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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TV Take: Strange New Worlds

What do Mario Bava and Star Trek have in common? Hopefully, Strange New Worlds. Let me explain…

Watching television

I don’t consider myself a particularly die-hard Trek fan: the only Star Trek series that I’ve seen in their entirety (and the only ones I rewatch) are The Original Series and The Animated Series. I’ve seen parts of all the Trek series from the nineties/early 2000s, and enjoyed them well enough, but I can’t say I was ever a super enthusiast.

The first Trek series comes from the era of The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and other similar anthology series. It definitely shares some of the weird tale sensibilities of those shows, as well as Rod Serling’s insight that speculative fiction is an effective and relatively subtle vehicle for addressing current events and controversial ethical issues. And as speculative fiction goes, I prefer the uncanny to science fiction. To the extent that later Trek shows lost that eerie, weird tale vibe, I correspondingly lost interest.

So I’ve not been following so-called “Nu-Trek,” nor had any desire to. But my husband watches Star Trek (pre Nu-Trek) more enthusiastically than I, and he’s been following the fan discussions about the new shows. The word on YouTube seems to be that Strange New Worlds has got that Original Series vibe. My husband got curious enough to sign up for a trial period of Paramount+, and so far, we’ve watched the first three episodes. I’m liking it.

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Watching Boris Karloff’s The Veil

Boris karloff the veil

Good evening. Tonight I’m going to tell you another strange and unusual story of the unexplainable which lies behind The Veil.

I’ve been on a bit of a Boris Karloff kick since the beginning of the year, after rewatching Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. So I was pleased to discover The Veil, a supernatural-themed anthology series from 1958, which, unfortunately was never broadcast. Only ten episodes were made (and an additional one acquired from another studio), all with intros and outros by Karloff. Karloff also played a character in all the episodes but one. Counting the “unofficial pilot,” there are twelve episodes total.

The Veil isn’t as strong a show as Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, but it’s not bad at all, and some of the episodes are excellent. Unlike Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, The Veil supposedly presents real-life supernatural episodes, what we might call Forteana. Karloff even sometimes refers to his “research” in his episode commentary, as if he himself had discovered the stories. I don’t believe that these stories are based on real incidents, but many episodes do have that open-ended feel of true-life anecdotes, without the neat tied-together structure of fictional tales.

It’s a pleasure to watch Karloff and several other excellent actors in each story. I recognized a few faces (several from Twilight Zone), and people who are real classic TV or classic film buffs may recognize a few more. If you recognize someone in an episode that I didn’t call out, please do let me know in the comments.

The episodes are short, a perfect snack sized TV break when you need one. They are (at least mostly) in the public domain, and you can find them on YouTube or the Internet Archive. Ten of the episodes are on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. In the mini-reviews below, I link to each episode on YouTube.

Karloff went on to host a more successful series, Thriller, which I plan to watch soon.

And now, shall we step behind The Veil?

Theveil

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Creepy TV and other Thanksgiving Fun

Back from Thanksgiving weekend with my parents: four days of non-stop eating and family and wine (I blame my sister for that last part). It was the first time in a long time that we, my parents, my sister’s family and my closest first cousin’s family were all in the same place at the same time, to celebrate the birth of my youngest nephew (or whatever the proper term is for my first cousin’s child).

We happen to be a family with strong introvert tendencies, even the men who married into the family, and we are also very loud, in that stereotypical ethnic family sort of way. So periodically, certain people would disappear from the gathering, to be found hiding in another room with a device of some kind…

Which is a long-winded way of saying that my ten year old niece has started me down a wormhole of recreational reading and tv-watching time sinks, just in time for the holidays. Follow me down the path: Continue reading

Would The Twilight Zone Fly Today?

NewImage

I went on a Twilight Zone mini-binge the other day, inspired by this post at the Shadow and Substance blog. It got me to thinking: would The Twilight Zone have been a success if it had launched today?

