to each episode on YouTube.
Karloff went on to host a more successful series, Thriller, which I plan to watch soon.