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

What it was supposed to be: Dead of Night, a series about a trio of occult/paranormal investigators.
What we got: An extremely low-budget one hour pilot.
Investigator: Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews) and Sanjiv Rao (Cal Bellini), joined by Angela Martin (Marj Dusay)
Why the axe: I don’t know the exact reasons, but the pilot did not impress.

Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon (1969)

A Darkness At Blaisedon (1969)
Source: letterboxd.com

A struggling secretary from San Francisco inherits a spooky old mansion, Blaisedon, on the Hudson. She can’t sell it, because strange phenomena in the house drive off potential buyers. She hires psychic investigators Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews) and Sanjiv Rao (Cal Bellini) to find out whether the house is haunted, and by whom.

This plot of this supernatural gothic melodrama has potential. And the show is produced and written (though not directed) by Dan Curtis, who brought us Kolchak (The Night Stalker and Night Strangler TV movies), Dark Shadows, The Norliss Tapes, and that wonderful Karen Black anthology film, Trilogy of Terror. So it has a great supernatural and occult investigation pedigree. Unfortunately, it’s filmed (or to be precise, videotaped), set dressed, scored, and for the most part acted like a soap opera. Judging by the flubs that got left in the final print, I can’t imagine they did more than one or two takes of anything.

Good things first: I really like the opening credits art; it’s eye-catching and eerie. Even the music over the credits is pretty interesting. Actor Thayer David, who played Professor Stokes in House of Dark Shadows and the Dark Shadows TV series, guest stars as a creepy groundskeeper. He’s a memorable character actor, and seems a bit wasted in this role. Cal Bellini as Fletcher’s colleague Sanjiv Rao is animated and fun to watch, even if he does overact a bit. Marj Dusay as Angela Martin, the secretary from San Francisco, is competent.

Incidentally, actor Cal Bellini was born in Singapore as Khalid Ibrahim, and appears to be of Malay/South Asian descent. So the role of Sanjiv Rao isn’t brownface. And while it’s implied that Sanjiv may be somewhat psychic, he doesn’t display any “yogic superpowers” or other “mystic secrets of the East” nonsense. So he’s also not a stereotype; just a hip Manhattan guy. I’ll include both of these facts as good things about the show.

The story isn’t terrible, and you can see the evidence of the gothic sensibilities that Dan Curtis displayed in Dark Shadows and in The Night Stalker. But any atmosphere there might have been is marred by the cheapness of the production. Shooting on videotape rather than film doesn’t help, nor do the sets, which look like the cast and crew were shooting this picture on the sly after the cast and crew of General Hospital or One Life to Live had gone home for the day.

Kerwin Mathews (Sinbad from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad), as lead paranormal investigator Jonathan Fletcher, is earnest, but bland. By the end of the story, Fletcher and Rao invite Angela Martin, who displays some mediumistic abilities over the course of their adventure, to join their team. Naturally, there promises to be some good old Unresolved Sexual Tension between Angela and Jonathan; unfortunately (fortunately?) we never get to see how it pans out.

Like Thayer David, director Lela Swift came from Dark Shadows, and later went on to Ryan’s Hope, which probably explains the soap opera vibes and rhythms of A Darkness of Blaisedon. Perhaps Dead of Night was also meant to be a soap opera? I hope so. That would explain, if maybe not excuse, a lot.

Would I have watched the series?

No. In my opinion, this is mostly of historical interest to fans of Dan Curtis, and perhaps to fans of Dark Shadows as well.

If you are curious to watch it anyway, A Darkness at Blaisedon is streaming for free (with ads), on Tubi. I happen to own it, as an extra on a 2009 DVD for the 1977 TV horror anthology movie, Dead of Night, directed by Dan Curtis. This should not to be confused with the excellent 1945 British ghost story anthology film of the same name. The 1977 picture isn’t bad, though, and if you like anthology horror you might think about picking up the DVD, and simply regard A Darkness of Blaisedon as a free bonus on your purchase. It’s not worth buying just for this pilot, however.


Featured Image Source: The Bloody Pit of Horror.

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