Part of my series on never-made occult detective TV shows.

What it was supposed to be: Bedeviled, a series about a psychiatrist who fights against demonic forces.
What we got: Two TV Movies of the Week: one outstanding, the other not bad.
Investigator: Dr. David Sorell (Louis Jourdan)
Why the axe: A number of reasons, leading to NBC going with Rod Serling’s Night Gallery instead.

Fear No Evil (1969)

RitualOfEvilBluRay
Source: kinolorber.com

Paul Varney spots a strange apparition in a beautiful old mirror that he purchases from an antique shop. When Paul later dies, his fiancee Barbara believes that she can see him in that old mirror — and he’s calling her to join him. Dr. David Sorell must free Barbara from the spell she’s under before what would have been the couple’s wedding day, when Paul has promised to take her away.

Fear No Evil was produced by Universal for NBC, and holds the distinction of being the first US television “Movie of the Week.” It is an excellent movie. Coming out as it did soon after the release of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), a movie that popularized the theme of devil worship, it of course delves into demons and covens, too. But it also has a lot of the qualities of a good, classic, old school ghost story. That puts it right up my alley.

The film is leisurely paced, but pleasant to watch. It’s visually interesting, with inventive camera work and well executed shots, many of them (appropriately for the story) involving mirrors and reflections. Mirrors and reflections can be unnerving at times, and the cinematography and special effects took good advantage of that. Cinematographer Andrew McIntyre even included my favorite spooky mirror effect: when a viewer and their reflection begin to fall out of sync.

The film opens with a disorienting scene of Paul fleeing through a striking Art Nouveau building (the beautiful Bradley Building in downtown Los Angeles, also used in Blade Runner and The Night Strangler). The use of Dutch angles make this opening especially effective and unnerving. I thought that the star filters and vignetting in key scenes felt a bit dated, but not distractingly so. Using the star filter effect to signal the presence of the supernatural was a nice touch.

The scoring and sound design, by William Goldenberg, was great: really interesting choice of music, orchestration, sound effects — and silence.

The movie isn’t outright scary, but it was still genuinely unsettling and creepy in parts, thanks in large part to the cinematography and music. And there is an implied “ghost sex” scene that seems remarkably erotic for ’60s era television [1]. Yup, poor Barbara is possessed in many senses of the term, and perhaps she doesn’t mind all that much…

Ritual Sorell

Louis Jourdan plays Dr. David Sorell, a hip young psychiatrist with an interest in the occult, demonology in particular. Wilfrid Hyde White plays Harry Snowden, Sorell’s teacher and mentor in occult matters. This pairing seems like a reworking of the “suave continental plus the dryly humorous Brit” pattern of Chamber of Horrors; I wonder if that film was a direct influence.

Jourdan was more interesting to watch here than Cesare Danova was in Chamber of Horrors; his character is better written and better motivated (and not a ladies’ man! Hurray!). It also helps that he was almost the protagonist of the movie. The actual protagonist is Paul’s fiancee Barbara, played by Lynda Day (later known as Lynda Day George), but Sorell features heavily, as he should, since it’s his show. Hyde White’s part is much smaller here than it was in Chamber of Horrors, but it was always a pleasure to watch him on screen.

The guest cast was excellent, too. A pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O’Connor plays physicist Myles Donovan, who runs the laser research lab where Paul Varney works. Lynda Day is great in the role of Barbara. Bradford Dillman plays the doomed Paul Varney — I wonder if his last name was suggested by the Victorian gothic novel, Varney the Vampire? That would be appropriate, too, as you’ll see if you watch this film. Katherine Woodville plays Paul’s possessive mother, and Ingrid Dome has a small role as a member of the Metaphysics Research Center, an odd organization that Paul seems to have links to.

Here’s a fun fact: Bradford Dillman was married to model/actress Suzy Parker, who appeared briefly in Chamber of Horrors as one of the many women enamored of Cesare Danova’s character. The links between all these movies abound!

