Like most of the twelve episodes of this short-lived 1958 thriller anthology, this episode of The Veil opens with a shot of a shadowy figure seated in front of a blazing fire in an old stone building. As the camera zooms in past the gothic arch framing the shot and the credits roll, the fire illuminates the creepy sculptures scattered about the room. The figure stands, closes a book, and reveals himself to be none other than Boris Karloff—the iconic face of Frankenstein’s monster (twenty years older and without the bolts in his neck). Clad in a three-piece suit and an eerie moustache, Karloff raises his eyebrow, and delivers the show’s tagline, “Good evening. Tonight I’m here to tell you another strange and unusual story of the unexplainable from behind the veil.” The ominous, and arguably hellish tone of the opening sequence suggests that what lies behind this "veil" is not the sweet face of a young bride, but... the unknown. Like The Twilight Zone, the title and introduction sequence of The Veil locates the show’s content within the realm of the supernatural. What's rather fitting about this show’s title, though, is that a veil of inexplicable mystery shrouds the production and distribution of the show itself: with Karloff’s star power and the recent craze of horror anthology shows taking over the airwaves, The Veil had all of the makings of a TV classic, but somehow descended into television obscurity for over 50 years.
At the time of production, Karloff had already established himself as a megastar of the horror genre during the 1930s with the Frankenstein trilogy. In addition to hosting and starring in all but one of the episodes (I’ll get to that in a minute,) the show’s credits feature the names of a few other contemporary beacons of the genre, with episodes directed by George Waggner (The Wolf Man) and Herbert L. Strock (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein), and starring Patrick Macnee (The Avengers), Robert Hardy (Psychomania), Niall MacGinnis (Curse of the Demon), Clifford Evans (Kiss of the Vampire), Morris Ankrum (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), Eve Brent (Gun Girls), and even a young George Hamilton [hopefully you know who George Hamilton is. If not, go look him up. - Ed.]. Yet, despite its iconic host and notable guest contributors, The Veil was cancelled before it was even pitched to networks. It never aired on network TV in its original form, making it “the best television show never seen,” as its DVD jacket boasts.1
Karloff had already made one ill-fated attempt at hosting a spooky television anthology series with Starring Boris Karloff (aka The Boris Karloff Mystery Theater and Boris Karloff Presents…) which ran for thirteen weeks on ABC in 1949. After The Veil failed, he hosted another anthology, Thriller, which ran on NBC from 1960-2. I’m sure that some of you are wondering why, after one failed attempt, Karloff would keep trying to host and star in thriller anthologies on television. His short-lived forays into hosting horror anthologies is less bewildering if you remember that the wildly popular Alfred Hitchcock Presents began in 1955. Like Karloff in his shows, Hitchcock introduces and often stars in episodes of Hitchcock Presents, but while Hitchcock introduces each episode with a tongue-and-cheek remark, Karloff’s introduction functions more like the Log Lady segments at the beginning of Twin Peaks; he delivers cryptic and slightly paranoid commentary on the events to follow. What separates The Veil from Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Karloff’s other shows is that rather it deals with the paranormal in everyday experiences, not simply horror and suspense.2
Eerier than the show’s cancellation is the “Jack the Ripper” episode, which is markedly different than other episodes in two notable respects: it is the only episode in which Karloff does not play a character in the story and it is the only one based on actually historical events rather than loosely claiming to be "based on a true story". This episode tells the story of George Durst, a man who Karloff describes as “normal in every respect,” excepting his gift of precognition. When he has visions predicting various serial murders in Whitechapel, England before they occur, he finds himself a tough spot, as he feels an obligation to report his visions, but encounters only derision and suspicion from the investigators in response. (Admittedly, one could overstate the extent to which this episode is a departure from the format. It stays pretty true to the show’s general form in that the episode still depicts supernatural phenomena in everyday life, merely using the first documented serial murders as a chilling backdrop to explore the moral crisis of clairvoyant man. And of course Karloff's presence is still pretty imposing. Still, the break from the predictable format of other episodes is nonetheless a little SpOoOoky, right?)
So what lies beneath the veil of failure in the production and distribution of this show, and the seemingly incongruous qualities of the “Jack the Ripper” episode? Hang on for some data:
Created and produced by Frank P. Bibas for Hal Roach Studios, The Veil was cancelled after only ten episodes were filmed. Financial woes combined with the disintegration of the preliminary co-production arrangement with National Telefilm Associates caused Hal Roach Studios to stop production. There were too few existing episodes to warrant the sale of the show to a network for syndication, but some segments were stitched together into three movies and syndicated to local TV stations a decade or so later. It was not until 2001, that the show was distributed in its original form, when Something Weird restored and released ten episodes of The Veil on VHS and DVD3 . In 2008, Timeless Videos re-released these ten episodes--with the addition of a previously unavailable episode (“Peggy”) and an episode of another show, Telephone Time, which served as the unofficial pilot for The Veil (“The Vestris”)—under the name Tales of the Unexplained!4
Now, you may be counting your fingers trying to make the math in the above paragraph add up, wondering how it could be that only ten episodes were filmed but the most recent DVD release contains eleven episodes and an unofficial pilot. It’s not the result of a paranormal event, but a sly (but ultimately futile) move on the part of Hal Roach Studios to save money. They picked up the “Jack the Ripper” episode from an obscure British TV show, and re-aired it with remarks from Karloff at the beginning, middle, and end.5 With this in mind, the differences between this episode and the others seem a less like inexplicable phenomena. But um... the idea of repackaging obscure British TV and claiming it as your own is kinda eerie in its own way, right?
Clara Gamalski lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She loves Law & Order and her mom. She is also needlessly modest about her own accomplishments.