Before Kolchak I: The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre

If you are a fan of the occult detective genre, you are are likely familiar with Carl Kolchak, the intrepid journalist who investigated supernatural phenomena in two TV movies (1972 and 1973) and one season of a TV series (1974-75). But Kolchak wasn’t the first attempt to put occult detection on the small screen. I recently indulged in a little binge of television pilots about paranormal investigators that predate Kolchak, but failed to get picked up. After these pilots were rejected, they were extended and given new life as TV, or even theatrical, movies, granting us lucky viewers a glimpse of what might have been, once a week, for a season or so….

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

What it was supposed to be: The Haunted, a series about an architect who consults as a paranormal investigator.
What we got: An 80 minute TV movie, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre. And now, the 60 minute pilot, too.
Investigator: Nelson Orion (Martin Landau)
Why the axe: “Too scary for TV.” Also, political upheaval at CBS.
Ghost of sierra de cobre
Source

Nelson Orion (Martin Landau) is an architect/building restoration specialist for a living, paranormal investigator by avocation. He looks into the case of a wealthy young man who believes that his dead mother is haunting him — by telephone. The truth turns out to be far more sinister.

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Before Kolchak II: Dark Intruder

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

Dark Intruder (1965)

What it was supposed to be: Black Cloak, a period occult investigator series.
What we got: Dark Intruder, the pilot, reframed as a 60 min “movie” packaged as part of as a drive-in double feature.
Investigator: Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen)
Why the axe:  “Too scary for TV.”
Dark Intruder Blu ray Review cover
Source

In public and to his friends, Brett Kingsford (Leslie Nielsen) is a wealthy playboy socialite in late 19th century San Francisco. In private, he investigates cases of the occult. Police Commissioner Harvey Misbach asks for Kingsford’s help with a series of brutal killings. At every murder scene, the killer leaves behind a mysterious carving of a two-headed Sumerian god — and each time, the second head emerges a little further out. At the same time, Kingsford’s friend Evelyn expresses concern about her fiance Robert’s strange mood and erratic behavior.

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Before Kolchak III: Chamber of Horrors

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

Chamber of Horrors (1966)

What it was supposed to be: House of Wax, a period horror/detective series.
What we got: Chamber of Horrors, the feature film.
Investigator: Anthony Draco (Cesare Danova) and Harold Blount (Wilfrid Hyde White)
Why the axe:  “Too gruesome for TV.”
Source: Shout Factory

Baltimore, late 19th century: wealthy, upper-class Jason Cravette kills his fiancee and marries her corpse. When his crime is discovered, the police capture him with the help of amateur detective and wax museum owner Anthony Draco, who runs House of Wax. Cravette is convicted and condemned; on the way to prison he escapes by chopping off his own handcuffed hand and jumping off the train. He then procures a gruesome collection of hooks and blades to replace his missing hand, and returns to Baltimore to get gory revenge on all who were responsible for his conviction — including Draco.

This isn’t actually occult detection; it’s non-supernatural horror/crime, but it’s similar to the film I covered in the last post, Dark Intruder, in many ways. The two movies are often mentioned together, and it seemed natural to watch it and compare. Chamber of Horrors also has a few things in common with Fear No Evil, one of the subjects of my next post. And it’s a truly fun movie.

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Before Kolchak IV: Fear No Evil/Ritual of Evil

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.

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Before Kolchak V: A Darkness at Blaisedon

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.

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