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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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 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 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 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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The Blue Room

This week’s Winter Tale is “The Blue Room“, the last known published fiction by the writer known as Lettice Galbraith. It appeared uncredited in Macmillan’s Magazine October 1897, and if it was indeed Ms. Galbraith’s last published short story (for she may also have been writing under other names), then it was a great way to wind up her writing career.

Misty outline 768

Something is wrong with the Blue Room at Mertoun House. No one will say quite what, and several people have safely spent the night there. And yet the Mertouns keep the room unoccupied. Until one ill-fated Christmas evening….

You can read “The Blue Room” here.

I like this story for several reasons. First, it’s an interesting and well-written variation on the haunted room and occult investigation genres. Second, the “principal investigator” is a strong female character! Edith Erristoun attends Cambridge University, something still unusual for women at the time (in fact Cambridge didn’t actually grant degrees to women until 1948). She’s curious and brave, and her relationship with her fellow occult investigator is purely one of common intellectual interests, not romance. I can’t exactly say she doesn’t need rescuing, but her rescuer is also a woman: the narrator, Mrs. Marris, the housekeeper at Mertoun House.

And of course, like all of Lettice Galbraith’s stories, it’s a great read. I’ve noted before that Ms. Galbraith seems to touch more directly on sex-related topics than one might expect for her era; that’s kind of true for this story too, in a subtle way. So subtle that it took me two reads to notice.

But even it you don’t catch the allusion, it doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the tale. So grab a warm drink, curl up under your blanket, and enjoy!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

I featured Lettice Galbraith in my Women of Folklore and the Fantastic series in September. You can read that post (with a link to her collection New Ghost Stories) here.

Images

Featured Image: A bed, Mikhail Vrubel (c. 1904). Source: WikiArt

Misty Outline of a Human Figure, Odilon Redon (1896). Illustration intended for La maison hantée by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Not included in final publication. Source: Old Book Illustrations

Reading Guilt is a Ghost

Full disclosure: Tim kindly sent me a review copy of this book.

The executive summary: Guilt is a Ghost is a fine second offering in the adventures of ghost hunter Vera Van Slyke and her assistant Lucille Parsell (nee Ludmila Prasilova).

Guilt is a ghost cover 1

The operative phrase is second offering: I’m honestly not sure what a reader’s reaction would be if this were the first Vera Van Slyke book they read. (Tim Prasil apparently disagrees with me). Having read Help for the Haunted first (my review here), I came into Guilt is a Ghost familiar with the two main characters, and already quite fond of them. And that’s good, because I feel there is less characterization of Vera and her friendship with Lucille in this book than there was in the previous one.

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The Swaying Vision

Happy Boxing Day! My folklore-themed winter tales series continues until Epiphany, so I have at least one more story to share with you this round.

Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch, both in terms of its winteriness and its folklore connections, but I like it. It’s an occult detection/haunted house tale that touches on a certain infamous real-life incident. The sort of incident that is so notorious that it often finds itself moving into the realm of legend. I won’t spoil it for you.

Poor Mr. Chadwick buys a house as an investment upon his retirement. He’s a careful buyer who researches before purchasing: whether it’s a respectable, healthy neighborhood; whether the house is watertight, with good drainage and in good repair. But no matter how careful you are, you always forget something.

‘It was really nobody’s affair,’ the next-door neighbour protested. ‘How could anybody warn you? Of course you might,’ he added, as the aggrieved Chadwick breathed threats relating to the ex-landlord of his new demesne and the house agent. ‘Still, I must remind you it’s a penal offence to kill people, even if they have landed you with one of the most notorious haunted houses in England.’

But you guessed that already, because you read my blog.

600px Pentagram Levi

After a bit of investigation of his own, Chadwick turns to his old schoolfriend Lester Stukeley. Stukeley’s day job is Civil Servant, but on the side he’s a psychic investigator who seems to follow the Carnacki school of investigation (William Hope Hodgeson’s Carnacki stories were originally published over the period 1910-1912; Jessie Douglas Kerruish’s “The Swaying Vision” appeared in 1915, in the The Weekly Tale-Teller). What could possibly haunt this ordinary, and quite newly-built house? Chadwick and Stukeley mean to find out.

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The Wade Monument

I came across this story not too long ago, and really liked it. It’s not wintery enough to share for my annual Winter Tales series, but I thought I’d pass it along anyway.

It’s certainly a story of occult investigation, though I’m not sure the protagonist quite meets the definition of “occult detective,” at least by Tim Prasil’s definition.  The story probably does meet Sage Leslie-McCarthy’s definition of “psychic detective fiction” — going by her definition as quoted by Tim in his essays. I didn’t read all of Leslie-McCarthy’s dissertation. Yet. I will.

Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden

A young man is on holiday in the town of Mintern Brevil, and notices a mysterious entry on a monument in the local church. He notices that someone else takes an interest in the monument, too. Someone only he can see.

[The Prayer-book] fell against her knees, but, instead of sliding down the slope of her skirt, passed straight through it to the floor, as a stone might fall through transparent water. I could see it lying upon the boards, although the grey folds of her dress and the outline of her limbs were between me and it.

The ghost sends him on a mission. Will he succeed?

The story first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine in 1921. Its author, Violet Jacob, was a Scottish writer best known for her historical novel Flemington, and for her poetry written in the Scottish vernacular. According to her Wikipedia entry, the influential poet and Scottish nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid called her “the most considerable of contemporary vernacular poets”.

Though she also wrote short stories, she wasn’t particularly a ghost story writer — I’ve found two so far, including this one, both of which I like. I plan to investigate her non-genre short fiction, too.

The story at heart is really about family: maternal love, or the lack of it, and about the depth of sacrifice some people will go to for its sake. For that reason I mentally group it with the ghost stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman, and perhaps of Margaret Oliphant. That’s just me, though. I won’t insist on the classification. And of course, I have to mention Dorothy Macardle’s wonderful novel The Uninvited (aka Uneasy Freehold), another (quite different) ghost story of maternal love and the lack of it. Great movie, too.

You can read or download “The Wade Monument” here.

Enjoy,


Images

Featured Image: Wallpaper design, Jules-Edmond-Charles Lachaise, Eugène-Pierre Gourdet (1830-97). Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Imagined medieval interior, Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden, A.T. Gellerstedt (1867). Photographer Lars Kennerstedt, 2013. Source: Swedish National Heritage Board.