Everything about it is counter to what’s popular in modern television. It has no recurring characters, no season-long, multi-episode story arc. It doesn’t really have a “theme”: the topics of the stories are all over the place. Despite the fact that it constantly flirts with both the supernatural and science fiction, it has almost no special effects, and what effects it does have probably looked cheesy even back then. It’s dialogue heavy — monologue heavy, even. It was more successful as a half-hour show than as an hour show.

And all these characteristics are why I love it; probably, it’s those features that make it attractive to many of the show’s fans. It’s the television show equivalent of a loosely-themed short story collection, or of dim sum or tapas. There’s always been a place for short stories and tapas; but the world at large seems to prefer novels and entrees.

The fun part of it is that Rod Serling and the other folks at TZ felt free to experiment. With no continuity worries, they could throw something on the screen to see what happened — if it worked, they could do it again, otherwise, move on. So we get the almost set-less Five Characters in Search of an Exit, the almost dialogue-less The Invaders, the episode shot half as a silent movie, Once Upon a Time (starring Buster Keaton!). TZ also managed to attract some really interesting actors, both acclaimed and soon-to-be-acclaimed. I’m sure the chance to experiment or to be the center of an episode had something to do with that.

It’s fashionable to say that the entertainment industry has become too bottom-line, less willing to take a chance. Perhaps Mr. Serling couldn’t have made this happen today. On the other hand, this is the age of YouTube and Vimeo; some web-series have garnered a large (if niche) following, and have fairly good production values, to boot. The Twilight Zone format could be perfect for a web-series.

So could Rod Serling have done it today? Luckily, we don’t have to find out.

Enjoy.


The image above is the title card from the opening segment of The Twilight Zone (from the later seasons, I think). Sourced from Wikipedia.

A Little More than Kin, and Less than Kind

Cigar

My husband and I had a quiet evening at home last night, watching a Columbo episode: “Short Fuse”. He and I are huge Columbo fans; we have both entire series (the original 1970’s series, and the late eighties/early nineties series) on DVD. I’ve seen the entire seventies series several times, plus a few episodes of the generally inferior “new” series.

Anyway, the plot of “Short Fuse” is as follows: David Buckner (James Gregory) is president of Stanford Chemicals, which is owned by his wife, Doris “Dory” Buckner, née Stanford (Ida Lupino). Buckner wants to sell Stanford Chemicals to The Conglomerate. He is opposed by his nephew, Roger Stanford (Roddy McDowall), whose father founded Stanford Chemicals. Roger’s parents (both chemists?) died in a chemical explosion when Roger was underage, and apparently his Aunt Dory became his guardian and inherited the company.

For some reason, Roger doesn’t have enough shares in the family company to block the sale, but he does have influence over his Aunt Dory, who does. Buckner tries to blackmail Roger into dropping his opposition, so that Aunt Dory will also agree to the sale. Luckily, Roger is also a boy genius chemist (PhD before he was 21!); he fixes up an exploding cigar box to kill Buckner. He then plants evidence to suggest that the company vice-president, Everitt Logan, is engaged in industrial espionage for a competitor.

Buckner goes “BOOM!”. Aunt Dory fires Logan, then appoints Roger to be the head of Stanford Chemicals. Everything is going Roger’s way, until Columbo discovers the truth. End of story.

It’s a pretty good episode. Roddy McDowall seems to be having fun in his role, with his groovier-than-Greg-Brady poet shirts and his incredibly tight jeans. James Gregory is always a pleasure to watch, and Ida Lupino is lovely. Peter Falk is his usual terrific self. But let’s be honest — the plot is way more convoluted than it needs to be, and doesn’t entirely make sense.

If Roger’s father founded Stanford Chemicals, and Roger is now an adult, why does Aunt Dory still own it? Why doesn’t Roger have the controlling shares? Wouldn’t this all make more sense if the company were owned by Roger’s mother, and David Buckner was his stepfather? No mysterious, parent-killing explosions at the plant when Roger was underage, no guardian arrangements — so much cleaner.

Ah, but then it would be patricide.

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