The plot maybe fell a little bit apart towards the end, in the sense that some of the action seemed more to advance the story than to make logical sense; although I find myself retroactively justifying it, now. So I liked the movie enough to make excuses for it, which is a good sign. One did see a few of the “twists” coming a mile off, but I don’t think that it detracts from the movie, in this case.

Overall, this is an excellent film, and as a standalone piece, is definitely rewatchable.

Ritual of Evil (1970)

The wealthy and beautiful Aline, one of Dr. Sorell’s patients, disappears suddenly on a stormy night. The next day, a neighbor finds her dead body on the beach below her house. Her aunt and younger sister are troubled by sinister dreams. Can Dr. Sorell resolve the mystery?

This wasn’t as good as the first film, but it was watchable and competent. The music is again by William Goldenberg, and is excellent. But the cinematography, for the most part, is more static and less inventive than the camerawork on Fear No Evil; visually, Ritual of Evil looks like a typical, conventional TV movie of the era. It also lacks much of the spooky atmosphere of the first movie, though it makes up for it with some great locations, including an incredible little beach house on the Santa Barbara coast. I covet that beach house.

FearNoEvilBeachHouse

The cast delivers. Anne Baxter is great as Aline’s aunt, an alcoholic former actress. Diana Hyland is also good as Aline’s friend and Dr. Sorell’s possible love interest. Belinda Montgomery did a decent job as Aline’s little sister, Loey; though I have to confess I’ve always found seventies-era portrayals of adolescent girls on TV to be extremely annoying, and unfortunately Loey was no exception. Georg Stanford Brown appears all too briefly, as does Wilfrid Hyde White. Dehl Berti has a couple of memorable appearances as a creepy groundskeeper.

Sorell is as solid a character as ever, though his hipness and his “occultiness” have been noticeably toned down. He had a great apartment in the first movie, full of interesting art and occult related artifacts; his office was eclectically decorated, too. In this movie, both his apartment and office are boring and ordinary. Ritual of Evil does reiterate a theme from the first movie, that Sorell has actively chosen to align himself strongly against the forces of darkness, and against the contention that “if you look at the world, you’ll see the devil has won” — a feeling expressed by his antagonists in both films.

Ritual of Evil is more overtly about witchcraft and devil worship than Fear No Evil, and I just don’t find that as interesting as a good haunting (even a haunting by a demon); this colors my view of the movie. Still, it wasn’t a bad film, even if it’s not as memorable or rewatchable as the first one.

Why the Axe?

According to Gary Gerani, in the commentaries to these two films, the executives at NBC had a hard time swallowing the premise; they didn’t think a psychiatrist running into the supernatural every week was credible. In addition, Gerani says that the then-head of NBC told him in 1970 that certain conservative Southern markets didn’t like the idea of a regular occult television series. I assume this means “occult” in the sense of witchcraft and demon worship, since …

At the time that Bedeviled was being considered, NBC also had an option on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, which they picked up. And since they didn’t want two supernatural shows on their schedule, Bedeviled got the axe.

Would I have watched the series?

Based just on Fear No Evil, I would have said “yes!” The second movie, though, was disappointing compared to the first, and probably a harbinger of what the series would have been like. In addition, I think the theme of demonic possession and devil worship doesn’t lend itself to as much variety as the more general theme of hauntings and the paranormal that a series like The Haunted could have covered. This means there’s a danger Bedeviled would have devolved to The Demon of the Week. So my answer is: “I’d probably watch this, for a little while.”

I have the Kino Lorber double feature Blu-ray, with 2K restorations of both movies and commentaries by Gary Gerani. Unfortunately, I could not find either movie on YouTube or any of the obvious streaming services.


[1] After all, in Prescription Murder (1968), the first Columbo pilot, the respectably married Dr. Flemming and his wife Carol were still slept onscreen in separate twin beds — even though Carol Flemming was clearly portrayed as a wife who expected her full conjugal rights.


All images from blu-ray.com except where noted.

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